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THE DEEP ONES: "The Dunwich Horror" by H.P. Lovecraft

The Weird Tradition

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Mar 8, 2012, 10:31pm Top

>1 KentonSem:
Don't believe I've ever seen that WT cover before.

I'm reading this out of H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction, as I have with all the HPL stuff we've discussed.

Mar 8, 2012, 11:07pm Top

I'll be reading this one out of The Dunwich Horror and Others:

And I'll review Price's notes in The Dunwich Cycle:

Plus, I do fancy The Dunwich Horror (1970), so I'll probably get out my DVD and watch some or even all of that:

Mar 8, 2012, 11:28pm Top

>3 paradoxosalpha:

I have that Arkham house edition with the green cover- love that cover painting of Cthulhu!

Mar 9, 2012, 10:17am Top

>3 paradoxosalpha:

Yes - please post any pertinent notes by Price if you have time. I'll do the same for Joshi.

Mar 9, 2012, 5:05pm Top

You can read the entire Charles Lamb essay quoted in the story's epigraph here:


Mar 14, 2012, 8:43am Top

Some things that stood out for me on this re-read:

The first section was all scene-setting, and mostly landscape. I realize we've seen this in some other stories too. I think the earliest piece of weird I've read that uses this technique (and does it ever!) is Balzac's Seraphita.

I've become a Lovecraftian sesquipedalian myself, to the point where the phrase "teratologically fabulous" hardly made me pause.

HPL's use of dialect in this story kept putting me in mind of Cletus Spuckler (the yokel on The Simpsons).

As with "The Empire of the Necromancers," I noticed a parody of Christianity: Sentinel Hill as Golgotha. The distressed cry of the last of the decayed Whateley's from the hilltop (with its stone table, rather than wood cross) was his version of eli eli lama sabacthani. And he was, of course, begotten on a human woman by a god--this all consistent with Machen's "Great God Pan," as explicitly referenced in the story.

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 8:55am Top

Notes on Robert Price's introduction from The Dunwich Cycle:

Price discusses both antecedent and consequent issues relating to this story.

As far as precedents and sources go, he points out that the debt to Machen is wider and deeper than critics commonly register. Not only does HPL title-check and use the themes of "The Great God Pan," he also draws extensively on "The White People," "The Novel of the Black Seal," and "The Terror." In my reading, I was able to notice even more correlative details than Price instances. He suggests that this story is a Machen pastiche as much as anything, and that could account somewhat for its differences from the rest of the HPL Cthulhu canon.

Wrt those differences and the legacy of "The Dunwich Horror," Price characterizes the tale as perhaps the "first story of the Derleth Mythos," noting that its good-versus-evil dynamic is atypical of Lovecraftian cosmic indifferentism, and that letting the humans triumph is startlingly exceptional! Dr. Armitage is a clear model for the Derleth protagonist Laban Shrewsbury.

(This was an early "Cycle" anthology by Price, and the editorial apparatus is more focused on traditional critical concerns, without the sort of esoteric theological notes that some readers find objectionable -- but which delight me.)

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 9:44am Top

>7 paradoxosalpha:

I picked up on the beginning paragraphs immediately, which seemed to follow the blueprint left by Blackwood when he described the wilderness around the Danube in "The Willows". I think that Lovecraft's version was just a bit more fun to read, though, especially as it gives way to a discourse on the ominous mysteries of Dunwich. Of course, HPL himself can't resist directly referencing Machen a little later on in the story. I don't think he's stealing from either, just acknowledging a debt owed, perhaps.

I found phrases such as "teratologically fabulous" and "pandemoniac cachinnation" to be nearly narcotic in nature! I think reading HPL restructures your inner reader's ear so you are drawn to such.

I know "The Dunwich Horror" fairly well by now, and I probably enjoyed it more this time than any other. I especially liked the little touches like the role whipoorwill/psychopomps play. Also, having recently read Joshi's notes on the story recently, I see more clearly why "Dunwich" is a rather problematic tale in the Lovecraft canon.

