Search This Blog

Monday, March 24, 2014

"The Dunwich Horror" by H. P. Lovecraft

First appeared in Weird Tales, reprinted by Phyllis Cerf Wagner, Herbert Wise, Betty M. Owen, Robert M. Price, Tom English, Gwendolyn Toynton, John Gregory Betancourt, Colin Azariah-Kribbs, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer. 

Other Media: 

Online. Audio drama. Recent movie (decent camp for low-budget/acting quality--3.7 out of 10 on IMDB--although I must admit it's not especially faithful and I skimmed parts). Hard to find good images illustrating the story although I left out a semi-accurate if gruesome one.


Dunwich recently* had troubles that were hushed up. Satan and his minions have been a close part of the New England community since it was first founded--if you believe the rumors, which the narrator does not, at first.

We focus on the Whatelys, a decadent,** homely, goat-looking lot. In 1913, Lavinia gives birth to Wilbur, who frightens the village. He grows up too quickly and seven-feet tall. The community steer clear of the house where screams and an awful stench emanate. People disappear. Even the mother disappears. The people blame the boy.

Wilbur shows up at the Library, seeking a copy of the Necronomicon, especially page 751 (which adds to the unlucky 13). The librarian says no, but Wilbur returns only to die to a librarian guard dog. Wilbur decays before the villagers' eyes.

No, Lovecraft does not end there. He is a writer of scope. The monster still in the house is famished. It prowls the countryside to abate its hunger.


The whippoorwills add a nice touch of creepiness, signaling imminent death. What's cool is that whose death is signaled remains masked until their death.

The monsters themselves are like a scale of creepiness that Lovecraft ascends, which he called "so fiendish" that no one would want to print it. Little wonder. We have the boy who is humanly grotesque--even if his end comes too quickly and undramatically. Far worse, we have the monster, hungry, prowling the countryside in search of food. Nothing can keep it out, and it smashes locked doors, climbs sheer cliffs. S.T. Joshi dismissed the tale as one of good vs. evil, where good triumphs, but Lovecraft implies yet a third entity. The humans have surmounted the brothers, but not their father, whom presumably they cannot surmount.

The key trouble is character, which is not Lovecraft's strong suit. If he'd created personalities of dimension, Joshi would not be able to call it "stock." (I need to revisit "The Hound" which was my favorite at one time--interesting characters, memory says.)

Nonetheless, one character bears fascinating aspects. Professor Henry Armitage--the librarian who refuses Wilbur the book--shares his knowledge of arcane data, takes it seriously, and uses it. This is very different from the standard genre story. I once mentioned in a workshop with James Gunn that astronauts would have read various SF authors. While SF writers pay tribute to the old masters, one was not to reference those works directly--odd considering that the future will involve those who have read such authors. Here, though, Lovecraft references those stories directly. They prepare Armitage, which is a relief for readers familiar with the genre who ask, "Why does everyone have to be so stupid?"

*Okay, 1928, but that's while Lovecraft wrote the tale and a year after it was published. When revisiting Lovecraftian realms, writers tend to return to the twenties. Clearly, Lovecraft flipped back to the past but primarily set his stories in and addressed his day, but to revisit Lovecraft, addressing one's own day may keep with Lovecraft's spirit.

** It's hard to know what Lovecraft means by this term except that it is bad. Like many of his excessive adjectives, it may serve no other purpose than to create atmosphere.

No comments:

Post a Comment