Spooktober, Day 20: Winter Tide, by Ruthanna Emrys

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We saw last time for all of HP Lovecraft’s lasting influence it can be difficult to see past his racist views. That’s why today I wanted to take a look at Winter Tide, by Ruthanna Emrys.

Winter Tide is, in essence, an unofficial follow-up and deconstruction of The Shadow over Innsmouth. The backstory hypothesises that after the 1928 raid on Innsmouth described by Lovecraft, the inhabitants were carted away to the Arizona desert and held in internment camps where they were treated as enemies of the United States. Their libraries of sacred texts and priceless artefacts were raided and their treasures carted off to be studied by academics and intelligence services, in an apparent parallel with historical imperialism

The story picks up in the 1950s, with Aphra Marsh, the granddaughter of the same Obed Marsh that brought the Deep Ones to Innsmouth. She lives in San Francisco with the Japanese family that adopted her in an Arizona internment camp (just to drive home the Deep Ones=interred aliens metaphor). When the FBI approach Aphra to learn if the magical secrets of her ancestors might fall into the hands of communist spies, she sees the opportunity to return home to Innsmouth and reclaim the heritage of her people.

Winter Tide deals deftly with the more problematic themes of Lovecraft’s work. Emrys recontextualises the Deep Ones that inhabited Innsmouth not as savage alien invaders, but the peaceful heirs to a vibrant culture who the government unfairly targeted for discrimination. It also makes up for the relative paucity of women in Lovecraft’s story by including several capable female leads.

Winter Tide is not strictly-speaking horror, but it presupposes the reader is familiar with Lovecraft’s work. It’s a genuinely sweet and warm-hearted fantasy novel about finding your family even when you think you’ve lost them. It’s about perseverance in the face of persecution. It’s also incredibly relevant to the state of the world today: letting the monsters of Lovecraft’s world speak for themselves it provides commentary on how we are still tempted to hate and fear anything different from ourselves.

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