The Dunwich Horror

  1. J-WO

    J-WO Author of The Scalpel (Feral Space Book 1)

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    I finished DH early this morning. The ending is a bit sappy, I think Lovecraft may have written himself into a corner.
    Another problem is, we don't get a physical description of Armitage and his gang until a couple of chapters near the end. Consequently, I had to age Prof A up from a Holmes-esque 40ish to a Colonel Saunderish 73! It didn't seem to bother me back in the day, but now I write fiction myself these things stick in my head. I read The Color Out Of Space after and found it to be superior by a good margin. The language was clear as glass and the story was a perfect vehicle for HPL's materialistic horror. Excellent craftsmanship.

    That's not to say Dunwich is awful, of course. The image of the Earth being dragged into some other place for some nameless purpose was good. Though you have to wonder what Great name-checked, Cthulu would have to say about this. Would Rl'yeh be stripped away with the rest of the planet's coating?
     
    Jun 2, 2010
    #21
  2. J-WO

    J-WO Author of The Scalpel (Feral Space Book 1)

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    Another thought about DH just popped into my head. My perception of Lovecraft himself might be a lamentable stereotype, but I can't help feeling he put some facet of himself into Wilbur Whateley, consciously or otherwise.

    They're both self/ home educated to one degree or another. And might Whateley's freakish appearance be a mirror of Lovecraft's negative self-image? (Or is his body dismorphia a popular myth not borne out by his correspondence?)

    Young Whateley dreams of a world stripped bare for him to walk alone on. To be at peace and think, presumably. Could HPL really have said he wouldn't have found the prospect even slightly attractive?

    I'm not even going to try to analyze what Armitage jigging about on a hill means, however!
     
    Jun 2, 2010
    #22
  3. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I believe it was in a letter to Derleth that Lovecraft mention'd how he related more and more to Armitage as he wrote the tale, a comment that drives S. T. bug-shoggog. I still maintain that the story is magnificent for its exceptional qualities, of which there are so many.

    I've just thought of another very grotesque and disturbing biblical connection. I have ponder'd if it was Wizard Whateley who, acting as proxy for Yog-Sothoth, impregnated his daughter; thus, when he is boasting in the store of Lavina's good man, he is crowing of himself and perhaps his late-in-life sexual vitality. This suddenly reminded me of Lot and his daughters in the cave, where his daughters got him drunk so as to have sexual relations with him and thus both became pregnant with their father's sons.
     
    Jun 2, 2010
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  4. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Actually, this idea has been raised by others in the past (Lovecraftian scholars, no less!), so it isn't all that unreasonable a reading. Certainly, he had a very poor self-image about his face... there are various references to that sort of thing scattered in various letters, including some to his mother; while one of the stories his wife told about him involves that sort of feeling as well. Part of this was because he was always plagued with ingrown facial hairs, causing various unsightly problems; and part of it almost certainly goes back to his mother, who once remarked to a friend that her son's face was "hideous". (I wouldn't be too hard on Susie, though, as for over twenty years her mental health was anything but good; and if she knew the truth about the illness which caused her husband's insanity, such transference of feelings would be anything but unlikely.)

    If I recall correctly, this is one of the items which came up in one of the other threads as well... and though I hadn't thought of that connection before, it is certainly a worthwhile reading, given the (conscious or unconscious) biblical parallels scattered throughout not only this story, but other Lovecraft's works (such as the 23d Psalm and the ending of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"). The possibility certainly exists; and as the text itself makes a point of mentioning incest and inbreeding as among the stigmas attached to Dunwich, one could argue that the story itself supports such a reading. In a sense, I see this tying in with what I mentioned above about the death of Lavinia's mother... questioning whether her death by violence was at the hands of Old Whateley or something (or someone) else... or perhaps both. And just how much were the Whateley clan related to the Old Ones? Etc.

    Oh, and Wilum: I may be misremembering (I'd have to look it up to be certain) but yes, I believe that description of Yog-Sothoth originally came from one of the Selected Letters volumes.

    As for his/its "true" nature... that's a very difficult question; but I think it's a mistake to disregard the mentions of Yog-Sothoth in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, as so many tend to do. I think even then the concept was evolving of this entity or force as something which breached the barriers between past, present, and future; possibly existing outside all of them yet nonetheless able to influence them under certain conditions. And there, too, he/it is connected to a particular magical ritual involving summoning and banishment, ascending and descending nodes. I don't think it was quite coherent in his mind at that point, but some clues might be gathered by a close reading of that novel nonetheless....
     
