‘Outsiders visit Dunwich as seldom as possible, and since a certain season of horror all the signboards pointing toward it have been taken down.’
Lovecraft wrote The Dunwich Horror in 1928 and it was first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales. He is said to have rated it highly and described the story as being “so fiendish” that his editor at Weird Tales “may not dare to print it.” It is now considered one of the core tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.
In H.P. Lovecraft’s, “The Dunwich Horror”, we are told the story of Wilbur Whateley, the son of a deformed albino mother and an unknown father (alluded to in passing by the mad Old Whateley as “Yog-Sothoth”), and the strange events surrounding 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.
This is the first post in my Halloween Reads 2020 series, so I wanted to open with a classic tale of terror from Mister purple prose himself, H.P. Lovecraft. I went through a Lovecraft phase when I was a teenager, enjoying the strange atmosphere of the stories before I had any idea about cosmic horror or weird fiction. It has been a long time since I read this story, so I was pleased that I couldn’t remember much about it apart from the name “Wilbur Whateley.”
The synopsis above sums up the first half of the story pretty well. From Lovecraft’s descriptions, Wilbur is a weird, unsettling character who is shunned by the Dunwich locals. He is assisting his grandfather with the care of something believed to be kept hidden in their farmhouse. Lovecraft builds the tension with skill as the story moves forward and we are made to wonder what they are doing. There are brief references to strange rituals and ancient texts, the disappearance of local animals, and some form of ongoing construction inside the Whateley’s farmhouse.
The second half of the story picks up pace and leads to a truly exciting finale. There are a couple of pretty gruesome scenes described with relish by the author. I won’t give anything else away as this is well worth your reading time if you fancy a creepy example of one of Lovecraft’s more successful tales. I will just leave you with a quote from old Doctor Armitage, one of “the three men from Arkham” sent to investigate the Whateleys:
“It was—well, it was mostly a kind of force that doesn’t belong in our part of space; a kind of force that acts and grows and shapes itself by other laws than those of our sort of Nature.”
Thanks for reading!