After taking a look at the classic Lovecraftian tale Call of Cthulhu last week, I thought it’d be good to write up another blog on perhaps my all-time favourite story from Lovecraft that I have read so far, The Dunwich Horror.
Another story that I first read in the summer of 2012, while Call of Cthulhu was a little surprising to me in being so disjointed and just not what I had been expecting at all, Dunwich Horror was a much more conventional story to me, I found myself instantly enjoying it for what it was.
The story involves the strange goings-on with the Whateley family of Dunwich, a small town in the upper Miskatonic valley. Not too long ago, Lavinia Whateley gave birth to the hideously malformed Wilbur, who has grown to adulthood in a shockingly short space of time. The Whateleys have been continually modifying and enlarging their farmhouse, and the mysterious Old Man Whateley has been buying increasingly large numbers of cattle, though his herd has not visibly increased in size as a result. Then Wilbur’s grandfather vanishes, followed not long after by his mother, and still the cattle keep disappearing…
Wilbur ventures to Miskatonic University to consult their copy of the Necronomicon, but the librarian Dr Henry Armitage refuses him permission, and also sends word to his colleagues to similar effect. Wilbur breaks into the library at night, but is mauled to death by a guard dog. Armitage and his colleagues Professors Rice and Morgan catch a glimpse of his goat-hoofed body before it melts into thin air before them. With Wilbur dead, the strange invisible entity in the Whateley farmhouse runs amok across Dunwich, leaving devastation in its wake. The three professors arrive on the scene with the necessary magical paraphernalia to combat the beast, and manage to render it visible just before they destroy it, with the realisation that it was in fact Wilbur’s brother…
The story is one of tremendous suspense as the nature of the beast is gradually revealed to us – though even in the end, we don’t really know for sure what it was the professors disposed of. The description is certainly what we’ve come to expect of something along the lines of Yog Sothoth in the years of RPGs and board games, of course – all tentacles and eyes and gelatinous form:
“Bigger’n a barn… all made o’ squirmin’ ropes… hull thing sort o’ shaped like a hen’s egg bigger’n anything, with dozens o’ legs like hogsheads that haff shut up when they step… nothin’ solid abaout it – all like jelly, an’ made o’ sep’rit wrigglin’ ropes pushed clost together… great bulgin’ eyes all over it… ten or twenty maouths or trunks a-stickin’ aout all along the sides, big as stovepipes, an’ all a-tossin’ an’ openin’ an’ shuttin’… all grey, with kinder blue or purple rings… an’ Gawd in heaven – that haff face on top!…”
(I think it’s important to point out here that Lovecraft often employs dialects in his writing, and the above extract is intended to connote the sort of grungy local rather than the entire story being told in that manner!)
I mentioned in my Call of Cthulhu blog how much better an introduction to Lovecraft’s work this story would be, and I definitely stand by that here. It’s a more conventional story, for sure, but it gives you a better idea of the way Lovecraft writes, for instance his academic types as heroes, his wonderful word-painting when it comes to describing these otherworldly monsters.
The Dunwich Horror is definitely my favourite of Lovecraft’s stories that I’ve read so far, though I do admittedly have a lot of them that I’ve not yet read! But it’s highly worth getting a copy – the Penguin Modern Classics edition has also got a few other worthy mentions, including the delightfully creepy Thing on the Doorstep! Well worth a read!