What’s The Dunwich Horror all about?:
The Dunwich Horror is the story of the strange Whatley family who practise black magic in their local village of Dunwich. The hero, Dr Armitage finds out exactly what being they have conjured with a means of eliminating it and saving human-kind.
What did I think?:
With every Lovecraftian tale I read, I get more and more used to his style of writing, especially his elongated vocabulary – even if I have to read some paragraphs more than once to make any sense of them! The Dunwich Horror is one of the longer stories in this collection and at times it felt it was going on a bit too long for my liking, but more about that later. The story begins with giving a lot of background information about the village of Dunwich and in particular, the Whatley family who have always been looked on as a bit odd. There is the old man Whatley (often referred to as Wizard Whatley due to his love of practising black magic) and his daughter Lavinia, described as albino, deformed and quite unattractive. They live in a house up on a hill with a portion of it that is completely closed off, much to the curiosity of the villagers. Then the villagers are surprised to discover that Lavinia has had a son which she has named Wilbur. No-one knows who or where the father is but this is not the strangest thing about the boy. He begins to walk and talk unnaturally early and keeps growing taller and taller, having the appearance of a man by about ten years old. Something in his features gives the villagers the shivers, it is described as “goatish or animalistic,” and soon he is feared more than his grandfather and mother.
The villagers also notice that old Whatley appears to be re-arranging his house and seeking the help of Wilbur with his spells. The two would stand on the hill by their house around a mound of stones that some say were an ancient Indian burial ground and would chant for hours on end. There is also a noticeable foul stench in the area that appears to be coming from somewhere within the house yet is so strong that it affects the surrounding areas. One day old Whatley becomes very ill and Wilbur is sent in haste for Dr Armitage, the local physician. Old Whatley is not afraid however, he hears the whippoorwills gathering and their chirps seem to mimic the old man’s last breaths. He tells his grandson that they are here for his soul and if they succeed they will screech until the morning but if they fail they will instantly fall silent. Before his last breath, Dr Armitage witnesses the old man involved in some handing over procedure with his grandson but he cannot make out all the words. Something about “feeding it, giving it more space, opening up the gates,” but he concludes that the old man is out of his senses.
Unfortunately this is not the case. Wilbur (who is over seven feet tall now and takes a rather…interesting (?) form), Dr Armitage and the entire village fall prey to an other-wordly creature that cannot be described fully here but leaves destruction in its wake, reducing houses to mere eggshells with no clue as to where the human inhabitants have gone – not even skeletons are left behind. Dr Armitage must now rally the village and attempt to force this dastardly beast back to where it came from as after much study, he learns that if he fails in this mission, human-kind is doomed.
So, I started this story with a bit of disappointment to be honest. Oh dear, ANOTHER other-wordly creature from Lovecraft? The background information that we are given about the village and the Whatley family is quite in-depth but I quite enjoyed this part of the story. It was when we came down to the “action” part and the hunting down of the creature that, to be honest, I became slightly bored as it felt unnecessarily drawn out. I often found myself floating into a little daydream at this point thinking about how I was going to rip the story to shreds in this post, losing my focus more than once! However, it did end in a nice little conclusion with a quick summary of what had just happened (for anyone who had nodded off…ahem!) and we get a creepy little ending that I have to say did give me a shiver. On the strength of the ending and the strong beginning I’ve raised the story’s rating but it’s not my favourite in this collection.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Bloodsport by Tom Cain from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7