The Dunwich Horror


The Dunwich Horror
"The Dunwich Horror"
Author H. P. Lovecraft
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror short story
Published in Weird Tales
Publication type Periodical
Media type Print (Magazine)
Publication date April, 1929

"The Dunwich Horror" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft. Written in 1928, it was first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales (pp. 481–508). It takes place in Dunwich, a fictional town in Massachusetts. It is considered one of the core stories of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Contents

Inspiration

Geographical

In a letter to August Derleth, Lovecraft wrote that "The Dunwich Horror" "takes place amongst the wild domed hills of the upper Miskatonic Valley, far northwest of Arkham, and is based on several old New England legends--one of which I heard only last month during my sojourn in Wilbraham," a town east of Springfield.[1] (One such legend is the notion that whippoorwills can capture the departing soul.)[2]

In another letter, Lovecraft wrote that Dunwich is "a vague echo of the decadent Massachusetts countryside around Springfield--say Wilbraham, Monson and Hampden."[3] Robert M. Price notes that "much of the physical description of the Dunwich countryside is a faithful sketch of Wilbraham," citing a passage from a letter from Lovecraft to Zealia Bishop that "sounds like a passage from 'The Dunwich Horror' itself":

When the road dips again there are stretches of marshland that one instinctively dislikes, and indeed almost fears at evening when unseen whippoorwills chatter and the fireflies come out in abnormal profusion to dance to the raucous, creepily insistent rhythms of stridently piping bullfrogs.[4]

The physical model for Dunwich's Sentinel Hill is thought to be Wilbraham Mountain near Wilbraham.[5]

But researchers have pointed out the story's apparent connections to another Massachusetts region: the area around Athol and points south, in the north-central part of the state (which is where Lovecraft indicates that Dunwich is located). It has been suggested that the name "Dunwich," was inspired by the town of Greenwich, which was deliberately flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir,[6] although Greenwich and the nearby towns of Dana, Enfield and Prescott actually weren't submerged until 1938. Donald R. Burleson points out that several names included in the story—including Bishop, Frye, Sawyer, Rice and Morgan—are either prominent Athol names or have a connection to the town's history.[7]

Athol's Sentinel Elm Farm seems to be the source for the name Sentinel Hill.[5] The Bear's Den mentioned in the story resembles an actual cave of the same name visited by Lovecraft in North New Salem, southwest of Athol.[8] (New Salem, like Dunwich, was founded by settlers from Salem—though in 1737, not 1692.[9])

The book Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, mentions a "Devil's Hop Yard" near Haddam, Connecticut as a gathering place for witches. The book, which Lovecraft seems to have read, also describes noises emanating from the earth near Moodus, Connecticut, which are similar to the Dunwich sounds decried by Rev. Abijah Hoadley.[10]

Literary

Lovecraft's main literary sources for "The Dunwich Horror" are the stories of British horror writer Arthur Machen, particularly The Great God Pan (which is mentioned in the text of "The Dunwich Horror") and "The Novel of the Black Seal". Both Machen stories concern individuals whose death throes reveal them to be only half-human in their parentage. According to Robert M. Price, "'The Dunwich Horror' is in every sense an homage to Machen and even a pastiche. There is little in Lovecraft's story that does not come directly out of Machen's fiction."[11]

Another source that has been suggested is The Thing in the Woods, by Harper Williams, which is also about two brothers living in the woods, neither of them quite human, and with one of them less human than the other.

The name Dunwich itself may come from Machen's The Terror, where the name refers to an English town where the titular entity is seen hovering as "a black cloud with sparks of fire in it".[12] Lovecraft also takes Wilbur Whateley's occult terms "Aklo" and "Voorish" from Machen's "The White People".[13]

Lovecraft also seems to have found inspiration in Anthony M. Rud's story "Ooze" (published in Weird Tales, March 1923), which also involved a monster being secretly kept and fed in a house that it subsequently bursts out of and destroys.[14]

The tracks of Wilbur's brother recall those seen in Algernon Blackwood's "The Wendigo", one of Lovecraft's favorite horror stories,[15] Also, Ambrose Bierce's story The Damned Thing involves a monster invisible to human eyes, much like the Horror.

