Guest post (Sam Vann): The Dunwich Horror

This week I’ve been crazy busy, travelling all over the country – yesterday I went from Dorset to Bristol, and now I’m back in Swansea for a few days. Luckily for me, then, that Sam finished Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror yesterday and felt compelled to write a review for me. Hope you enjoy! Business as usual this weekend.

dunwich horrorAs part of my attempt to try to become a little more well-read I started to read some Lovecraft. Something about the stylised monsters and crazy cultists has always attracted me but I have never found the time to pick up anything. So I’m starting small with a 63-page short story called The Dunwich Horror. Be gentle with me – I am not a literature student so it’s been a while since I had to write any long passages.

Synopsis (contains spoilers!)

Welcome to the inbred town of Dunwich (the author takes great lengths to remind you of just how arse-backwards the town is at every opportunity by describing the level of inbredness of each character). In 1913, a Wilber Wately is born to an unwed mother who lives with her crazy father. The boy grows exceptionally fast, and strange occurrences begin to happen centred on his grandfather’s house – occurences such as the occasional missing person, their herd of cows disappearing at the same rate as they buy them. No one seems too fussed about these occurrences and we learn that the boy and his grandfather have been studying occult texts. As Wilbur grows and his grandfather dies he begins to contact scholars over a Latin copy of the necronomicon. Unfortunately for him one of the scholars gets creeped out and tells people to not lend him a copy. Wilbur breaks in to one institution and is attacked and killed by dogs. This is where we first have an experience with one of the Old Ones (to the surprise of no one familiar with Lovecraftian lore) as we discover that other than his face and hands, Wilbur is hideous but his body melts before the police show up, and so we don’t get a good picture of what he actually looks like. The story then moves on to follow a Dr. Armitage who saw him die and his struggles with translating Wilbur’s diary. With Wilbur now dead no one is left to attend to the monster in the attic. This monster now finds its way loose and terrorises the village killing many before Armitage arrives and is able chant the spell required to banish the monster, at which point we learn that it was in fact Wilbur’s twin.

Things I liked

I really enjoyed the pacing of the book. Despite being only 63 pages it didn’t feel rushed, nor did it feel there was much that warranted further explanation.

The way the book is written is also something I enjoyed. The narration is complex. There is no single narrator, however the perspective is that of a documentation of the peculiar events of Dunwich written some time into the future. Because of this, the authorial presence manages to sound informed, while still withholding information and retaining mystery. I found it quite disconcerting, but compelling.

The regional accents also came across well. Despite being occasionally difficult to decipher, I ended up clearly hearing how the characters were talking.

Things I didn’t like

Some of the less-than-believable plot holes. Wilbur was described as being black, and while my knowledge of 1920s rural America is pretty limited, I feel that the arse-backwards, superstitious villagers of Dunwich would have immediately turned on him at the first instance of the ‘strange occurrences’. Nor do I think Wilbur and his grandfather would have been able to speak many of the spells that they did as they were all spoken in the strange language of the Old Ones as their heavy regional dialects may have gotten in the way of the correct pronunciation.

The book is described as horror, yet I have read creepier Goosebumps books. Maybe a better description would be a monster story, in which case it’s very compelling.

Lovecraft gave himself a problem by trying to describe what is by his own definition indescribable. The Old Ones cannot exist in our world, and their features are not things for which we have words. In this story, it is clearest when Wilbur’s shirt is removed after his death, and Lovecraft attempts to describe what he has said is indescribable.

Should I read this?

Despite my cynicism I highly recommend especially if you want to read some Lovecraft I think The Dunwich Horror is a good place to start.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here:

Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.


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