- 🔀 This is an article about the short story. For the eponymous being, see Dunwich Horror (being)
𝓦𝐓 "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) and is 17,524 words total. It takes place in Dunwich, a fictional town in Massachusetts. It is considered one of the core stories of the Cthulhu Mythos. "The Dunwich Horror" is one of the few tales Lovecraft wrote wherein the heroes successfully defeat the antagonistic entity or monster of the story.
The action "takes place amongst the wild domed hills of the upper Miskatonic Valley, far northwest of Arkham, and is based on several old New England legends — one of which I heard only last month during my sojourn in Wilbraham," a town east of Springfield. (HPL: letter to August Derleth, August 4, 1928, EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others)
One such legend is the notion that whippoorwills can capture the departing soul. (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others)
Dunwich is "a vague echo of the decadent Massachusetts countryside around Springfield — say Wilbraham, Monson and Hampden." (HPL: Selected Letters 3.508)
It is noted that "much of the physical description of the Dunwich countryside is a faithful sketch of Wilbraham:"
|“||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.||„|
|~ HPL , letter from Lovecraft to Zealia Bishop, EXP: Robert M. Price, The Dunwich Cycle|
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, 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.
Athol's Sentinel Elm Farm seems to be the source for the name Sentinel Hill. (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others) 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. (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others) (New Salem, like Dunwich, was founded by settlers from Salem—though in 1737, not 1692.)
The book Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, by Charles Montgomery 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. (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others)
Lovecraft's main literary sources for "The Dunwich Horror" are the stories of Welsh 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 story that does not come directly out of Machen's fiction."
Another source that has been suggested is "The Thing in the Woods", by Margery Williams, which is also about two brothers living in the woods, neither of them quite human and one of them less human than the other.
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". Lovecraft also takes Wilbur Whateley's occult terms "Aklo" and "Voorish" from Machen's "The White People".
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. (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others)
The tracks of Wilbur's brother recall those seen in Algernon Blackwood's "The Wendigo", one of Lovecraft's favorite horror stories. (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others) Ambrose Bierce's story "The Damned Thing" also involves a monster invisible to human eyes.
In the isolated, desolate, decrepit village of Dunwich, Wilbur Whateley is the hideous son of Lavinia Whateley, a deformed and unstable albino mother, and an unknown father (alluded to in passing by mad Old Whateley, as "Yog-Sothoth"). Strange events surround his birth and precocious development. Wilbur matures at an abnormal rate, reaching manhood within a decade. Locals shun him and his family, and animals fear and despise him (due to his odor). All the while, his sorcerer grandfather indoctrinates him into certain dark rituals and the study of witchcraft. Various locals grow suspicious after Old Whateley buys more and more cattle, yet the number of his herd never increases, and the cattle in his field become mysteriously afflicted with severe open wounds.
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 the two men to make frequent modifications to their residence. People begin to notice a trend of cattle mysteriously disappearing. Wilbur's grandfather dies. His mother disappears soon afterwards. The colossal entity eventually occupies the whole interior of the farmhouse.
Wilbur ventures to Miskatonic University in Arkham to procure their copy of the Necronomicon – Miskatonic's library is one of only a handful in the world to stock an original. The Necronomicon has spells that Wilbur can use to summon the Old Ones, but his family's copy is damaged and lacks the page he needs to open the "door". When the librarian, Dr. Henry Armitage, refuses to release the university's copy to him (and has, by sending warnings to other libraries, thwarted Wilbur's efforts to consult their copies), Wilbur breaks into the library at night to steal it. A guard dog, maddened by Wilbur's alien body odor, attacks Wilbur with unusual ferocity, killing him. When Dr. Armitage and two other professors arrive on the scene, they see Wilbur Whateley's semi-human corpse before it melts completely, leaving no evidence.
With Wilbur Whateley dead, no one attends to the mysterious presence growing in the Whateley farmhouse. Early one morning, the Whateley farmhouse explodes and 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 monster eventually makes forays into inhabited areas. The invisible creature terrorizes the town for several days, killing two families and several policemen, until Dr. Armitage, Professor Warren Rice, and Dr. Francis Morgan arrive with the knowledge and weapons needed to kill it. The use of a magic powder renders it visible just long enough to send one of the crew into shock. The barn-sized monster screams for help - in English - just before the spell destroys it, leaving a huge burned area. In the end, its nature is revealed: it is Wilbur's twin brother, though it "looked more like the father than Wilbur did."
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, equal to $2800 in modern dollars, the largest single payment for his fiction he had received up to that point. (HPL: Selected Letters 2.329)
Kingsley Amis praised "The Dunwich Horror" in New Maps of Hell, listing it as one of Lovecraft's tales that "achieve a memorable nastiness".
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". (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others) However, he has also noted that it is "richly atmospheric".
- Main article: Old Whateley
Lavinia Whateley's "aged and half-insane father, about whom the most frightful tales of magic had been whispered in his youth". He has a large collection of "rotting ancient books and parts of books" which he uses to "instruct[s] and catechise" his grandson Wilbur. He dies of natural causes on August 2, 1924.