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 10:06am Top

>7 paradoxosalpha:

It's funny you mention parody, paradoxosalpha, in I Am Providence, Joshi notes that “What we have here is an elementary “good vs. evil” struggle between Armitage and the Whateleys. The only way around this is to assume that “The Dunwich Horror” is a parody of some sort.” He is referring to the fact that "Dunwich" carries a theme that is in direct opposition to HPL's core concept of cosmic entities who are far beyond trite, human-created concepts of good and evil.

Then there is the rather Keystone Cops-like aspect to events. Joshi states:

Armiatage is, indeed a prize buffoon in all of Lovecraft, and some of his statements – such as the melodramatic ‘But what in God’s name, can we do?”- make painful reading; as does the silly lecture he delivers to the Dunwich folk at the end: “We have no business calling in such things from outside, and only very wicked people and very wicked cults ever try to.

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 9:51am Top

>8 paradoxosalpha:

Price characterizes the tale as perhaps the "first story of the Derleth Mythos,"

Absolutely, and that is why "The Dunwich Horror" is such a problematic story. I'll quote from Joshi again:

What “The Dunwich Horror” did was, in effect, to make possible the rest of the “Cthulhu Mythos” (i.e. contributions by other and less skilled hands). Its luridness, melodrama, and naïve moral dichotomy were picked up by later writers (it was, not surprisingly, one of Derleth’s favorite tales) rather than the subtler work embodied in “The Call of Cthulhu”.

The problem was further egged on by the popularity of the tale:

It is not at all surprising either that “The Dunwich Horror” was snapped up by Weird Tales (Lovecraft received $240.00 for it, the largest single check for original fiction that he ever received) or that when it appeared in the Aril 1929 issue, its praises were sung by its readership

I think that even more than the image of Cthulhu in reader's minds, it is "Dunwich" that is responsible for the "tentacles and ichor" cliche that is used most often by those dismissing the entire oeuvre of Lovecraft.

I actually like the scene of Wilbur Whateley's demise, as drippingly gruesome as it is, since I can keep in it perspective. The prolonged agony of Wilbur and his "teratologically fabulous" deformities remind me of nothing so much as a number of the creature scenes in Carpenter's THE THING. Come to think of it, maybe this particular point in "Dunwich" goes a long way to explaining the strong Lovecraftian vibe I get from that film - maybe Wilbur wouldn't have been so out of place at Outpost #31.

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 10:16am Top

> 10 Joshi: The only way around this is to assume that “The Dunwich Horror” is a parody of some sort.

I think that Price's notion of pastiche rather than parody is a more likely take on the prime authorial motive. There's just so much Machen here, starting with the title itself and its relation to "The Terror." I noticed that this was also the story where HPL introduced the Aklo language (from "The White People") to Necronomiconocentric lore. And we know that he admired Machen's work.

I suppose that parody of Christianity is just the way that people in Christian-dominated cultures most reflexively represent evil, whether they're Anglo-Catholic mystics like Machen or neo-Zen freethinkers like CAS. We don't usually see it in HPL, because he's more concerned with the "externality" beyond human moral distinctions that renders our values irrelevant. But when he goes to write "a Machen story" for himself: voila!

Mar 14, 2012, 10:14am Top

> 12:

Yes, pastiche makes sense. The alternative would be that HPL was writing down to the market (successfully) which would have been justified because he was broke. In any case, the repeated use of 'blasphemy' sounds odd coming from Lovecraft.

Mar 14, 2012, 11:12am Top

>12 paradoxosalpha:, 13

I agree. Additionally, HPL really does seem to take the story seriously. It's just that odd bit about "good vs. evil" that is a major sticking point.

Mar 14, 2012, 11:19am Top

Feh on Joshi. This story's pure pleasure.

The overarching aesthetic sensibility I find here is Lovecraft as entertainer. This is of course totally at odds with Joshi's view of HPL as profound philosopher*, so he is naturally discomfited by HPL cutting loose with a kick-ass pulp horror yarn. Personally, I rather enjoy what could be characterized as the more banal aspects of the story (e.g., the story actually has a capital-H Hero, and a suitably Lovecraftian bibliophilic intellectual one at that), particularly as they sit against that crazy polysyllabic (and occasionally quite beautiful) HPL style and the (yes, I admit it) wickedly hilarious parody of the Gospels.

