Joseph Curwen was a successful merchant, shipping magnate, slave trader, and highly accomplished sorcerer, born in present-day Danvers, Massachusetts, seven miles from Salem, on February 18, 1662. He fled to Providence from the Salem witch trials in 1692. He died, at least temporarily, in 1771 in the course of a raid on his lair by a group of important Providence citizens who had gotten wind of only a few of his crimes. He was killed again, presumably for good, by Dr Willett using Curwen's own sorcery.
Curwen perfected a method of reducing the effects of aging to an uncanny degree. He also had the ability to resurrect the dead and converse with them from either the complete corpse or its "essential saltes" (derived from the ashes of said corpse). This ability is used to obtain privileged intelligence from long-defunct wise men. To this end his agents scoured the graveyards and tombs of the world for the corpses of illustrious persons which are then smuggled back to Providence, where Curwen temporarily raised them to torture their secrets out of them. In this endeavour he was assisted by two fellow necromancers and Salem exiles; Jedediah / Simon Orne, alias Joseph Nadek, who lived in Prague, and Edward Hutchinson, who masqueraded as Baron Ferenczy in Transylvania. He was able to summon Cthulhu Mythos entities such as the god Yog-Sothoth to assist him in his magic.
Prior to his first death, Curwen found a way to create a spell that would transcend time and inspire a descendant to become interested in him and his work and attempt to bring him back should he ever be slain. When later resurrected by Ward, Curwen initially appeared in disguise as a bearded, spectacled "Dr. Allen" to avoid suspicion due to his close resemblance to Ward. The undead Curwen showed vampiristic tendencies as a side effect of his resurrection, thereby attacking local travelers and breaking into houses to drink the blood of the inhabitants. Curwen immediately made contact with Orne and Hutchinson, who had been alive and active all the while, and started up his old plots once again. He soon murdered Ward when he started having doubts about what they were doing and assumes his identity.
Curwen never hesitated to stoop to murder, torture or blackmail to achieve his ends; he also used - and killed - vast numbers of living slaves as subjects for his experiments. He also feigned some degree of civic spirit and decency, both to his fellow citizens and to his wife, as part of a clever ruse—a social gambit aimed at producing an heir, as well as improving his public image to avoid forced displacement.
Behind the MythosEdit
Intriguingly, the ultimate goal of these men's activities, i.e. the nature or the use for the information extracted from the resurrected wise persons, is not completely specified and its interpretation is largely left to the reader. The closest thing to a description of Curwen's aims is contained in a passage describing the ashes central to his experiments:
|“||Could it be possible that here lay the mortal relics of half the titan thinkers of all the ages; snatched by supreme ghouls from crypts where the world thought them safe, and subject to the beck and call of madmen who sought to drain their knowledge for some still wilder end whose ultimate effect would concern, as poor Charles had hinted in his frantic note, "all civilisation, all natural law, perhaps even the fate of the solar system and the universe"?||„|
This ambiguity also affects, notably, the exact circumstances of Curwen's "first" death. It is evident he was betrayed and probably killed by the entity summoned in his defense during the siege to the hidden grounds of his farm, but the identity of this being, as well as its possible connection with Yog-Sothoth (whose name is mentioned in the incantations) is left open to speculation. It is significant, however, that its irruption during the confrontation elicits a "An unmistakable human shout or deep chorused scream", as well as "a yell of utter, ultimate fright and stark madness [that] wrenched from scores of human throats—a yell which came strong and clear despite the depth from which it must have burst", and that the participants of the raid are left with psychological sequels far beyond those expected in any episode of unconventional warfare.
Joseph Curwen may be inscribed in the line of characters in Lovecraft stories, including both villains and antiheroes, notable for their individualistic or egocentric demeanor, prominent social standing within a closed parochial community, higher-than-average intelligence or charisma and usually low moral standards, who manage to deal actively with evil, unknown forces while at the same time avoiding the negative side-effects of such activities—even if the latter do affect a variable number of innocent people, as well as their own direct descendants or people related to them. Further examples of this archetype in Lovecraft are Obed Marsh, Alijah Billington, Ephraim Waite and Walter de la Poer and, to a lesser extent, Old Whateley and the secular Herbert West.