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. (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others) Robert M. Price's short story "Wilbur Whateley Waiting" emphasizes the obvious pun in the name.
- Main article: Lavinia Whateley
One of Lovecraft's very few female characters. Born circa 1878, Lavinia Whateley is the spinster 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, later revealed to be Yog-Sothoth. Presumably, she is either forced or coerced into mating with Yog-Sothoth by her father, Old Whateley.
On Halloween night in 1926, she disappeared under mysterious circumstances, most likely killed or sacrificed by her son, whom the villagers claimed had an immense dislike of Lavinia.
- Main article: Wilbur Whateley
Born February 2, 1913 at 5 a.m. to Lavinia Whateley and Yog-Sothoth. Described as a "dark, goatish-looking infant"—neighbors refer to him as "Lavinny's black brat"—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," and he "commenced to talk...at the age of only eleven months."At three years of age, "he looked like a boy of ten," 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."
"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."
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.
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. (EXP: The Dunwich Horror and Others) 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".
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."
- Main article: 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". (HPL: letter to August Derleth, September 1928; EXP: An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia)
- "The Terror From the Depths" - Fritz Leiber
- "The Horror in the Gallery" - Lin Carter
- "The House of Azathoth" - Peter Cannon
- Main article: Francis Morgan
Professor of Medicine and Comparative Anatomy (or Archaeology) at Miskatonic University. The story refers to him as "lean" and "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.
Professor of Classical Languages at Miskatonic University. He is called "stocky" and "iron-grey".
- Yog-Sothoth's name is used in incantations, (HPL: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) but it is revealed here that it is an extra-dimensional entity part of the Outer Gods.
- The Necronomicon, Miskatonic University, Arkham and Dunwich appear.
- A librarian named Armitage appears in an alternate history where a juvenile Lovecraft is influenced by the events of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. (EXP: "To Mars and Providence" [Don Webb])
- According to some accounts, it was not an immaculate conception but Old Whateley who was the vessel used by Yog-Sothoth to impregnate his daughter Lavinia. (EXP: "The Black Brat of Dunwich" [Stanley C. Sargent], Providence [Alan Moore])
- The radio drama Suspense adapted "The Dunwich Horror". It stars Academy Award winner Ronald Colman as Henry Armitage, and aired originally on November 1, 1945.
- A film version, The Dunwich Horror, was released in 1970. It starred Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley, Ed Begley as Henry Armitage and Sandra Dee. Les Baxter composed the soundtrack. It was the final film for Begley, who died in April of that year.
- Another film version of the tale starring Jeffrey Combs as Wilbur Whately and directed by Leigh Scott was first broadcast in October 2009 on SyFy. Dean Stockwell also stars in this version, this time as Dr. Henry Armitage. The working title was The Darkest Evil.
- Comics artist Alberto Breccia adapted the story in 1974.
- Comics artist John Coulthart started to adapt the story in 1989. The unfinished story was published in 1999.
- "The Dunwich Horror", along with "The Picture in the House" and "The Festival", were adapted into short claymation films, and released by Toei Animation as a DVD compilation called
- In October 2011, Julie Hoverson, through her audio production company 19 Nocturne Boulevard, released an adaptation of "The Dunwich Horror" in a 4-part miniseries. Each episode was roughly 30 minutes long.
- In October 2013, The Company (a Yorkshire-based amateur dramatics society) produced a stage play adaptation of "The Dunwich Horror" at the Drama Studio at the University of Sheffield.
- Julie Hoverson audiodrama of 'The Dunwich Horror' in 4 parts...
In Popular Culture
- Main article: Cthulhu Mythos in Popular Culture: The Dunwich Horror
- Charles P. Mtchell, The Complete H.P.Lovecraft Filmography p.9 (2001)
- 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.
- Will Murray, "In Search of Arkham Country Revisited", Lovecraft Studies, Nos. 19/20 (Fall 1989), ppp. 65-69; cited in Joshi, p. 110.
- Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, Charles Montgomery Skinner, 1896; online version available from Project Gutenberg
- Price, pp. ix-x.
- Price, p. 1.
- Price, p. 48.
- Kingsley Amis, New Maps of Hell:A Survey of Science Fiction. Victor Gollancz, 1961, p.25.
- Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, pp. 71-72.
- T. E. D. Klein, "The 13 Most Terrifying Horror Stories" in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, July–August 1983, (p. 63).
- Robert M. Price, "What Roodmas Horror", The Dunwich Cycle, p. ix.
- Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror", p. 159.
- Robert M. Price, "Wilbur Whateley Waiting", The Dunwich Cycle, Robert M. Price, ed., pp. 236-252.
- 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.
- Price, The Dunwich Cycle, p. 236.
- Fritz Leiber, "To Arkham and the Stars", Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos, pp. 320-321.
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- 19 Nocturne presents The Dunwich Horror - part 1 of 4. 19 Nocturne Boulevard (8 October 2011). Retrieved on 2013-08-11.
- Dunwich Horror 2013 stage play review.
- The Dunwich Horror on Suspense: November 1, 1945