    Jun 2, 2010
    #24
  5. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I have always assumed that Wilbur murder'd his mother -- but having just examined her death last night in my double rereading of the tale, it has several points of interest. Here is its description in the Barnes & Noble edition (page 643):

    "That Hallowe'en the hill noises sounded louder than ever, and fire burned on Sentinel Hill as usual; but people paid more attention to the rhythmical screaming of vast flocks of unnaturally belated whippoorwills which seemed to be assembled near the unlighted Whateley farmhouse. After midnight their shrill notes burst into a kind of pandaemoniac cachinnation which filled all the countryside, and not until dawn did they finally quiet down. Then they vanished, hurrying southward where they were fully a month overdue. What this meant, no one could quite be certain till later. None of the country folk seemed to have died -- but poor Lavina Whateley, the twisted albino, was never seen again."

    Her expiration is then quite similar to her father's, a prolonged event anticipated by and accompanied by the action of the birds -- not some sudden violent murder. If this is happening when Wilbur is burning the fires of black magick on Sentinel Hill, he is not involv'd in person at the farmhouse. Yet he seems (as is later suggested) connected in some way to his mother's mysterious and unexplained disappearance.
     
    Jun 2, 2010
    #25
  6. The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    This will no doubt seem very naive, but how do we know Lavinia is in the farmhouse at all? It is described as "unlighted" not empty, I know, but the implication is that it is unoccupied. If she is in the house -- even if Wilbur fully knows what is about to happen to her -- why extinguish all the lights?

    I can't recall what is said about how close the whippoorwills are to the dying but could it be Lavinia is on the hill being slowly killed while the birds are at the empty farmhouse? As it reads, the country folk themselves don't immediately associate the whippoorwills at the Whateley farmhouse with a Whateley death -- if they did, there'd be no need for the "None of the country folk seemed to have died". That indicates to me that as far as the others are concerned, anyone in the area might have died, despite the birds being present at a specific place -- and therefore the birds' proximity to the dying can't be a pre-requisite.
     
    Jun 2, 2010
    #26
  7. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I think the birds gathered at the farmhouse, as they did when her father died, must mean that she is in there and dying -- for the paragraph ends with the revelation that she is never seen again. The paragraph relates specifically to Lavinia, I'm certain, else why is she mentioned at all? The fires on the hill (twice a year) is witch Whateley ritual and not, I think, specifically tied to family death.

    I'm still uncertain about Wizard Whateley's role in the birth of the twins. The non-human physical traits of these nameless offspring indicate an unearthly parentage, which is reinforced with, concerning Wilbur, "He had taken somewhat after his unknown father." That cannot mean his grandfather, who is human.
     
    Jun 2, 2010
    #27
  8. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    As well as Armitage's "but it looked more like the father than he did". This most definitely refers to the unearthly side of the twins' heritage.

    Now, as far as Lavinia's death (or disappearance). I think Lovecraft is playing things very carefully here. The line about "None of the country folk seemed to have died" would indicate, I believe, that there was no sort of confirmation that she was dead... she simply wasn't ever seen again. While suspicions about her being dead would be rife, it might be a while before even those would surface; and, since Wilbur obviously never told anyone what happened to her, suspicions is all that they would have. In the meantime, the Whateleys being a rather isolated bunch, even her disappearance might not be noted for some time.

    And, while it is quite true that Lovecraft does not specify how close the whippoorwills must be, I think the implication, given the close proximity in each of the other instances in the tale, is that they tend to perch just outside the windows of the room -- not only the house, but the specific room -- where the dying person lies.

    J-WO: in reference to the question concerning the caucasian skeletal remains... I had forgotten, until reminded by something I read today, that Lovecraft always had a fascination with the idea of Phoenicians having crossed the Atlantic to the New World, perhaps having established a colony here. He found a great deal of imaginative stimulation in that thought, so this may be what he had in mind. Contrarily, it may indeed be a Roman connection he had in mind. While he himself put scant belief in the possibility of such in general (even though he liked the idea for fictional purposes), there was a very real incident in 1925 where supposedly Roman relics were found in Arizona, and Lovecraft was almost certainly aware of this, as it was published as front page news in the New York Times during the period when he was living there. So he may have been playing with either of those two ideas in this mention....

    (The article concerning this is "H. P. Lovecraft and the Archaeology of 'Roman' Arizona", by Marc A. Beherec; a brief but quite fascinating piece, in the second Lovecraft Annual [2008].)
     
    Jun 3, 2010
    #28
  9. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    There is an oblique reference to the half-human face of the monstrous twin in the diary entry written by Wilbur when he was three or four (I never realized that he was but fifteen at death):

    "That upstairs looks it will have the right cast. I can see it a little when I make the Voorish sign or blow the powder of Ibn Ghazi at it, and it is near like them at May-Eve on the Hill. That other face may wear off some."

