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The Dunwich Horror and Others by H. P.…
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The Dunwich Horror and Others (1945)

by H. P. Lovecraft

Other authors: Robert Bloch (Introduction), S. T. Joshi (Editor), S. T. Joshi (Foreword)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Lovecraft Arkham House Collections (1)

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    The Complete Pegāna by Lord Dunsany (AndreasJ)
    AndreasJ: Dunsany was an important inspiration for Lovecraft, particularly for the "Dreamlands" stories.
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My reaction to reading this collection in 2005.

"Heritage of Horror", Robert Bloch -- This is the second or third time I've read this 1982 essay from Bloch. This time around, while I agree with his defenses of Lovecraft (at least until I completely read a biography of him) as not being a racist (or, at least, any worse than the common man in his time), anti-Semite or mentally ill -- I find his assertion that Lovecraft has increasing resonance with modern readers because, after World War Two faith in ideology died an arguable proposition. Plenty of people did and do believe in the power of a particular ideology. Bloch also cites the general realization that science could destroy the world as important in Lovecraft's growing popularity.. Bloch conflates these fears and says they are represented by the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft's fiction and that accounts for his growing fame. I say his growing fame is just one of those organic things where the reputation of a once obscure author grows mightily, and I also say that Lovecraft's fiction simply resonates with the idea that a mysterious, large universe may harbor forces that, if not actively hostile towards us, certainly don't care or even pay any mind to us.

"In the Vault" -- This 1925 story is a biter-bitten tale. A cheap, but not malicious, undertaker is maimed by the man whose ankles he cuts off to put him in a cheap coffin. The story is set in New England, and I find it interesting that Lovecraft not only adopts a characteristic framing device -- the story is told by a narrator in contemporary times and related second hand by the doctor who treated the protagonist's injuries after he was accidentally locked in a burial vault -- but that his antiquarian interests cause him to set the story in 1881 -- nine years before he was born. The beginning two sentences -- "There is nothing more absurd, as I view it, than that conventional association of the homely and the wholesome which seems to pervade the psychology of the multitude. Mention a bucolic Yankee setting, a bungling and thick-fibred village undertaker, and a careless mishap in a tomb, and no average reader can be brought to expect more than a hearty albeit grotesque phase of comedy." -- reminded me of Sherlock Holmes admonitions about the crimes committed in lonely rural areas in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". It is also a self-conscious opening by a horror theorist who is deliberately going against what he regards as common prejudice.

"Pickman's Model" -- This is the second time I've read this 1926 story, and I think it's a good, mid-level Lovecraft effort. It's set in New England, Boston to be specific. What I found most interesting on rereading it was the sense that the narrator and Pickman's love of the macabre in art, which places the very talented Pickman outside the pale as far as the conventional, conservative Boston art community is concerned. One gets the sense that Lovecraft considered the aesthetic of horror seriously, regarded it as a serious and worthy subject of art and disdained the conventional society that probably didn't agree. The taste seems to have extended to the visual arts since he mentions some not only Dore but Goya and his friend, the visual artist Clark Ashton Smith (who was also a poet and fiction writer). He also mentions a couple of painters I've never heard of Angarola and Sime. They may be real painters or, as with his obscure books of occultism and mythology, Lovecraft may have mixed real names in with fake. The narrator of the story, mirroring Lovecraft, remarks on the wonder and terror to be found in ancient places. There is some macabre humor here, an uncommon feature in most of Lovecraft's most celebrated stories, with the painting of ghouls laughing and entitled "Holmes, Lowell, and Longfellow Lie Buried in Mount Auburn". Miscegenation -- or, at least, unhuman origins -- shows up here with the suggestion that Pickman does not have entirely human ancestry.

"The Rats in the Walls" -- I noted, when reading the anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth (sequels to Lovecraft's "Shadow Over Innsmouth") how many British writers fruitfully used their Roman past for horror stories, so I was surprised that Lovecraft, in this 1923 story, used that very setting -- in fact, he refers to horrors that are pre-Roman. (If I read this story before, I had completely forgotten it.) This story shows, already at this point in Lovecraft's career, the framing device of starting the story in near contemporary times (the given date at the beginning is in 1923) and then relating a scholarly historical account of discovered horrors. The narrator here is, already, a typical Lovecraftian one: his mind breaks under the horrors of his satisfied curiosity, his skepticism cataclysmically breaking, and discovering the horrible family secret of sinister occult activity (involving cannibalism amongst other things). The heated prose at the end where the narrator all but says he murdered Captain Norrys and then says the rats did it, reminded me of the deranged protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Telltale Heart" -- a story which Lovecraft was certainly familiar with and I suspect it did influence him. I also note that World War One shows up -- not often mentioned, surprisingly given his age, in Lovecraft's fiction -- with a mention of the narrator's son who seems to have died after the war but from combat injuries.