Reaction

Lovecraft took pride in "The Dunwich Horror", calling it "so fiendish that [Weird Tales] editor Farnsworth Wright may not dare to print it." Wright, however, snapped it up, sending Lovecraft a cheque for $240, equal to $2800 in modern dollars, the largest single payment for his fiction he had received up to that point.[16]

Lovecraft biographer Lin Carter calls the story "an excellent tale.... A mood of tension and gathering horror permeates the story, which culminates in a shattering climax".[17] Robert M. Price declares that "among the tales of H. P. Lovecraft, 'The Dunwich Horror' remains my favorite."[18]

S. T. Joshi, on the other hand, regards "Dunwich" as "simply an aesthetic mistake on Lovecraft's part", citing its "stock good-versus-evil scenario".[19]

Plot summary

Wilbur Whateley is the son of a deformed albino mother and an unknown father (alluded to in passing by the mad Old Whateley as "Yog-Sothoth"), and strange events surround his birth and precocious development. Wilbur matures at an abnormal rate, reaching manhood within a decade. All the while, his sorcerer grandfather indoctrinates him into certain dark rituals and the study of witchcraft.

The plot revolves around the desire of Wilbur to acquire an unabridged Latin version of the Necronomicon — his imperfect English copy is ill-suited for his dark purpose — so that he may open the way for the return of the mysterious "Old Ones", whose forerunner is the Outer God Yog-Sothoth. Thus, Wilbur and his grandfather have sequestered an unseen presence at their farmhouse; this being is connected somehow to Yog-Sothoth. Year by year, this unseen entity grows to monstrous proportions, requiring Wilbur and his patriarch to make frequent modifications to their residence. People begin to notice a trend of cattle mysteriously disappearing. Eventually, Wilbur's mother also disappears. By the time Wilbur's grandfather dies, the colossal entity occupies the whole interior of the farmhouse.

Wilbur ventures to Miskatonic University in Arkham to procure a copy of the dreaded Necronomicon – Miskatonic's library is one of only a handful in the world to stock an original print of the frightful tome. The Necronomicon has certain spells that Wilbur can use to summon the Old Ones for dark purposes unfathomable to men. When the librarian, Dr. Henry Armitage, refuses to release the university's copy to him, Wilbur breaks into the library at night to steal the loathsome book. A guard dog attacks Wilbur with unusual ferocity, killing him. When Dr. Armitage and two other professors arrive on the scene and see Wilbur Whateley's partly non-human corpse, before it melts completely to leave no evidence, they realize that the youth was not wholly of this earth.

The story culminates with the actual Dunwich horror: With Wilbur Whateley now dead, no one can attend to the mysterious presence growing in the Whateley farmhouse. Early one morning, the Whateley farmhouse explodes as the thing, an invisible monster, rampages across Dunwich, cutting a path through fields, trees, and ravines, leaving huge "prints" the size of tree trunks. The monster eventually makes forays into inhabited areas. Part of the cattle of at least two farms, and two entire families (the Fryes and the Bishops), are attacked and devoured. The frightened town is terrorized by the invisible creature for several days, until Dr. Armitage, Professor Warren Rice, and Dr. Francis Morgan, all of Miskatonic University, arrive with the knowledge and weapons needed to kill it. In the end, its nature is revealed: it is the twin brother of Wilbur Whateley, though it "looked more like the father than Wilbur did."

"The Dunwich Horror" is one of the few tales Lovecraft wrote wherein the heroes successfully defeat the antagonistic entity or monster of the story, although the Horror itself is only the remainder of a far more fiendish plan thwarted by Wilbur's premature death.

Characters

Old Whateley

Lavinia Whateley's "aged and half-insane father, about whom the most frightful tales of magic had been whispered in his youth".[20] Dunwich gossips recall that "the hills once shook when he shrieked the dreadful name of Yog-Sothoth in the midst of a circle of stones with a great book open in his arms before him."[21] He has a large collection of "rotting ancient books and parts of books" which he uses to "instruct[s] and catechise" his grandson Wilbur.[22] He dies of natural causes on August 2, 1924.[23]

He is given no certain first name by Lovecraft, although Fungi from Yuggoth mentions a John Whateley; he is referred to as "Noah Whateley" in the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game.

According to S. T. Joshi, "It is not certain where Lovecraft got the name Whateley," though there is a small town called Whately in northwestern Massachusetts near the Mohawk Trail, which Lovecraft hiked several times, including in the summer of 1928.[24] Robert M. Price's short story "Wilbur Whateley Waiting" emphasizes the obvious pun in the name.[25]

Lavinia Whateley

Born circa 1878, Lavinia Whateley is the daughter of Old Whateley and a mother who met an "unexplained death by violence" when Wilbur was 12. She is described as a

somewhat deformed, unattractive albino woman...a lone creature given to wandering amidst thunderstorms in the hills and trying to read the great odorous books which her father had inherited through two centuries of Whateleys.... She had never been to school, but was filled with disjointed scraps of ancient lore that Old Whateley had taught her.... Isolated among strange influences, Lavinia was fond of wild and grandiose day-dreams and singular occupations.

