Difference between revisions of "The Dunwich Horror (fiction)"

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==Adaptations==<!-- This section is linked from [[B movie]] -->
==Adaptations==<!-- This section is linked from [[B movie]] -->
A movie version of ''The Dunwich Horror'' appeared in 1970. It starred [[Dean Stockwell]] as Wilbur Whateley, and also starred [[Ed Begley]] and [[Sandra Dee]] with a soundtrack by [[Les Baxter]]. While the script borrowed some elements from Lovecraft, the final film bears little resemblance to the short story.
A movie version of ''[[The Dunwich Horror (1970 film)|The Dunwich Horror]]'' appeared in 1970. It starred [[Dean Stockwell]] as Wilbur Whateley, and also starred [[Ed Begley]] and [[Sandra Dee]] with a soundtrack by [[Les Baxter]]. While the script borrowed some elements from Lovecraft, the final film bears little resemblance to the short story.  A 2009 made-for-TV ''[[The Dunwich Horror (2009 film)|adaptation]]'' was also made.

Revision as of 21:03, 14 July 2016

"The Dunwich Horror" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft. Written in 1928, it was first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales (pp. 481-508). It takes place in Dunwich, a fictional town in Massachusetts. It is considered one of the core stories of the Cthulhu Mythos.



In a letter to August Derleth, Lovecraft wrote that "The Dunwich Horror" "takes place amongst the wild domed hills of the upper Miskatonic Valley, far northwest of Arkham, & is based on several old New England legends--one of which I heard only last month during my sojourn in Wilbraham," a town in south-central Massachusetts. (Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, August 4, 1928, cited in Joshi, p. 101). (One such legend is the notion that whippoorwills can capture the departing soul. Joshi, p. 113).

In another letter, Lovecraft wrote that Dunwich is "a vague echo of the decadent Massachusetts countryside around Springfield--say Wilbraham, Monson and Hampden." (Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. III, pp. 432-433; cited in Joshi, p. 108). Robert M. Price notes that "much of the physical description of the Dunwich countryside is a faithful sketch of Wilbraham," citing a passage from a letter from Lovecraft to Zealia Bishop that "sounds like a passage from 'The Dunwich Horror' itself":

When the road dips again there are stretches of marshland that one instinctively dislikes, and indeed almost fears at evening when unseen whippoorwills chatter and the fireflies come out in abnormal profusion to dance to the raucous, creepily insistent rhythms of stridently piping bullfrogs. (Cited in Robert M. Price, The Dunwich Cycle, p. 82).

The physical model for Dunwich's Sentinel Hill is thought to be Wilbraham Mountain near Wilbraham. (Joshi, p. 114).

But researchers have pointed out the story's apparent connections to another Massachusetts region: the area around Athol and points south, in the north-central part of the state (which is where Lovecraft indicates that Dunwich is located). It has been suggested that the name "Dunwich," was inspired by the town of Greenwich, which was deliberately flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir (Charles P. Mtchell, The Complete H.P.Lovecraft Filmography p.9 (2001)), although Greenwich and the nearby towns of Dana, Enfield and Prescott actually weren't submerged until 1938. Donald R. Burleson points out that several names included in the story--including Bishop, Frye, Sawyer, Rice and Morgan--are either prominent Athol names or have a connection to the town's history. (Donald R. Burleson, "Humour Beneath Horror: Some Sources for 'The Dunwich Horror' and 'The Whisperer in Darkness'", Lovecraft Studies, No. 2 (Spring 1980), pp. 5-15, cited in Joshi, pp. 105, 111, 138; Price, p. 82).

Athol's Sentinel Elm Farm seems to be the source for the name Sentinel Hill. (Joshi, p. 114). The Bear's Den mentioned in the story resembles an actual cave of the same name visited by Lovecraft in North New Salem, southwest of Athol. (Joshi, p. 147). (New Salem, like Dunwich, was founded by settlers from Salem--though in 1737, not 1692). Will Murray, "In Search of Arkham Country Revisited", Lovecraft Studies, Nos. 19/20 (Fall 1989), ppp. 65-69; cited in Joshi, p. 110).

The book Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, mentions a "Devil's Hop Yard" near Haddam, Connecticut as a gathering place for witches. The book, which Lovecraft seems to have read, also describes noises emanating from the earth near Moodus, Connecticut, which are similar to the Dunwich sounds decried by Rev. Abijah Hoadley. (Joshi, p. 112).


