Review of “The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft: Halloween countdown

For Halloween, I’m going to try to review a horror. ghost. or otherwise theme story each day in October. Wish me luck.

One of author Lovecraft’s most enduring and influential works, “The Dunwich Horror” begins with the birth of one Wilbur Whateley on Candlemas, 1913. His mother, a “half-deformed albino” who lives with her father on a farm outside the fictional village of Dunwich, Massachusetts, is unmarried. She never names her son’s father. Wilbur’s growth is unnaturally quick. When he’s four, he appears to be ten and can read some of the ancient books his grandfather keeps. Dogs hate little Wilbur. They go nuts barking whenever he’s around.

When he’s ten, he appears to be fifteen, tall with a bit of whiskers. When he’s fifteen, he stands more than six feet tall and appears fully grown. By this time, his grandfather has passed away, and his mother has disappeared, causing many fearful whispers. He leaves Dunwich for the first time, going to (fictional) Miskatonic University to consult a Latin copy of the (fictional) occult book, the Necronomicon. His grandfather left him an English copy, but apparently, its translation is imperfect. Wilbur wants perfection.

When his request to take the book out of the library is denied, he returns at night and breaks in. One of the guard dogs attacks him and kills him. Those who find his body discover the only parts of Wilbur that are human are his hands and his face.
That is only the beginning of the horror.

The reader knows something is wrong from the beginning but is given only hints as to what. What at first is a feeling of uneasiness increases to dread and becomes horror: something unseen moves in the woods. Something attacks the cattle, thought safe in their barns. It doesn’t stop there. The neighbors don’t care for Old Whateley and wonder why even though buys more cattle, his herd stays the same size.

The ending is satisfying with a nice little twist. “The Dunwich Horror” is considered a central story of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu cycle. Written in 1928 and originally published in Weird Tales in April 1929, this novelette is now available as an e-book.

The story can be read here. It can also be heard as an audiobook through Librovox. It has several movie and TV adaptations.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft is well-known now among horror fans for his tales of Cthulhu and the Elder Gods. He was born and lived nearly his entire life in Providence, Rhode Island. His writing is generally long-winded and old-fashioned, affecting British usage and spellings.

He was immensely influential on such authors as Lin Carter, Robert E Howard (who wrote the original Conan the Barbarian stories), Fritz Leiber, among others. His Cthulhu Mythos (a term he never used, according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) remains popular in horror and fantasy circles.

Central to much of his writing is the idea of cosmic horror, that is, that the universe is a scary and hostile place for humans, inhabited by an array of infinitely powerful beings who regard us no more than we regard bugs. Fortunately, most of us will never run across them or know of them. Those few curious humans who do, though, bring down destruction on themselves or escape into insanity.

One problematic aspect of Lovecraft’s writing is inescapable: his racism. He is also unapologetically xenophobic. His repulsion as seeing a “swarthy” face shows through in several stories.

Series: Cthulhu Mythos
Title: “The Dunwich Horror”
Author: H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
First published: Written 1928 first published Weird Tales, April 1929

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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