Favorite (admittedly cornball) scene: the bit in Chapter V where the elderly Dr. Armitage stands his ground and won't let Wilbur cart off his library's copy of the Necronomicon, in spite of the fact that Armitage, intelligent fella that he is, surely realizes that the monstrous Wilbur could probably eat him whole for breakfast. Go Henry! :D

*I'm not trying to indicate that HPL wasn't a profound philosopher; rather that in my view that was only one of the many hats he wore, as it were

Mar 14, 2012, 11:34am Top

Regarding the "Derleth Mythos" arguably pendant from this story:

While I'm no particular fan of The Trail of Cthulhu (see my review), I do think there is value in the Derlethian mutation of the Mythos, realized most notably in the work of Brian Lumley, whose Titus Crow stories and Khai of Khem might equally be called "kick-ass pulp" narratives, although at least as much straightforward adventure yarns as "horror."

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 11:38am Top

>15 artturnerjr:

Working in a library, I can't help but grin when reading the passage in which Armitage faces down insistent patron Wilbur. Been there - done that! I also get a kick out of "... Armitage had issued warnings of the keenest intensity to all librarians having charge of the dreaded volume." Secret librarian code for "Wacko Alert!"

Good v. Evil aside (which I do find puzzling here), I agree with you, Art, that "The Dunwich Horror" is a ripping good horror tale. I especially like the parts where the whatever-it-is goes on a rampage all over Dunwich, with eyewitness reports flying back and forth over the phone lines.

Mar 14, 2012, 11:40am Top

>16 paradoxosalpha:

The Derlethian mutation (nicely put!) was not Lovecraft's intent, however, although "Dunwich" makes you wonder.

Mar 14, 2012, 11:44am Top

>17 KentonSem: KentonSem

Yes, but have you ever had to face down an 8-foot tall angry patron afflicted with terminal foetor?

Keep your guard dogs ready at all times!

Mar 14, 2012, 11:47am Top

>19 bertilak:

Even worse - a mother who insisted that her daughter never took out the book that she didn't return!

I keep suggesting guard dogs to our Director. No luck so far.


Mar 14, 2012, 12:27pm Top

>8 paradoxosalpha:

So is the Wikipedia article on "TDH" correct in saying that Price names this as his favorite Lovecraft tale?

Mar 14, 2012, 12:42pm Top

> 21

Perhaps so, but not in the notes I read.

Mar 14, 2012, 1:33pm Top

> 17

My Other Reader was in an MLS program where managing vagrant patrons was covered in the coursework. Presumably the vagrants were all expected to be thoroughly human.

Mar 14, 2012, 1:41pm Top

TDH is my least favourite of the "major" Lovecraft stories. It's a tad disconcerting that "serious" critics tend to agree ...

Mar 14, 2012, 1:48pm Top

So, does anybody want to chat about the 1970 film? Or the 2009 one (that I haven't seen)?

When I first viewed it I was impressed and a little perplexed by Dean Stockwell's sense of ritual focus at a few moments in the movie. It turns out he was rooming at the time with Cameron Parsons, who probably gave him some pointers.

Some (probably the same ones who would be troubled by the philosophical waywardness of the HPL story) might abjure the decision of the writers to add the Nancy Wagner character and her accessories, but Hollywood does not exist to enshrine literary remains. They were expanding a short story into a feature film, after all. Besides, I give all laud and honor to the one who framed the decisions that led to Sandra Dee lolling on the altar atop Sentinel Hill with the Necronomicon between her spread legs. Also a plus for me (though not with most critics) were her drugged visions of antediluvian hippies capering to the sabbat.

I don't know why they left out the depredations on the livestock, though.

Mar 14, 2012, 2:00pm Top

> 25 paradoxosalpha

Yes, most films would be improved with more lolling on altars, I think.