"The Outsider" -- This is one of Lovecraft's most celebrated stories -- if for no other reasons than its short length makes it one of Lovecraft's most easily anthologized works and because of the strong temptation to see, in the solitude and naïve, hideous and scholarly pursuits (the narrator improbably teaches himself how to read and speak -- a literary tradition going back to at least Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan) of its narrator, a mirror of the odd-looking young Lovecraft bereft of a father who died mad in an asylum and a mother who thought him ugly and left him to his books and his homemade altars. This 1921 story finds Lovecraft working in a European mode in terms of architecture (castles) and setting. I find it interesting that ghouls are again at the center here (the narrator turns out to be one) as with Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" five years later. The narrator says he's going to hang out beneath the Great Pyramid which reminded me of Lovecraft's other Egyptian-tinged effort: "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" which he ghostwrote with Harry Houdini. I find it interesting that Lovecraft opens the story with a quote from John Keats though it doesn't have all that much to do with the story. The 31 year old Lovecraft was still operating under the influence of the past.

"The Colour Out of Space" -- Before reading this story aain -- which is probably the fourth or fifth time -- I would have name it as one of my top three Lovecraft stories. After reading it again this time, I regard it as Lovecraft's best work. The horror and creepiness stand up after several rereadings. The pacing is good; the story never sags. There is a great line: "It was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside; and as such dowered with outside properties and obedient to outside laws." Not only is the story a great work of horror but also a great work of sf. I suspect Lovecraft, an enthusiastic follower of science as shown by the learned interlude where the Miskatonic University chemists analyze the "meteorite", was smart enough to know some of the implications of something so radically different, at the quantum level, from our universe that it doesn't even produce colors known to us. As with "In the Vault" from two years earlier, Lovecraft chooses, for whatever reason, to set the main bulk of his story in the 1880s, the decade before his birth. However, he also shows some characteristic plotting. The story is told in the first person in contemporary times by a man who has discovered an historical horror.

"The Music of Erich Zann" -- This is another early, 1921, story which shows Lovecraft operating in a less characteristic way than he was to become famous for. This is another European (my term) story in that its locale is vaguely European (the only specific geographical reference is to Rue d'Auseil street -- yet the language of the narrator is unstated as is his purpose for being in the city), and the story is less explicit than Lovecraft's most famous stories; it is almost entirely a mood piece. (The Rue d'Auseil, supernaturally disappearing and abutting alternate dimensions, is an extreme example of the lost Pickman apartment in Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model".) And yet, there is something of Lovecraft's cosmic horror here, in that Erich Zann, whose motives are never made clear, seems to look out his window at cosmic dimensions and play his strange, original music as much to keep monsters at bay as call denizens of the cosmos to him.

"The Haunter of the Dark" -- This 1935 story is dedicated to Robert Bloch, then one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft circle. The Cthulhu Mythos was never a planned, internally consistent series, but by this time Lovecraft and others had written enough of the stories that Lovecraft mentions Azathoth, Yuggoth, Khem, and Nyarlathotep and the Necronomicon and several other of the fake books of the Mythos.

"The Picture in the House" -- This story demolished a theory I was forming as I worked my through this collection where the story's are not the chronological order of their composition. I thought that somewhere between his 1923 story "The Rats in the Wall" and his 1925 story "In the Vault", Lovecraft abandoned vaguely European settings and begin to set things in his native New England. However, this 1920 story, the earliest I've read so far in the collection, is set in New England. While it's horror may involve a traditional motif of cannibalism, there are already several characteristic Lovecraft elements here: evil, degenerate rural New Englanders of Puritan stock, horror revealed through old books and pictures, chunks of New England dialect, and even the fictional geography of the Miskatonic River and Arkham.