Elsewhere, she is called "slatternly [and] crinkly-haired".

In 1913, she gave birth to Wilbur Whately by an unknown father. On Halloween night in 1926, she disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Wilbur Whateley

Born February 2, 1913 at 5 a.m. to Lavinia Whateley and an unknown father. Described as a "dark, goatish-looking infant"[26]--neighbors refer to him as "Lavinny's black brat"[21]--he shows extreme precocity: "Within three months of his birth, he had attained a size and muscular power not usually found in infants under a full year of age.... At seven months, he began to walk unassisted,"[27] and he "commenced to talk...at the age of only eleven months."[21] At three years of age, "he looked like a boy of ten,"[28] while at four and a half, he "looked like a lad of fifteen. His lips and cheeks were fuzzy with a coarse dark down, and his voice had begun to break."[29]

"Though he shared his mother's and grandfather's chinlessness, his firm and precociously shaped nose united with the expression of his large, dark, almost Latin eyes to give him an air of..well-nigh preternatural intelligence," Lovecraft writes, though at the same time he is "exceedingly ugly...there being something almost goatish or animalistic about his thick lips, large-pored, yellowish skin, coarse crinkly hair, and oddly elongated ears."[21]

He dies at the age of fifteen after being mauled by a guard dog while breaking in to the Miskatonic library on August 3, 1928. His death scene allows Lovecraft to provide a detailed description of Wilbur's partly nonhuman anatomy:

The thing that lay half-bent on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-yellow ichor and tarry stickiness was almost nine feet tall, and the dog had torn off all the clothing and some of the skin.... It was partly human, beyond a doubt, with very manlike hands and head, and the goatish, chinless face had the stamp of the Whateleys upon it. But the torso and lower parts of the body were teratologically fabulous, so that only generous clothing could ever have enabled it to walk on earth unchallenged or uneradicated.
Above the waist it was semi-anthropomorphic; though its chest...had the leathery, reticulated hide of a crocodile or alligator. The back was piebald with yellow and black, and dimly suggested the squamous covering of certain snakes. Below the waist, though, it was the worst; for here all human resemblance left off and sheer phantasy began. The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur, and from the abdomen a score of long greenish-grey tentacles with red sucking mouths protruded limply.
Their arrangement was odd, and seemed to follow the symmetries of some cosmic geometry unknown to earth or the solar system. On each of the hips, deep set in a kind of pinkish, ciliated orbit, was what seemed to be a rudimentary eye; whilst in lieu of a tail there depended a kind of trunk or feeler with purple annular markings, and with many evidences of being an undeveloped mouth or throat. The limbs, save for their black fur, roughly resembled the hind legs of prehistoric earth's giant saurians, and terminated in ridgy-veined pads that were neither hooves nor claws.[30]

This death scene bears a marked resemblance to that of Jervase Cradock, a similarly half-human character in Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the Black Seal": "Something pushed out from the body there on the floor, and stretched forth, a slimy, wavering tentacle," Machen writes.[31] Will Murray notes that the goatish, partly reptilian Wilbur Whateley resembles a chimera, a mythological creature referred to in Charles Lamb's epigraph to "The Dunwich Horror".[32]

Robert M. Price points out that Wilbur Whateley is in some respects an autobiographical figure for Lovecraft: "Wilbur's being raised by a grandfather instead of a father, his home education from his grandfather's library, his insane mother, his stigma of ugliness (in Lovecraft's case untrue, but a self-image imposed on him by his mother), and his sense of being an outsider all echo Lovecraft himself."[33]

Henry Armitage

(1855–1939/1946?)

The head librarian at Miskatonic University. As a young man, he graduated from Miskatonic in 1881 and went on to obtain his doctorate from Princeton University and his Doctor of Letters degree at Johns Hopkins University.

Lovecraft noted that while writing "The Dunwich Horror", "[I] found myself identifying with one of the characters (an aged scholar who finally combats the menace) toward the end".[34] S. T. Joshi writes that Armitage "would make a very good parody of the pompous and valiant 'hero' of hackneyed adventure fiction were it not so obvious that Lovecraft intends us to take him seriously."[35]

Francis Morgan

Professor of Medicine and Comparative Anatomy (or Archaeology) at Miskatonic University. The story refers to him as "lean" and "youngish".