Lovecraft's main literary sources for "The Dunwich Horror" are the stories of British horror writer Arthur Machen, particularly The Great God Pan (which is mentioned in the text of "The Dunwich Horror") and "The Novel of the Black Seal". Both Machen stories concern individuals whose death throes reveal them to be only half-human in their parentage. According to Robert M. Price, "'The Dunwich Horror' is in every sense an homage to Machen and even a pastiche. There is little in Lovecraft's wonderful story that does not come directly out of Machen's fiction." (Price, pp. ix-x).

The name Dunwich itself may come from Machen's The Terror, where the name refers to an English town where the titular entity is seen hovering as "a black cloud with sparks of fire in it". (Price, p. 1). Lovecraft also takes Wilbur Whateley's occult terms "Aklo" and "Voorish" from Machen's "The White People". (Price, p. 48).

Lovecraft also seems to have found inspiration in Anthony M. Rud's story "Ooze" (published in Weird Tales, March 1923), which also involved a monster being secretly kept and fed in a house that it subsequently bursts out of and destroys. (Joshi, pp. 118, 152).

The tracks of Wilbur's brother recall those seen in Algernon Blackwood's "The Wendigo", one of Lovecraft's favorite horror stories, (Joshi, pp. 144-145).


Lovecraft took pride in "The Dunwich Horror", calling it "so fiendish that [Weird Tales] editor Farnsworth Wright may not dare to print it." Wright, however, snapped it up, sending Lovecraft a check for $240, the largest single payment for his fiction he had received up to that point. (Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. II, p. 240; cited in Joshi, p. 101).

Lovecraft biographer Lin Carter calls the story "an excellent tale.... A mood of tension and gathering horror permeates the story, which culminates in a shattering climax". (Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, pp. 71-72). Robert M. Price declares that "among the tales of H. P. Lovecraft, 'The Dunwich Horror' remains my favorite." (Robert M. Price, "What Roodmas Horror", The Dunwich Cycle, p. ix).

S.T. Joshi, on the other hand, regards "Dunwich" as "simply an aesthetic mistake on Lovecraft's part", citing its "stock good-versus-evil scenario". (Joshi, pp. 16-17).

Plot summary

"The Dunwich Horror" is one of the few tales Lovecraft wrote where the heroes successfully defeat the antagonistic entity or monster of the story, although the Horror itself is only the remainder of a far more fiendish plan thwarted by Wilbur's premature death.

"The Dunwich Horror" tells 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 unprecedentedly 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.

The plot revolves around the desire of Wilbur to acquire an unabridged Latin version of the Necronomicon — his imperfect English copy ill-suited for his dark purpose — so that he may open the way for the return of the mysterious (eldritch) "Old Ones", whose forerunner is the Lovecraftian Outer God Yog-Sothoth. Furthermore, Wilbur and his grandfather have sequestered an unseen presence at their farmhouse; this being is connected somehow to Yog-Sothoth. Year by year, this unseen entity grows to monstrous proportions, requiring Wilbur and his patriarch to make frequent modifications to their residence. People begin to notice a trend of cattle mysteriously disappearing. Eventually, Wilbur's mother also disappears. By the time Wilbur's grandfather passes away, the colossal entity occupies the whole interior of the farmhouse.

Wilbur ventures to Miskatonic University in Arkham to procure a copy of the dreaded Necronomicon – Miskatonic's library is one of only a handful in the world to stock an original print of the frightful tome. The Necronomicon has certain spells that Wilbur can use to summon the Old Ones for dark purposes unfathomable to men. When the librarian, Dr. Henry Armitage, refuses to release the university's copy to him, Wilbur breaks into the library that night to steal the loathsome book. Unfortunately (for Wilbur rather than for humankind), he is killed by the guard dog, which attacks him with a most unusual ferocity. When Dr. Armitage and two other professors arrive on the scene and see Wilbur Whateley's partly non-human corpse, they realize that the youth was not wholly of this earth.

The story culminates with the actual Dunwich horror: With Wilbur Whateley now dead, no one can attend to the mysterious presence growing in the Whateley farmhouse. Early one morning, the Whateley farmhouse explodes as the thing, an invisible monster, rampages across Dunwich, cutting a path through fields, trees, and ravines, leaving huge "prints" the size of tree trunks. The frightened town is terrorized by the invisible creature for several days, until Dr. Armitage, Professor Warren Rice, and Dr. Francis Morgan, all of Miskatonic University, arrive with the knowledge and weapons needed to defeat the creature. In the end, its nature is revealed: it is the twin brother of Wilbur Whateley, though it "looked more like the father than [Wilbur] did." The actual death of the Horror is a surrealistic mockery of the crucifixion of Christ and His last cry upon crucifixion in Mark 15:34 "And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" (which is translated from Aramaic, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") The Horror's final words are "Eh-y-ya-ya-yahaah - e'yayayaaaa... ngh'aaaaa... ngh'aaa... h'yuh... h'yuh... HELP! HELP! ...ff - ff - ff - FATHER! FATHER! YOG-SOTHOTH!...".


