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The Dunwich Horror ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Dunwich Horror cover

The Dunwich Horror ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) and Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) are often mentioned in the same sentence. Poe belonged to the nineteenth century and Lovecraft to the twentieth, and while their writing styles are dissimilar and reflect the times in which they lived, the two writers share certain similarities. Lovecraft was an avowed fan, if not an imitator, of Poe. They were both New Englanders and trod upon some of the same ground, principally in Providence, Rhode Island. They both wrote about the dark world that most of us never see. Poe wrote about murder, death, sadness and alienation and Lovecraft wrote about unseen terrors and monsters from another realm. They were neither very successful in their own lives but both are more famous long after they lived than they might have ever imagined being when they were alive.

The Dunwich Horror is one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories. It’s either a very long short story or a very short novel, so let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s a “novella” or a “novelette.” It’s set in the Miskatonic Valley in Massachusetts in a remote village known as Dunwich in the early twentieth century. Dunwich is old and seedy and is not a pleasant place to visit. Something odd is going on in Dunwich that people can’t explain. The Whateley family is strange, even by Dunwich standards. Old man Whateley is a wizard of some kind. When his weird albino daughter gives birth to a “child,” Wilbur Whateley, speculation is rife as to who the father is.

Wilbur Whateley is hideously ugly. Before he is one year old, he walks and speaks. When he is three years old, he seems as old as twelve and he grows a beard. Long before he is old enough to be of adult height, he is seven-and-a-half and then eight feet tall. More odd than his appearance, though, is his behavior. He can barely speak English but deals in ancient forbidden texts. Strange noises come from underneath the ground at the Whateley home and whippoorwills, ordinarily a serene and peaceful bird, trill violently all night long, as though trying to convey a warning.

As the story progresses, we learn that Wilbur Whateley is not human but is only in human form (he’s not fooling anybody). He is one of an alien race of “elder beings from another dimension” that wants to kill all human, animal and plant life on the earth and then “strip the earth and drag it away from the solar system and cosmos of matter into some other plane or phase of entity from which it had once fallen, vigintillions of eons ago.”

Wilbur is killed by a guard dog, however, when he breaks into a library late at night to gain access to one of the “forbidden books” that contains ancient spells he needs. After that, three “experts,” one of them a professor from the university, travel to Dunwich to confront the evil that threatens the world.

The Dunwich Horror was first published in Weird Tales magazine in 1929. It is classic American science fiction, by a master of the genre. It has some wordy descriptions, typical of Lovecraft, and some mildly annoying conversations in the mountain dialect, but they’re not that hard to get through. All in all, an interesting reading experience. I haven’t seen the movie version that came out in 1970, but from the description I read of it, it seems to bear little resemblance to the original story. They’ve concocted a “love interest” for Wilbur Whateley (in the person of Sandra Dee) that doesn’t seem to fit at all. So much for movie versions of books.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

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