"The Call of Cthulhu" -- This is it, perhaps Lovecraft's keystone story, certainly the one that not only leant its name to the Cthulhu Mythos but also the first that seemed to have combined his cosmic horror and New England setting. Reading it again, for the second time, I was struck how this is Lovecraft's most frenetic tale in the sense that its plot covers not only a lot of time -- not that unusual for Lovecraft who liked to frame historical horrors in a modern narrative -- but spatially as well. The action hops from Boston to New Orleans to the Pacific to England and Norway. The cosmic horrors are portrayed through three subplots separated in space and (in the case of New Orleans and the rest) time. The narrator's grand-uncle investigates the odd dreams of a certain artist in Providence. A police inspector in New Orleans uncovers a sinister cult. And both those stories are linked to the appearance of Cthulhu in the Pacific when R'lyeh rises. Surprisingly, Cthulhu is stopped by the turning wheel of a steamer, but the cosmic horror of what his presence reveals haunts the narrator. The justly famous (perhaps the most famous Lovecraft quote) opening about "the most merciful thing in the world ... is the human minds inability to correlate all its contents" sums up the boundary which Lovecraft's scholar-heroes constantly transgress to their doom. Here it is a physical doom as the Cthulhu cult kills the narrator. Actually, the story opens with an epigraph from Lovecraft's hero Algernon Blackwood. It talks of legends and myths telling of the survivals of monsters and gods. Only lacking any mention of Lovecraft's fictional geography of Kingsport, Arkham, Innsmouth, and the Miskatonic, this story otherwise as everything associated with prime Lovecraft. A scholarly narrator learning too much, his tranquility shattered if not his sanity. There is an impending doom as he fears assassination by the Cthulhu cult. There are those books of occult lore including a quotation from the Necronomicon. There are portentous dreams and strange art. In 1926, with this story, Lovecraft arrived at the type of story that made his reputation.

"The Dunwich Horror" -- This is at least the second time I've read this, one of Lovecraft's more famous stories. I suspect that's mostly because a not very good movie was made from it. For the Lovecraft fan, it does contain mention of Miskatonic University professors, occult books including the Necronomicon, and Arkham, but I don't think it's one of Lovecraft's better efforts. I think it's too long, and I think the parts that's too long is the lengthy descriptions of the havoc and evidence left by the invisible Dunwich horror when it finally bursts out of the Whateley house. As with his "The Colour Out of Space", written a year earlier in 1927, this is not a tale told in the first person by a highly distraught or doomed narrator. (It even shares similar images of blasted heaths in rural New England.) Lovecraft could get away with minute descriptions of events in those tales because we are interested in watching intelligent, rationale men try to fit new horrors of the cosmos in their old paradigms, we cry in frustration at their refusal to see obvious -- if novel -- truths. Here we have no scholar heroes to justify such a length. Added to the problem, though it is hardly unique to this story since most Lovecraft tales hinge on a final revelation but this is one of those that doesn't stand up to repeated rereadings, is the surprise ending which was unexpected for me on the first reading.

"Cool Air" -- Written in 1926, the same year as his touchstone story "The Call of Cthulhu", this is Lovecraft in the old vein he seemed to have abandoned after finding his voice in the latter story. It's set in a generic, unnamed metropolis, and I get the impression that it's Lovecraft's attempt to update Edgar Allan Poe's "The Case of M. Valdemar". Both stories feature doctors trying to defeat death by an act of will. If I recall correctly, the Poe story had a doctor hypnotizing a man so that his will preserved his consciousness and body after death. Here a doctor preserves himself and his life after death by means of refrigerating his roomOf course, it doesn't work -- indeed, the man is already decaying before the motor of his refrigerator breaks down.