Old Whateley

Lavinia Whateley's "aged and half-insane father, about whom the most frightful tales of magic had been whispered in his youth".<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 159.</ref> Dunwich gossips recall that "the hills once shook when he shrieked the dreadful name of Yog-Sothoth in the midst of a circle of stones with a great book open in his arms before him."<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 162.</ref> He has a large collection of "rotting ancient books and parts of books" which he uses to "instruct[s] and catechise" his grandson Wilbur.<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 163.</ref> He dies of natural causes on August 2, 1924.<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 166.</ref>

He is given no first name by Lovecraft; he is referred to as "Noah Whateley" in the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game.

According to S. T. Joshi, "It is not certain where Lovecraft got the name Whateley," though there is a small town called Whately in northwestern Massachusetts near the Mohawk Trail, which Lovecraft hiked several times, including in the summer of 1928.<ref>Joshi, p. 115.</ref> Robert M. Price's short story "Wilbur Whateley Waiting" emphasizes the obvious pun in the name.<ref>Robert M. Price, “Wilbur Whateley Waiting”, The Dunwich Cycle, Robert M. Price, ed., pp. 236-252.</ref>

Lavinia Whateley

Born circa 1878, Lavinia Whateley is the daughter of Old Whateley and a mother who met an "unexplained death by violence" when Lavinia was 12. She is described as a

somewhat deformed, unattractive albino woman...a lone creature given to wandering amidst thunderstorms in the hills and trying to read the great odorous books which her father had inherited through two centuries of Whateleys.... She had never been to school, but was filled with disjointed scraps of ancient lore that Old Whateley had taught her.... Isolated among strange influences, Lavinia was fond of wild and grandiose day-dreams and singular occupations.

Elsewhere, she is called "slatternly [and] crinkly-haired".

In 1913, she gave birth to Wilbur Whately by an unknown father. On Halloween night in 1926, she disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Lavinia Whateley is one of Lovecraft's very few female characters. S. T. Joshi notes that Lovecraft's mother, like Lavinia, was in her mid-30s when she gave birth to her son.<ref>Joshi, p. 115.</ref>

Wilbur Whateley

Born February 2, 1913 at 5 a.m. to Lavinia Whateley and an unknown father. Described as a "dark, goatish-looking infant"<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 159.</ref>--neighbors refer to him as "Lavinny's black brat"<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 162.</ref>--he shows extreme precocity: "Within three months of his birth, he had attained a size and muscular power not usually found in infants under a full year of age.... At seven months, he began to walk unassisted,"<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 161.</ref> and he "commenced to talk...at the age of only eleven months."<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 162.</ref> At three years of age, "he looked like a boy of ten,"<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 164.</ref> while at four and a half, he "looked like a lad of fifteen. His lips and cheeks were fuzzy with a coarse dark down, and his voice had begun to break."<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 165.</ref>

"Though he shared his mother's and grandfather's chinlessness, his firm and precociously shaped nose united with the expression of his large, dark, almost Latin eyes to give him an air of..well-nigh preternatural intelligence," Lovecraft writes, though at the same time he is "exceedingly ugly...there being something almost goatish or animalistic about his thick lips, large-pored, yellowish skin, coarse crinkly hair, and oddly elongated ears."<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 162.</ref>

He dies at the age of fifteen after being mauled by a guard dog while breaking in to the Miskatonic library on August 3, 1928. His death scene allows Lovecraft to provide a detailed description of Wilbur's partly nonhuman anatomy:

The thing that lay half-bent on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-yellow ichor and tarry stickiness was almost nine feet tall, and the dog had torn off all the clothing and some of the skin.... It was partly human, beyond a doubt, with very manlike hands and head, and the goatish, chinless face had the stamp of the Whateleys upon it. But the torso and lower parts of the body were teratologically fabulous, so that only generous clothing could ever have enabled it to walk on earth unchallenged or uneradicated.
Above the waist it was semi-anthropomorphic; though its chest...had the leathery, reticulated hide of a crocodile or alligator. The back was piebald with yellow and black, and dimly suggested the squamous covering of certain snakes. Below the waist, though, it was the worst; for here all human resemblance left off and sheer phantasy began. The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur, and from the abdomen a score of long greenish-grey tentacles with red sucking mouths protruded limply.
Their arrangement was odd, and seemed to follow the symmetries of some cosmic geometry unknown to earth or the solar system. On each of the hips, deep set in a kind of pinkish, ciliated orbit, was what seemed to be a rudimentary eye; whilst in lieu of a tail there depended a kind of trunk or feeler with purple annular markings, and with many evidences of being an undeveloped mouth or throat. The limbs, save for their black fur, roughly resembled the hind legs of prehistoric earth's giant saurians, and terminated in ridgy-veined pads that were neither hooves nor claws.<ref>Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", pp. 174-175.</ref>

This death scene bears a marked resemblance to that of Jervase Cradock, a similarly half-human character in Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the Black Seal": "Something pushed out from the body there on the floor, and stretched forth, a slimy, wavering tentacle," Machen writes.<ref>Cited in Joshi, p. 140.</ref> Will Murray notes that the goatish, partly reptilian Wilbur Whateley resembles a chimera, a mythological creature referred to in Charles Lamb's epigraph to "The Dunwich Horror".<ref>Will Murray, "The Dunwich Chimera and Others: Correlating the Cthulhu Mythos", Lovecraft Studies No. 8 (Spring 1984), pp. 10-24; cited in Joshi, pp. 104, 140.</ref>

Robert M. Price points out that Wilbur Whateley is in some respects an autobiographical figure for Lovecraft: "Wilbur's being raised by a grandfather instead of a father, his home education from his grandfather's library, his insane mother, his stigma of ugliness (in Lovecraft's case untrue, but a self-image imposed on him by his mother), and his sense of being an outsider all echo Lovecraft himself."<ref>Price, The Dunwich Cycle, p. 236.</ref>

Henry Armitage


The head librarian at Miskatonic University. As a young man, he graduated from Miskatonic in 1881 and went on to obtain his doctorate from Princeton University and his Doctor of Letters degree at Johns Hopkins University.

Lovecraft noted that while writing "The Dunwich Horror", "[I] found myself identifying with one of the characters (an aged scholar who finally combats the menace) toward the end". (H. P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, September 1928; cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 81). S.T. Joshi writes that Armitage "would make a very good parody of the pompous and valiant 'hero' of hackneyed adventure fiction were it not so obvious that Lovecraft intends us to take him seriously." (S. T. Joshi, The Annotated Lovecraft, p. 16).

Francis Morgan

Professor of Medicine and Comparative Anatomy (or Archaeology) at Miskatonic University. The story refers to him as "youngish".

In Fritz Leiber's "To Arkham and the Stars"--written in 1966 and apparently set at about that time--Morgan is described as "the sole living survivor of the brave trio who had slain the Dunwich Horror". According to Leiber, Morgan's "research in mescaline and LSD" produced "clever anti-hallucinogens" that were instrumental in curing Danforth's mental illness. (Fritz Leiber, "To Arkham and the Stars", Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos, pp. 320-321).

Warren Rice

Professor of Classical Languages at Miskatonic University. He is called "stocky" and "iron-grey".

Cthulhu Mythos

Although Lovecraft first mentioned "Yog-Sothoth" in the novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, it was in "The Dunwich Horror" that he introduced the entity as one of his extra-dimensional Old Ones. It is also the tale in which the Necronomicon makes the most significant appearance, and the longest direct quote from it appears in the text. Many of the other standards of the Cthulhu Mythos, such as Miskatonic University, Arkham and Dunwich also form integral parts of the tale.


A movie version of The Dunwich Horror appeared in 1970. It starred Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley, and also starred Ed Begley and Sandra Dee with a soundtrack by Les Baxter. While the script borrowed some elements from Lovecraft, the final film bears little resemblance to the short story. A 2009 made-for-TV adaptation was also made.


The Dunwich Horror and Others is the name of a collection of H. P. Lovecraft short stories published by Arkham House, containing what August Derleth considered to be the best of Lovecraft's shorter fiction. Originally published in 1963, the 6th printing in 1985 included extensive corrections by S.T. Joshi in order to produce the definitive edition of Lovecraft's works. The collection has an introduction by Robert Bloch, titled "Heritage of Horror", reprinted from the 1982 Ballantine collection, Blood Curdling Tales of Supernatural Horror: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft.

The stories included in The Dunwich Horror and Others are:


  • Definitive version.