Maybe the spawn of Yog-Sothoth did not need cattle in the film due to feeding on hippies instead?

Meanwhile, back to the story, I love this bit of dialect: "I tell ye, Mis' Corey, they's suthin' abroad as hadn't orter be abroad ...". There's a whole lot of folk wisdom in there.

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 2:24pm Top

>23 paradoxosalpha:

That sounds interesting, although perhaps mangling vagrant patrons should have been included. For those lucky librarians with guard dogs.

>25 paradoxosalpha:

I enjoyed both the hallucinatory vibe of the film and Dean Stockwell's performance, adherence to the source material be damned. I would be willing to bet that the 2009 film is not an improvement.

Another aspect of the story I enjoyed, and which perhaps amounts to a wink from HPL, is the way in which, as horror after horror is described, the reader is reminded on a regular basis that these are only the events that lead up to the actual "Dunwich Horror".

Mar 14, 2012, 2:19pm Top

> 15 artturnerjr

I agree, in that I enjoy the story uncritically while I am reading it, but then I have fun with nit picking.

For example, this from Chapter 10: 'Bigger'n a barn… all made o' squirmin' ropes…'. So the unnamed Whateley may be spawn of Yog-Sothoth but it sounds like an evil Archon emanated from the Flying Spaghetti Monster to me.

Here is my problem with this passage: '… all grey,
with kinder blue or purple rings…'. Now how can an invisible being which has just been sprayed with a grey powder have anything blue or purple? I wonder if Lovecraft lost control of his material briefly here.

I could rationalize this as an invisible monster becoming visible while dying (because its refractive index began to differ from that of air), but these colors seem to be visible before Armitage begins his incantation.

Mar 14, 2012, 2:23pm Top

I'm having trouble recalling TDH- although I know I've read it. Probably been about 10 years, though. I think I read so much of his work at that time that this story blended into others in my memory. But Dean Stockwell? I enjoyed him in Quantum Leap. I hope that's the same Dean Stockwell, or I will feel like an idiot having written this. I'll have to look for that film.

I think I'll put TDH on my TBR pile. And that's enough acronyms for one day.

Mar 14, 2012, 2:31pm Top

>28 bertilak:

The same Dean, monohex. Very young, as his DUNWICH HORROR performance was ca. 1970. My favorite Stockwell performance is "Ben" from David Lynch's 1986 BLUE VELVET.

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 2:38pm Top

>28 bertilak:

I'll finish up with Joshi by quoting some further nitpicking along the lines of what you are saying, bertilak:

There are problems of plot, also. What , exactly is the purpose of the ‘Powder’ Armitage uses to make the creature visible for an instant? What is to be gained by this procedure? It seems to be used simply to allow Lovecraft to write luridly about ropy tentacles and the like.

And just to give him his due, STJ does say something nice about "The Dunwich Horror":

“The Dunwich Horror” is, of course, not a complete failure. Its portrayal of the decaying backwoods Massachusetts terrain is vivid and memorable.

Now that I can agree with!

Mar 14, 2012, 2:43pm Top

> 31

Yes, and the dialect works well to show the decay.

I think it is wonderful that Lovecraft is so thoughtful that he tells us whether a particular character is from the decayed or the undecayed branch of his family.

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 2:48pm Top

>32 bertilak:

Right! In other words, inbred or not-so-inbred! World of difference when you are talking backwoods Dunwich, of course!

Mar 14, 2012, 3:30pm Top

>28 bertilak:

Oh yeah - I'm not trying to suggest that the story's flawless, & it's certainly not something I'd recommend to the HPL neophyte as something that's representative of his body of work, but the occasional silliness of the material & the plot inconsistencies are actually part of its charm for me.

>30 KentonSem:

Great film, although my favorite Lynch is probably either LOST HIGHWAY or THE ELEPHANT MAN.

Mar 14, 2012, 3:34pm Top

>34 artturnerjr:

LOST HIGHWAY for me, Art. The one that you can't get a good DVD of.

Mar 14, 2012, 4:00pm Top

> 26 Maybe the spawn of Yog-Sothoth did not need cattle in the film due to feeding on hippies instead?

