Based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 critically acclaimed horror novel, the Jordan Peele-produced Lovecraft Country series is set to premiere on HBO on Aug. 16. If you’re not familiar, the book version is actually a series of ultimately intertwining narratives. Each section has its own specific arc with its own lead character navigating through a different horrifying tale.
The TV version begins its narrative with the first chapter, which tells the story of Atticus Black (Jonathan Majors), a young Black man living in 1950s America, who is joined by his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) on a road trip to find his missing father (Michael K. Williams). Like the book, the upcoming series explores the contrast between classic H.P. Lovecraft horror fiction and the very real racism Atticus and his family experience in the Jim Crow South. In order to survive this journey, all must overcome both monstrous racists and the literal monsters around them.
Can’t contain your excitement and want to know exactly what happens? The stories are as follows!
Chapter One: Lovecraft Country
Atticus Turner embarks on a journey with his Uncle George and friend Letitia after receiving a letter from his father Montrose asking him to go to Ardham, Massachusetts. There is an ominous tone throughout, due to the rumors of Lovecraftian monsters that lurk around the area. However, they mostly encounter racist police officers, such as when Atticus is stopped by a white police officer who tells him he’s traveling through a “sundown town,” and that in seven minutes at sundown, his “duty” would be to kill him. At Ardham, Atticus soon arrives at a mansion, where he learns that he is the direct descendant of Titus Braithwhite, a wealthy white man who died in 1795. The mansion is now owned by Samuel Braithwhite (who is farther in line than Atticus) who has kidnapped Atticus’s father Montrose to lure Atticus there. Samuel and a coven of men led by a strange religion need Atticus’s blood to perform a ritual, but before that happens, Atticus is given a spell to kill off the whole order by Samuel’s own son Caleb. Atticus, George, and Letitia leave safely.
Chapter Two: The Dreams of the Which House
The second chapter of Lovecraft Country follows Letitia, who is given money along with her sister Ruby from an anonymous man who claims to be paying off a debt owed to their late father. With the newfound money, they buy The Winthrop House, a home located in a white neighborhood that is supposedly haunted. Letitia encounters a ghost there, but she isn’t scared she is actually friendly toward it. Letitia and Ruby’s neighbors are angry about a Black woman owning a property there and they try to vandalize it, but the ghost protects them. Soon enough, Atticus finds a photo of the original owner of The Winthrop House with Samuel Braithwhite, and knows it’s a trap probably placed by Samuel’s son Caleb. He warns the realtor to send Samuel’s son a warning to leave Letitia alone.
Chapter Three: Abdullah’s Book
Uncle George and Atticus’s father Montrose find that a book that has been passed down for generations in their family is missing. The stolen tome, called The Book of Days, is a record of what their great-grandmother Adah should have been paid for her slave labor, plus interest. Sure enough, they find out that Caleb has stolen it, and will only return it if they bring him a magical book called The Book of Names that is hidden in the Museum of Natural History. George and Montrose devise a plan to find the book and give Caleb a fake copy of it. They’re almost successful but Caleb finds out, demanding the real book. Caleb gives them back Adah’s book, plus the balance of all of her unpaid labor plus interest: $300,000.
Chapter Four: Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe
Atticus’s aunt Hippolyta discovers a key to The Winthrop House’s observatory, which is also a portal to another planet. On that monster-ridden planet, Hippolyta meets Ida, a former employee of Hiram Winthrop, the former owner of the house. Ida tells Hippolyta that Hiram brought her and other employees to the planet as a scare-tactic, but that he must have been killed in the following days (probably by Samuel Braithwhite), leaving them stuck there forever. Ida becomes paranoid that Hiram’s spirit lured Hippolyta to find Ida and possibly hurt her, so she gives Hippolyta a box that contains a creature intended to kill her. But as Hippolyta treks back, the creature ends up attacking two white men hassling her instead.
Chapter Five: Jekyll in Hyde Park
This chapter spotlights Letitia’s sister Ruby, who wakes up as a white woman after Caleb offers her an elixir. He then offers her a job working for him, and in exchange, he will give her the deed to a townhouse and a supply of elixirs, giving her the power to choose her race forever. Ruby agrees, and begins to work for Caleb in unifying the lodges of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. However, in her basement, Ruby finds the body of the white woman whose blood is being used to power the elixir. Caleb claims the woman would have died anyway, and tells Ruby that she needs to decide who she wants to be in life.
Chapter Six: The Narrow House
Caleb Braithwhite asks Atticus and Montrose to find Henry Winthrop, the son of Hiram Winthrop. Henry took some of his father’s books when he ran away, including his notebooks, and Caleb wants them. Atticus and Montrose embark on a journey to Aken, Illinois, where Henry is rumored to be. However, they soon find that since Henry ran off with a Black woman who used to work at his father’s house, they were both killed by a racist mob. At their house, Montrose meets the ghosts of Henry and his wife’s family, where they relive the last day of their lives everyday (including the murder). Montrose finds Hiram’s books, but decides to tell Caleb they found nothing there.
Chapter Seven: Horace and the Devil Doll
Cousin Horace makes an appearance in this chapter, after being approached by two detectives and Captain Lancaster. A comic book he drew was found near Hiram Winthrop’s observatory, and they demand that Horace ask his mother Hippolyta about it and report back to them. Horace refuses to cooperate, so Lancaster casts a spell to prevent Horace from telling others about the situation, and to cause inanimate objects to move. Soon enough, Horace begins to notice all kinds of cartoons and photographs grinning at him, and a doll attacks him. Horace manages to use Scrabble tiles to spell out to Ruby what happened, and Ruby tells Caleb. Caleb reverses the curses, believing Lancaster thought Caleb ordered Hippolyta to snoop around the observatory. He thinks that Lancaster tried to kill Horace to punish Hippolyta for working with Caleb. Caleb devises a plan to kill Captain Lancaster.
Chapter Eight: The Mark of Cain
Everyone gets together to share their stories about Caleb. Caleb has a plan to get rid of Lancaster, but the family decides that they need to get rid of both of them. They decide to pretend to go along with Caleb’s plan, but ask Winthrop’s ghost for help. Caleb lures Lancaster into a room where a monster swallows him whole, then Atticus uses magic to alter Caleb’s Mark of Cain. The mark prevents Caleb from entering certain places and from doing magic. They toss him into their truck, drop him off in Indiana, and drive away.
Hippolyta goes back through the portal to tell Ida what happened to Pearl, Henry Winthrop’s wife who was murdered along with him in Illinois. Ruby goes back to her workplace as a white woman, introducing herself as Hillary Hyde, looking for a new job. George, Montrose, Atticus, and Horace put the rest of Caleb’s money into a safe. The book ends with Atticus and Montrose agreeing to take Horace along for their next trip.
All in all, Matt Ruff’s story is completely visceral: blending history, pulp noir, Lovecraft’s themes, magic, and hope. This dark tale is teeming with classic horror-fantasy allusions, yet also with the character’s very real struggles with blatant racism. Lovecraftian monsters and ghostly spirits are scary, but the true horror of the book and series lies in the poignant segregation and racism they experience.