In Fritz Leiber's "To Arkham and the Stars"--written in 1966 and apparently set at about that time—Morgan is described as "the sole living survivor of the brave trio who had slain the Dunwich Horror". According to Leiber, Morgan's "research in mescaline and LSD" produced "clever anti-hallucinogens" that were instrumental in curing Danforth's mental illness.[36]

Warren Rice

Professor of Classical Languages at Miskatonic University. He is called "stocky" and "iron-grey".

Cthulhu Mythos

Although Lovecraft first mentioned "Yog-Sothoth" in the novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, it was in "The Dunwich Horror" that he introduced the entity as one of his extra-dimensional Old Ones. It is also the tale in which the Necronomicon makes the most significant appearance, and the longest direct quote from it appears in the text. Many of the other standards of the Cthulhu Mythos, such as Miskatonic University, Arkham and Dunwich also form integral parts of the tale.

A librarian named Armitage appears in Don Webb's short story "To Mars and Providence", an alternate history where a juvenile Lovecraft is influenced by the events of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds.

Adaptations

  • A film version, The Dunwich Horror, appeared in 1970. It starred Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley, and also starred Ed Begley and Sandra Dee with a soundtrack by Les Baxter. While the script borrowed some elements from Lovecraft, the final film bears little resemblance to the short story. It was also the final film for Begley, who passed away in April of that year.
  • Another film version of the tale starring Jeffrey Combs as Wilbur Whately and directed by Leigh Scott was first broadcast in October 2009 on SyFy. Dean Stockwell stars in this version as well, this time as Dr. Henry Armitage. Early on in production it was titled The Darkest Evil.
  • The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has adapted the story into an audio drama titled Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Dunwich Horror; similar to their earlier adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness.
  • The radio drama Suspense adapted "The Dunwich Horror". It stars Academy Award winner Ronald Colman as Henry Armitage, and aired originally on November 1, 1945.
  • Director Richard Griffin[37] made a modern update of the The Dunwich Horror. Called Beyond the Dunwich Horror, it premiered May 23, 2008 at the Columbus Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island.
  • The Dunwich Horror, along with The Picture in the House and The Festival, were adapted into short claymation films, and released by Toei Animation as a DVD compilation called H. P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror and Other Stories (H・P・ラヴクラフトのダニッチ・ホラー その他の物語 Ecchi Pī Ravukurafuto no Danicchi Horā Sonota no Monogatari?) in August 2007.[38][39]
  • Though not strictly an adaptation, The Dunwich Horror is used as the basis for a quest in the computer role playing game Fallout 3. The player can stumble upon a ruined building that was once the head offices of a drill manufacturing company named Dunwich Borers. Audio logs found inside tell the story of a person looking for his father,who was in possession of a thick book that was warm to the touch. While this is seemingly just a story about a man who becomes an insane radiation-infected "ghoul", the player experiences odd hallucinations while in the building, and full exploration reveals that underneath the building is a unique skull-lined obelisk-shaped shrine, completely different than the aesthetic found in the rest of the game. In one part of the building, looking up reveals that a hole above a desk that may be an altar continues through several floors, and out the roof.
  • The story was adapted into an "audio horror movie" in 2010 by Colin Edwards and sound company Savalas. The recording is essentially an audio drama recorded in 5.1 surround sound to create a movie without pictures. It premiered at the Filmhouse cinema in Edinburgh on 23 June 2010 as part of the 64th Edinburgh International Film festival. The "film's" director/writer Colin Edwards was in attendance along with cast members Greg Hemphill, Innes Smith and Vivien Taylor and sound Designer Kahl Henderson.[40]
  • In 2011, IDW Publishing began publishing a four-issue limited adaptation of The Dunwich Horror by Bram Stoker Award-winning author Joe R. Lansdale and artist Peter Bergting. [41]

Short story collection

The Dunwich Horror and Others is the name of a collection of H. P. Lovecraft short stories published by Arkham House, containing what August Derleth considered to be the best of Lovecraft's shorter fiction. Originally published in 1963, the 6th printing in 1985 included extensive corrections by S. T. Joshi in order to produce the definitive edition of Lovecraft's works. The collection has an introduction by Robert Bloch, titled "Heritage of Horror", reprinted from the 1982 Ballantine collection, Blood Curdling Tales of Supernatural Horror: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft.