Those were hallucinatory hippies. I can't imagine they were very filling!

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 4:32pm Top

"occasional silliness of the material & the plot inconsistencies are actually part of its charm for me."

I agree to an extent. For as much as he can get bogged down, like an exegesis on family trees, etc. the story has its momentum.

For some reason, I feel like this could be done for today's audience. It certainly has a lot of interesting elements. And the whole "so bad it's good" thing that was popular a few years ago in cinema, it'd be in step with that. But only if it was done unironically with a little seriousness. I wouldn't mind seeing that Stockwell movie.

I have a copy of Eraserhead on my coffee table. My GF asked what were my favorite movies a while ago. Anyway, the little fetus head in his suit keeps staring up at me when she is there, silently saying "play me, play me!" I dunno, seems like a bad idea.

Edited: Mar 15, 2012, 2:49pm Top

>37 DanMat:

It's not that the story is bad, David - it's good horror - it just has a few elements that seem really incongruent with HPL's normal style. As for the humorous aspects (intended or not) I think that maybe Sam Raimi could pull them off and still come up with a good, scary film.

I didn't realize that the 2009 version co-stars not only Dean Stockwell but Jeffrey Combs, too:


I have no real desire to see it, simply because I like my Lovecraft adaptations to remain set in the time period they were written, as with the excellent THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005). There are always exceptions, though, such as the 1970 version. :-)

ERASERHEAD, along with VAMPYR and CARNIVAL OF SOULS are perhaps the finest evocations of nightmare ever brought to the screen.

Mar 15, 2012, 12:01pm Top

>35 KentonSem:

That's a damn shame, isn't it? That's one of the best films of the last 20 years - you'd think they'd do a little better by it. :/

>37 DanMat:

I saw ERASERHEAD for the first time at a little hole-in-the-wall art-house cinema when I was either a senior in high school or a freshman in college; the only other Lynch film I had seen up to that point was THE ELEPHANT MAN, so to say I was unprepared for it is a slight understatement. :D

Mar 15, 2012, 1:45pm Top

Yes, I saw a midnight showing at a movie theatre in the late nineties. Excellent stuff. Elephant man, also a beautiful movie. It is the reason why there is a makeup category for the oscars!

Sam Raimi is a great suggestion.

Edited: Mar 15, 2012, 2:48pm Top

>40 DanMat:

Just to clarify, Rick Baker's work on 1982's AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON was the first to actually win an Oscar for Best Makeup. David is correct, though, because the Academy received so many complaints the previous year about the brush-off received by the ELEPHANT MAN's great makeup design that they were all but forced to make it a recognized category for subsequent awards ceremonies.

Mar 15, 2012, 9:59pm Top

Incidentally, today is the 75th anniversary of Lovecraft's death (thanks to my friends over at S.T. Joshi Enthusiasts for the heads-up).

Sep 9, 2013, 1:42pm Top

A friend of mine just gave me a copy of this:

The cover is in excellent shape, but it's missing a bunch of pages from the inside. I'm considering getting a beat-up copy cheap and seeing if a bookbinder I've worked with before might be able to perform some surgery.

Sep 9, 2013, 4:26pm Top

That is a great-looking cover.

Edited: Mar 14, 9:30pm Top

Discussion begins March 14th huh?! Well alrighty then. 2012 or 2019 doesn't much matter. =)

Audiobook and Kobo/ebook (2 options to choose from, how nice!) …


1. I have read Machen's The White People but not The Great God Pan (yet) - I have read 4xBlackwood
2. could not get Aslan wearing a grass skirt out of my mind, like an inverted Medusa - I know The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe had lots of spiritual references tucked into each corner, but the movie shows a stone table so this part wasn't as frightening as I expected since I had a smile forming (been raising 4 kids for 20yrs, behind on adult fare, not a bad thing)
3. a colossal rainstorm hit right about 1h20m in to the audiobook (Intellectual Exercise version was 1h45m) and I might have held my breath without realizing it, when the storm broke out in the story =( since there are lots of barns and livestock in the area! (gulp)
4. and I thought German was tough to learn (the audiobook came in very handy as a phonetic crutch)
5. something I'd read or watched spoiled the ending for me, but I was expecting that tidbit much earlier

