Adventures in Bookland: Voodoo Tales by Henry S. Whitehead
Supernatural stories of Voodoo written by an Episcopalian priest who served as the Archdeacon for the Virgin Islands in the West Indies from 1921 to 1929, particularly a man who was a close fried to H.P. Lovecraft a great writer but an inveterate racist, would seem like an open invitation to all sorts of paternalist, colonialist tropes calculated to make the woke reader reach for the matches of cancellation. And, yes, if you look for it, there is stuff here to take offense at – just as future ages will look back at us and shake their heads in disbelief and horror at some of our most unquestioned notions. But Whitehead reveals himself a sympathetic recorder of Voodoo beliefs and customs, as well as the general folkways and culture of the West Indian black population, all descended from slaves. While the culture of the time was segregated, as a clergyman Whitehead had better access to and, all credit to him, greater sympathy with the black population than the vast majority of other white West Indians. The stories also provide something of a snapshot into a culture passing into twilight as the old planter aristocracies decline. The stories themselves are more of the weird tale strain of supernatural writing than out and out horror, although one or two are early precursors of later body horror tropes, with Whitehead proving to be a skilled and restrained writer, rather different from the other pulp fiction writers of his time. All in all, a pleasant and engaging collection of stories.