The stories included in The Dunwich Horror and Others are:

Influence

  • Neil Gaiman's short story "I, Cthulhu" features a human slave/biographer referred to only as Whateley, possibly in reference to one of the characters in "The Dunwich Horror".
  • Stoner/doom metal band Electric Wizard released a song on their 2007 album, Witchcult Today, entitled "Dunwich", based around the short story. Also, "We Hate You", from their 2000 album, Dopethrone, contains sound clips from the film.
  • Lucio Fulci's 1980 movie City of the Living Dead is set in a town named Dunwich.
  • Joseph Bruchac's children's horror novel, Whisper in the Dark has an albino homicidal serial killer named Wilbur Whatley that decapitated his own parents and was afraid of dogs.
  • Under the title of "Dunwich Confidential," on his third album, Medallion Animal Carpet, Bob Drake and a collaborator retell the story of "The Dunwich Horror."
  • A location in the 2008 Xbox 360/PS3/PC video game Fallout 3 is called "The Dunwich Building." It features a mini-story of a man searching for his father, who is in possession of an "old, bloodstained book made of weird leather", which may be the Necronomicon. Furthermore, a later downloadable add-on "Point Lookout" featured a quest involving a book with a similar purpose and equally strange name as the Necronomicon, which can be destroyed in the basement of The Dunwich Building.
  • An Alliance town in World of Warcraft is called "Sentinel Hill."
  • A Sculpture by Fierce Furious based on the last description in the Dunwich Horror.
  • Clock Tower: The First Fear features a similar premise where a wealthy recluse adopts orphans on the pretext of being unable to bear her own children.
  • "Boojum" - a short story by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette - features a living, sentient space ship (a Boojum) named "Lavinia Whateley" by her pirate crew.

References

  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1984) [1928]. "The Dunwich Horror". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-037-8.  Definitive version.

Footnotes

  1. ^ Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, August 4, 1928, cited in Joshi, p. 101.
  2. ^ Joshi, p. 113.
  3. ^ Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. III, pp. 432-433; cited in Joshi, p. 108.
  4. ^ Cited in Robert M. Price, The Dunwich Cycle, p. 82.
  5. ^ a b Joshi, p. 114.
  6. ^ Charles P. Mtchell, The Complete H.P.Lovecraft Filmography p.9 (2001)
  7. ^ Donald R. Burleson, "Humour Beneath Horror: Some Sources for 'The Dunwich Horror' and 'The Whisperer in Darkness'", Lovecraft Studies, No. 2 (Spring 1980), pp. 5-15, cited in Joshi, pp. 105, 111, 138; Price, p. 82.
  8. ^ Joshi, p. 147.
  9. ^ Will Murray, "In Search of Arkham Country Revisited", Lovecraft Studies, Nos. 19/20 (Fall 1989), ppp. 65-69; cited in Joshi, p. 110.
  10. ^ Joshi, p. 112.
  11. ^ Price, pp. ix-x.
  12. ^ Price, p. 1.
  13. ^ Price, p. 48.
  14. ^ Joshi, pp. 118, 152.
  15. ^ Joshi, pp. 144-145.
  16. ^ Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. II, p. 240; cited in Joshi, p. 101.
  17. ^ Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, pp. 71-72.
  18. ^ Robert M. Price, "What Roodmas Horror", The Dunwich Cycle, p. ix.
  19. ^ Joshi, pp. 16-17.
  20. ^ Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 159.
  21. ^ a b c d Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 162.
  22. ^ Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 163.
  23. ^ Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 166.
  24. ^ Joshi, p. 115.
  25. ^ Robert M. Price, “Wilbur Whateley Waiting”, The Dunwich Cycle, Robert M. Price, ed., pp. 236-252.
  26. ^ Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 159.
  27. ^ Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 161.
  28. ^ Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 164.
  29. ^ Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 165.
  30. ^ Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", pp. 174-175.
  31. ^ Cited in Joshi, p. 140.
  32. ^ Will Murray, "The Dunwich Chimera and Others: Correlating the Cthulhu Mythos", Lovecraft Studies No. 8 (Spring 1984), pp. 10-24; cited in Joshi, pp. 104, 140.
  33. ^ Price, The Dunwich Cycle, p. 236.
  34. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, September 1928; cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 81.
  35. ^ S. T. Joshi, The Annotated Lovecraft, p. 16.
  36. ^ Fritz Leiber, "To Arkham and the Stars", Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos, pp. 320-321.
  37. ^ Beyond The Dunwich Horror (2008)
  38. ^ [1] Official Site
  39. ^ [2] Toei Animation Press Release
  40. ^ http://www.edfilmfest.org.uk/whats-on/2010/h-p-lovecrafts-the-dunwich-horror
  41. ^ http://www.idwpublishing.com/news/article/1875/

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