Still new at this, so all of the HPL I've read so far is just at face value. What happened to mama - did she get squished in 1925? Did she take off from fear of being overpowered? Got mad since she could no longer wander the hills for a breath of stagnant air? Loved the birds driving up the tension throughout. I always prefer place over plot or person, so I liked this one more than Mountains, but that gave me a better sense of the Old Ones, while the cat one took me on a galaxy quest.

I'll pass on the film. Exaggerated cleavage and cinematic spread legs does not suit my style. Likely why I'd never heard of the sci-fi or weird titles in those magazines, as I'd missed the boat timewise and had no brothers and no allowance. Ten cents to cut grass or wash a car.

Mar 15, 12:05am Top

Maybe Dunwich is like Robert E. Howard's formulaic Conan stories that he wrote purely to make money, which happened to be the ones that the based the comic books on, rather than the stories that had real literary merit.

Mar 15, 12:26am Top

>46 WeeTurtle:

Um, I think they eventually made Conan comics not only out of every Conan story written by REH, but also out of a lot of non-Conan REH stories (transposing heroes and settings). Also, I'd be curious about textual evidence that he wrote any of the Conan stories "purely to make money" relative to other ones. He was definitely a commercial author who wanted to sell his work, and he wanted to tell compelling stories. I don't think he had highbrow "literary" aspirations for Conan at any point.

Edited: Mar 15, 8:50am Top

>47 paradoxosalpha:

True. The comics and the movies definitely muddied the waters. REH is one of the very best of the pulp storytellers. If either he or HPL were writing to make money, though, they might be considered failures. The pay was nearly non-existent, and they often had to waaaaaait to get a skimpy check.

Mar 16, 3:09am Top

>47 paradoxosalpha: I'm quoting a biography that I encountered somewhere, but I'm not terribly sure where. Might even have related to an audiobook my brother and I were listening to with his stuff on it.

I don't think that anyone really writes purely to make money as a sole motive, there's always some artistry to it, but it was pointed out that Conan was known first as the big strong guy fighting or rescuing scantily clad women, stories more like The Frost Giant's Daughter I expect, rather than something like "The Tower of the Elephant." Yes, it's slow and hard to make money writing, but it's possible, and helpful if you can write and submit fairly often, even if the stuff winds up formulaic.

I haven't read as much Howard as I have Lovecraft, so I'm not 100% on his stuff. I think I know more about the media about his stuff than his actual stuff. Apparently Thulsa Doom in the first Conan film is something of a new invention, but using the name from the Kull stories, and the movie itself mixes pieces from The Tower of the Elephant and Red Nails. (It amuses me that Arnold S. shows up again in a Red Sonja movie.)

Mar 17, 4:01pm Top

>45 frahealee: prompted me to reread this story and set down my thoughts (such as they are).

I was already familiar with it of course, having dutifully reread it each time I encountered it an another anthology or HPL collection. I also know the 1970 film, and the 1945 radio adaptation for Suspense.

Before I started the re-read I reflected on the witchcraft angle of the story which I'd missed on previous readings through being aware of "Yog-Sothery" through adaptations and other media (the Marvel Conan comics for example, which hit British newstands newsagents in 1975. Even though the epigraph from Charles Lamb sets it up for the reader!

I enjoyed the first, descriptive section in its own right as a kind of prose poem - with the bonus of a piece of literary ventriloquism of the kind that M. R. James excelled at.

I take Joshi's comments on board, but they are of course critical judgements made with the benefit of several decades of hindsight. On its own terms the story seems to me to be entirely successful. The evidence I've seen online points to HPL being very happy with it (and relishing the more gruesome/shocking aspects of it; something the makes me reflect that the film version of Re-animator is true to HPL's art (but just to one facet of it).

>45 frahealee: What happened to mama - did she get squished in 1925? - matricide is strongly hinted at.

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