"The Whisperer in Darkness" -- I recall that Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi at one point said this was one of Lovecraft's greatest stories. Upon the second reading, I'm inclined to agree. It's not a horror story, but it does have the feeling of a creepy sf story. Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories frequently boosted their verisimilitude with bits of science and history and literature, but Lovecraft is particularly skilled at that here. He gives us the Outer Ones, an alien race conducting secret mining operations in the Vermont hills (sort of a predecessor to John Keel's Mothman), and he describes their biology as well as motives. They could conquer the Earth if they wanted but aren't about to bother unless we give them trouble. (Narrator Wilmarth and Akeley echo what must have been Lovecraft's disdain for real estate developers when they talk about how the rural hills of Vermont must not be inhabited.) A particularly brilliant move is equating the Outer Ones home of Yuggoth (a favorite piece of fabulous geography in Lovecraft's oeuvre) with Pluto which was discovered in 1930, the very year this story was written. Lovecraft talks about how Einstein's contention that faster than light travel is impossible is wrong. Oddly enough, he mentions the Outer Ones as flying through the ether with their wings when, of course, Lovecraft must have been aware that ether was disproved in the famous Michaelson-Morley experiment which laid the groundwork for Einstein's work. Lovecraft's historical erudition is on hand here in brief asides about New England colonial history. His interest in folklore is mentioned in a role call of modern folklorist. I have no idea if they are all real writers but I did recognize the names of Frazer and Murray (of the now discredited Witch-Cults of Europe). Arthur Machen gets a specific mention has does Charles Fort (thereby answering my question about Fort's influence on Lovecraft). There is a veritable roll-call of Cthulhu deities. I recognized some that were made up by other authors of the Lovecraft circle, and I'm sure I missed others that fit in that category. Occult tomes are mentioned. Other classic Cthulhu Mythos elements are a narrator, here a folklorist from Miskatonic University, narrating the horror in retrospect though, interestingly, here he is not trying to rationalize away his horrible discoveries even though he lacks any objective proof for them. (Though no specific mention is made of it, the climax of this story and Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" -- also featuring Miskatonic U professors -- both take place in early September 1928. There must have been much to talk about in the faculty lounge though Lovecraft makes no reference to the earlier tale.) There are humans in league with aliens. There are entities from beyond the our space and our time. Lovecraft's use of documents is on hand here as he builds the suspense by the device of Wilmarth and Akeley, increasingly threatened by the Outer Ones around his Vermont home, communicating by letter. It occurred to me that this tale shows the incorrectness of a common criticism of Lovecraft: that the horrible, final revelations of his narrators are hardly shocking or unexpected. I think those critics miss the point. The particular revelation at the end of this story -- the fake hands and face used by the Outer One imposter of Akeley -- may be unexpected but the revelation that Akeley has been silenced (specifically he's a disembodied brain ready to be taken in a traveling cylinder to Yuggoth) by the Outer Ones is not. I suspect that Lovecraft wanted the central horror of some of his best stories to not be contained in the final revelation as much as the depiction of a rationale, learned person (as his scholar heroes almost always are) being forced to confront a new, horrible paradigm. It is the mental violence of the old, tranquil, explainable being replaced by the inimical, uncaring, and alien that is the horror, not the particular image which Lovecraft uses to finish his process of painting encroaching mental chaos.

"The Terrible Old Man" -- This 1920 story is a further demolition of my theory that between 1923 and 1925 Lovecraft abandoned vaguely European, Gothic settings and started to set stories in New England. This story is set in Lovecraft's fictional Massachusetts town of Kingsport. The story itself is pretty undistinguished. In a plot told with a cutely sardonic, ironic tone, we get a biter-bitten story about three criminals who find out that the Terrible Old Man is not an easy mark for a home invasion but a sorcerer who wracks terrible vengeance on them.

"The Thing on the Doorstep" -- I had read this 1933 story before but forgot it's something a bit odd for Lovecraft: almost a direct sequel to his "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" since it involves some an unwholesome, pithican native of Innsmouth marrying the hapless Edward Derby. She undertakes a sorcerous displacement, bodyswitching with her husband. It's brief intervals of time but longer and longer each time, and Derby can't resist and knows his ultimate faith is for the switch to be permanent. He also can't fight it at first. Eventually, he finds a way and kills his wife Asenath -- who is really possessed by the spirit of her "dead" father who switched bodies with Asenath because women can't be sorcerers. Derby's consciousness survives the death of Asenath's body, and the disintegrating corpse shows up on the narrator's doorstep. This story does have the second best opening, next to his "The Call of Cthulhu", of any Lovecraft story: "It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer."

