HBO’s Lovecraft Country may be filled with monsters, mystic cults, and magic, but it’s also loaded with connections to the real world. The series, which is based upon Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, tells the story of Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), who’s living a pretty normal life for a young black man in the 1950s, until the search for his missing father (Michael K. Williams) leads him to a world filled with the supernatural. He takes his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Letita (Jurnee Smollett) along for the ride.
The show is littered with reference to both the science fiction that Atticus and his family love to read (and that partially inspired the series) and to the history of American racism. Here’s a guide to all the references made in the first episode.
The Voice Overs
“This is the story of a boy and his dream. But more than that, it is the story of an American boy and a dream that is truly American.” In the opening scene of the series, audio plays over Atticus’s dream of war, aliens, and Jackie Robinson. Fittingly, it’s all taken from the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story.
“I find myself, not for the first time, in the position of a kind of Jeremiah…” During the beginning of the road trip, audio from James Baldwin’s iconic 1965 debate against William F. Buckley plays.
A Princess of Mars
The book Atticus reads on the bus is an influential 1912 sci-fi novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And just as Atticus says on the show, it’s about a former Confederate soldier who winds up being transported to Mars.
The Safe Negro Travel Guide
The magazine that George and Hippolyta publish is a clear reference to the real-life Negro Motorist Green Book. Published from 1936 to 1966, it was a guidebook for Black travelers that recommended safe and hospitable gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. Sadly, it’s now best known these days for lending its name to a very, very bad Best Picture winner.
The Outsider and Others
At George’s office, Atticus opens up a collection of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft that was originally published in 1939 by Arkham House Publishers. Lovecraft died in obscurity, so Arkham House kept his works and legacy alive. These days, the book that Atticus had is worth a pretty penny.
“Herbert West, Reanimator”
During their chat, George and Atticus name drop this story that’s also by Lovecraft. As the title suggests, Herbert West is an inventor who finds a way of making zombies.
When Atticus is trying to find information about his dad, he looks for tips at a saloon called Denmark Vesey’s Bar. Vesey was a free Black man executed in 1822 for planning a slave rebellion.
“I Want a Tall Skinny Papa”
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Ruby performs this song, which was originally by “Godmother of rock and roll” Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”
The best known version of this song is by Jerry Lee Lewis, but it was originally performed by R&B singer Big Maybelle.
There isn’t a Bideford, Massachusetts, but there really is a Bideford in the U.K. that was the site of a 1682 witch trial. And what Letitia’s brother says is true—one of the evidence against a supposed “witch” was that she’s had sex with the devil while he was in the shape of a Black man. Three women were hanged.
Just before their encounter with the deeply racist sheriff, Atticus tells Letitia about these Lovecraft creations, giant, oozing amoeba-like creatures covered in eyes. Luckily, they didn’t run into any shoggoths during their road trip—but the monsters they do encounter are pretty damn terrifying.
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