Warning: Spoilers for Lovecraft Country ahead.
To say there’s more meets the eye about HBO’s new series Lovecraft Country is an understatement. The mysterious show from Underground's Misha Green, executive produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, focuses on Atticus (Jonathan Majors), a military vet who has returned from the Korean War and wants to head north to find his missing father. His friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) join him on the road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America, where they try to overcome racist terrors... and terrifying supernatural monsters. Lovecraft Country is a far cry from the Sunken Place, it turns out.
The series isn’t entirely new, however — it’s based on the 2016 book also called Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, which examines the line between racism in the Jim Crow era and the work of horror author H.P. Lovecraft. Here’s what you need to know about the book (and be warned that spoilers will increase as you continue to scroll).
What is the book Lovecraft Country about?
Set in 1954, the characters of Lovecraft Country are trying to grapple with the horrors of being Black in the Jim Crow era in addition to Lovecraft-style monsters, space travel, and even spirits. The first chapter, aptly titled “Lovecraft Country,” opens with the main character, Atticus Turner (Atticus Freeman in the HBO series), who has received a strange letter from his father, Montrose, asking him to go to Massachusetts. He travels there with Letitia and his uncle George, where they mainly encounter racist cops — not supernatural creatures — as they head to a manor owned by Samuel Braithwhite where they learn about Atticus’ ancestors. Titus Braithwhite, a wealthy white man who died in the late 1700s, once led an order of men that Caleb Braithwhite, Samuel’s son, is now in charge of. They kidnapped Atticus’ father to lure Atticus to the manor, and Caleb gives Atticus an incantation to kill the order.
The novel delves into turning the Winthrop house, which is likely haunted, into an apartment building; tracking down an ancient book believed be at the Museum of Natural History; George’s wife, Hippolyta, and the discovery of a portal to another planet; Ruby, a Black woman who wakes up white after Caleb gives her an elixir; ghosts; and a murderous doll. (All extremely Lovecraft themes, of course.) Across these storylines the characters deal with Caleb, who wants to kill Captain John Lancaster, the leader of the Chicago arm of the order.
Who is Atticus?
Atticus is our protagonist in both the Lovecraft Country book and HBO series. A 22-year-old Korean War veteran and Black man, Atticus returns from the war only to discover that racism is still very much alive. Atticus “wears his heart on his sleeve” despite the horrors of living in Jim Crow America and is a big fan of pulp fiction novels. “If he saw a flying saucer setting down in a field, [Atticus] would be intrigued rather than frightened,” Ruff writes in an explainer at the end of the novel. Atticus discovered his love for pulp fiction thanks to his uncle George, who made plenty of shelf space for the novels in his library. Atticus’ father, on the other hand, feels that you can’t live in a fantasy world, drawing Atticus and George closer together.
We also learn early on Atticus has an interesting family history: when they arrive at the manor owned by Samuel Braithwhite, it turns out Atticus is actually a direct descendant of Titus Braithwhite, while Samuel, who owns the house, is actually a more distant descendant, which has the potential to set up more twists as the HBO series progresses.
Okay, fine, spoil me: How does Lovecraft Country end?
In the last chapter, “The Mark of Cain,” all the characters are discussing their interactions with Caleb. Caleb wants to kill Lancaster, but the others decide that both need to go — so they pretend to follow Caleb’s plan but ask Winthrop’s ghost to help. Caleb and Lancaster meet, and Caleb lures him into a room where a monster swallows Lancaster. Atticus then jumps in, using magic with Winthrop’s help to change Caleb’s Mark of Cain, which prevents Caleb from doing magic and entering certain areas. They drop Caleb off in Indiana and drive away.
Lovecraft Country is only one book, like the book-turned-HBO-series The Leftovers, so any future seasons will have completely new twists and storylines. Lovecraft County’s epilogue seamlessly sets up another season, however: At the very end, Atticus and his father, Montrose, agree to take Hippolyta and George’s son, Horace, on a ride using The Safe Negro Travel Guide, a Green Book-style guide created by George and illustrated by Horace. Who knows what sort of monsters they’ll meet and supernatural places they’ll discover on their next road trip — the possibilities are terrifying and endless.