"The Shadow Out of Time" -- This story has an even purer sf feeling than Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness". Indeed, Weird Tales, the place Lovecraft usually sent his fiction, wouldn't take this story, but it was the cover story for Astounding Stories. Like "The Thing on the Doorstep" from 1933, this 1934-1935 story features bodyswitching. That bodyswitching is effected by the Great Races a race predating man by on Earth by a billion years. Lovecraft not only does his usual connecting his aliens to occult tomes, but he describes the Great Ones in detail -- not only their anatomy, but their history and their society and art as well. The Great Ones have figured out how to transport consciousness through time. They project their consciousness to other eras and other races, switching consciousnesses their to their bodies while they go about their scholarly duties. In this story, you can start to see Lovecraft start to pull his mythos (more other peoples' conception than his) into something less than a series but more than a thematically linked set of stories. For instance, we get references to the aliens found in the Antarctic in Lovecraft's earlier "At the Mountains of Madness" and the narrator of the tale, Professor Dyer, accompanies this narrator to the ancient ruins he explores in Australia. (He seems unaccountably shocked by them given the horrors he's seen in that earlier story.) There is a description of the history of the Great Race, how they eventually move into the bodies of the sentient beetle race than follows extinct man on the Earth, how they project their minds to Mercury -- where they slowly die out (because of their time traveling they know their fate ahead of time), that reminded me of the history of man in Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men. That was a 1930 story and, as I recall, featured a similar projection of consciousness (though, if I remember right, into the past). So I wonder if Lovecraft read any Stapledon and if this story was conceived before he did. The distant doom of the race and the eventual death of man also reminded of the tragic vistas in H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. If one of the great themes of sf is the conceptual breakthrough, Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories are about the negative, hideous, literally maddening version of that. Curiosity is never its own reward in Lovecraft. Rather, it is a doom. This story is also the best example I've come across yet, in this bout of reading these Lovecraft stories for the second or third time (some more), supporting my contention that Lovecraft doesn't intend the final revelation of his narrator heroes to be the central horror of his stories. (And this story has more of the feel of sf unlike the superb "The Colour Out of Space" which, though nominally sf, has the effect of horror.) Here Professor Peaslee's final revelation is that his dreams and memories of how he spent his five amnesiac years are not fantasies and psychotic projection and cryptoamnesia but real memories of the time he spent in the body of a member of the Great Race millions of years ago; specifically, he finds, in an ancient city millions of years old, notes in his own hand. But, in the second to last paragraph, he also says, before this revelation: "though no reader can have failed to guess it." The horror is seeing a rational, learned man -- a stand in for all of us rationalists in the audience -- having their paradigm of the universe so horrifyingly overthrown. This story seemed more impressive upon this, my second or third reading and more than twenty years since my last reading. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Apr 12, 2014 |
The master horror writer at his best in his original unedited words. A must read. ( )
  uujeff | Feb 13, 2013 |
Some of Lovecraft's best stories including "Call of Cthulhu," "The Colour Out of Space," "The Dunwich Horror" (all three of which have been made into movies) "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Whisperer in Darkness," and some non-Mythos tales like "Cool Air" and "Pickman's Model" (both of which, I believe, were adapted for Rod Serling's Night Gallery TV show in the 70's). Most of the stories are just a bit too long and could have used some judicious editing, but they are atmospheric and often achieve a real power by the end. There should be a Lovecraft drinking game in which one imbibes whenever one reads the word "blasphemous," but then I'd probably never get to the end of a story. ( )
1 vote mritchie56 | Oct 21, 2007 |
An excellent overview of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories, as well as some general horror tales, often about terrible old men with ghastly secrets. My edition contains August Derleth's introduction that tries to fit Lovecraft's Yog-Sothothery into a good-versus-evil frame, which is... not so successful, but oh well. Other features of this edition include Derleth's editorial decision to italicize the final line in almost every story, and a very nice cover drawing of Wilbur Whateley playing with a balloon or something. ( )
  Branduno | Jul 21, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. P. Lovecraftprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bloch, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Joshi, S. T.Editorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Joshi, S. T.Forewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Morrill, RowenaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0870540378, Hardcover)

H. P. Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) was the most important American horror fiction writer of the first half of the 20th century whose fiction, especially about the Cthulhu Mythos universe, spanned both time and space.

He never achieved financial success; however, he did become good friends with several big writers, notably Robert Bloch (Psycho) and Robert E. Howard of Conan fame. The "Cthulhu Mythos" grew out of the Lovecraft Circle, a writing group where everyone shared in Lovecraft's Mythos stories. The most famous of these were "The Call of Cthulhu" and "At the Mountains of Madness".

Many novels and stories have come from his Mythos tales, one of the most famous being The Necronomicon, written by the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred, which first appeared in Lovecraft's story "The Hound".

Lovecraft's health and financial situation began to fail seriously in the mid-1930s. He died in 1937 of cancer of the intestine, never knowing what a giant of the horror genre he was to become.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:02 -0400)

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