Providence Character Names, Copyright, and Obscenity

Hillman confusing Robert Black's name - from Providence #3, art by Jacen Burrows
Hillman confusing Robert Black’s name – from Providence #3, art by Jacen Burrows

Some have asked why Alan Moore is changing some of the names from H. P. Lovecraft’s stories, questioning whether it has to do with copyright.

The short answer is that it has nothing to do with copyright. The copyright situation with Lovecraft’s works is complicated, as explained by Chris J. Karr over at Black Seas of Copyright, but the bottom line of it is that the original pulp versions of Lovecraft’s fiction that appeared in Weird Tales and Astounding Stories – including classics like “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” “The Shadow Out of Time,” and At the Mountains of Madness – are all considered to be in the public domain in the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and many other countries.

Moore is free to use and refer to Lovecraft’s creations—but he is being careful about doing so in Providence for literary reasons. 

In The Courtyard, the punchline was that the Cthulhu Mythos actually existed; it is essentially a straight Mythos story, albeit told with Moore’s usual insight and skill.

In Neonomicon, Moore introduced the idea that Lovecraft and his stories existed in the same universe, and so established a frisson in the audience: Lovecraft’s creations were real, the literary creations and their creator existed in the same universe.

What we are seeing in Providence is one step beyond that: by following Black’s journey of discovery, Moore is taking the opportunity to deconstruct and reconstruct Lovecraft’s Mythos.

Since we’re only six issues in we don’t have the full story yet, but it is clear that Moore is taking the disparate, loosely-connected elements of Lovecraft’s Mythos—which it should be remembered that HPL did not plan out in interconnected detail beforehand—and tying it together into a more cohesive backstory. A backstory that Moore has indicated is not the ultimate final Mythos backstory, but just one way of weaving through much of it. Stepping away from Lovecraft’s names helps separate Lovecraft’s fictional characters from their “real” counterparts.

Moore’s focus on Lovecraft and his creations may also explain why he has not yet changed Lovecraft’s references to older works. These include Arthur Machen’s Aklo, Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, Ambrose Bierce, and Etienne Roulet from Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-Wolves. These names are unchanged, since these are works that would already exist in the fictional reality of Providence, which presumably Lovecraft (if and when he makes an appearance) would draw upon for his fiction.

In addition, there are a small subset of Lovecraft characters (Suydam and Malone from “The Horror at Red Hook”) who are referred to by name in Moore’s initial Lovecraft foray The Courtyard. For these characters, Moore had already established them in the Courtyard/Neonomicon/Providence world, so Providence continuity keeps their actual Lovecraft names intact. This exception is not quite consistent either, as Richard Upton Pickman is mentioned by name in The Courtyard, but Moore has changed his analogue’s name to Ronald Underwood Pitman who is due to appear soon in Providence #7.

Clear? Not entirely… but then there are still six issues that are likely to shed more light on the the naming conventions.

With the release of Providence #6, there has also been some discussion of another legal question regarding Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ work on Providence: the scene of a 13-year old girl being raped potentially raises concerns about whether or not Providence might fall afoul of laws concerning child pornography. Answering that requires us to go into a little bit of detail about the current laws laws in the United States, so we’ve broken it out into a separate essay: Obscenity: Alan Moore and the Miller Test.

13 thoughts on “Providence Character Names, Copyright, and Obscenity

  1. “In addition, there are a small subset of Lovecraft characters (Suydam and Malone from “The Horror at Red Hook”) who are referred to by name in Moore’s initial Lovecraft foray The Courtyard. For these characters, Moore had already established them in the Courtyard/Neonomicon/Providence world, so Providence continuity keeps their actual Lovecraft names intact.”

    This doesn’t hold true for Pickman, Pittman, on courtyard there’s Pickman paintings, and in providence it’s Pittman pictures…. let’s see if something explains this further on issue 7

    Liked by 2 people

      • Or that they’re the same person, but Alan used the original names in Neonomicon.

        Lots of people use photographs as reference to paint from, they’re both forms of portraiture. Maybe Pittman does both to make a living. Being called Richard Upton and Ronald Underwood is too much of a coincidence for them not to be the same man.

        If Pittman does pictures of monsters and “necrotica”, he’s probably not going to want to show them as photographs.


      • In Lovecraft, Pickman is a painter who works from photographs he takes… so he’s kinda both (in Lovecraft – and, based on the regular cover for #7, Moore too.)


  2. I think what’s happening is, these are the people’s “real” names, and HPL changed them when he later wrote about them, as you do when fictionalising real people. Since that’s the prevailing theory, that HP’s somehow going to end up getting all his information from Black.

    Anybody like my theory? That the various weirdies are messing with Black so he’ll remember them, so that eventually HP will hear of them, and write them into his “fiction”. Then Cthulhu wakes up, and the stories become true, giving Keziah Mason et al some power in the new order of things.

    The power that fiction has over reality is a common Alan Moore thing, Promethea being the biggest example. This takes it a step further.

    Some of the characters, Hector North being one, were just carrying on their normal lives, and aren’t really interested in Black and what he’s heralding. But some are going to great lengths to mess with him, then let him go unharmed. Why would they bother?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just to add, most of the wierdos in Providence could well be alive in Neonomicon. So even if Cthulhu doesn’t turn up til the early 21st Century, they can wait. Being in the right place at the right time is part of the reason they’re bothering with living so long, it’s a long-term plan.


    • You are exactly right. Moore is putting forth the “true” events and people, which Lovecraft will fictionalize, in part by slightly changing the names.


  3. Great comments everyone, really interesting, I think Alan Moore didn’t think about that while writing the Courtyard.. I didn’t even read the original short story, just the adaptation so I don’t know if that’s an add-on by the adapter.

    Either way, I think Alan can explain it fairly easily later and it could be either way, although I like alexkay theory the most


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