    This story is so utterly supernatural, which I love. I listened again to the wonderful radio drama recorded by The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society for their Dark Adventure Radio series, and "The Dunwich Horror" is beautifully dramatic and would make a great film if the script stayed loyal to Lovecraft's tale. I am nearing the end of my double-reading, and have gobs of notes. I'll probably begin work on the rough draft next week. This week is weird with family stuff, and Saturday I'll be gone all day with the Joshis as we try to find the home of H. Warner Munn in Tacoma, where I used to visit Harold Munn on week-ends and he would read me his stories from Weird Tales and talk about driving HPL and Paul Cook around New England in his Essex Roadster, and I would spend the night in his attic chamber where he kept his old Arkham House books and copies of Cook's The Recluse.
     
    Jun 3, 2010
    #29
  10. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I have completed my study of "The Dunwich Horror." I loved it up to Wilbur's death -- and then it became rather awful and ridiculous, I hate to confess. When I came to, "Rice, beside him, took from a valise a metal sprayer of the sort used in combating insects..." I could not repress my groans of dismay. (I shall never again mock Brian Lumley's combating ye Old Ones with flame-throwers in The Burrowers Beneath...) The ending would have been so much more effective if it had been told from the three men from Arkham on the hill, rather than from their distant viewers, as was shewn in the 1970 film with Ed Begley waving his arms and yelling on the hill, which although silly I found rather effective because of Begley's age.

    Well, yes, the ending is a major let-down. How distressing to see that HPL's endings could be just as weak as Derleth's. Ah well, now to begin writing a sequel of mine own, and we shall see if I can do any better.
     
    Jun 3, 2010
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  11. The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    I hesitate to press the point against people who know much more about this than I do, but I'm looking at it as a lawyer, construing the words used, rather than as a scholar with knowledge of his oeuvre and his method of working.

    I certainly agree that there is no confirmation she has died, but that suspicion would be rife. But surely if the whipoorwills only appear in the immediate vicinity of the dying, the immediate reaction of the other folk should be "There were whippoorwills up at the Whateley house. Which of the Whatelys has died?" So the line "None of the country folk..." should rather read "None of the Whateleys was confirmed dead, but...".

    That was certainly the inference I had drawn, until I started wondering about this. As a matter of interest, are the whippoorwills referred to in other stories? What would happen if, say, a person had a heart attack while tending the cattle outside?


    I agree absolutely that the paragraph relates to Lavinia and it is she who has died.
    But could they not have augmented the usual ritual by killing her in some way?
     
    Jun 3, 2010
    #31
  12. J-WO

    J-WO Author of The Scalpel (Feral Space Book 1)

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    I came, I saw, I dehydrated.

    Fascinating stuff. Personally, I think an ancient world visitation/ colonisation is what he's hinting at here. The only question is what period? I guess the clues in the standing stones on the hills.

    I'm not very aware of indigenous American monument building, but Dunwich's collection seem to have much in common with the megaliths of Europe. HPL, IMO, is trying to insinuate a common heritage. Problem is, I'm not sure what period European standing stones were attributed to in Lovecraft's day. I know a lot of people attributed them to the Celts before their neolithic construction date was identified, so possibly HPL laboured under that belief too. That might fit, chronologically speaking, with the 'Roman Arizona'/ Phoenician colonies idea.

    That said, of course, Lovecraft's main purpose here was sheer mystery. He may not have had any idea himself...
     
    Jun 3, 2010
    #32
  13. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I think that in part yes, it's the literalism which is getting in the way here, as Lovecraft (as was his wont) is blending several approaches throughout the tale: the formal, erudite third-person narrative voice; the scholarly but pedantic and at times ponderous and even foolish views of Armitage, whether in direct monologue or compressions or redactions of his thoughts; and a narrative voice which approaches a condensation of the confused, uneducated, and frightened mindset of the countryfolk of Dunwich and its surroundings... people who, it is hinted, are descendants of actual witches (having fled from Salem at the time of the witch scare) and living in a region where the actual presence of the past heavily outweighs that of the present, both physically and mentally. (Physically, the newest building was constructed very early in the nineteenth century; mentally its presence is reflected by their archaic dialect, which reflects something very close to the country dialects of the Puritan era and shortly after, as recorded by James Russell Lowell in The Biglow Papers.)

    Thus what we have here is not entirely an objective observation, but something which blends an objective narrative voice with the reactions of the Dunwich residents. Such often tend to think less logically on such matters, and often begin with a more general idea of "who in the area (of Dunwich) had died" before going on to make the connection with Lavinia or the family of Old Whateley. Even then, though they would suspect, without confirmation they would not be prepared to voice such suspicions directly (very much a Yankee reservation of the period there), for fear of both the involvement of the law (outsiders; seldom welcome in such a furtive community) as well as the implied moral burden of confronting such a character as Wilbur himself for either confirmation or censure (the last, of course, being entirely unsafe, given his predilections naturally and supernaturally).

    This being the case, the phrasing, I think, would be intended to reflect this conflict of viewpoints, concerns, and reticences....

    No, he never used the whippoorwills again in this way that I can recall. This reflects the fact that this was an actual traditional folkbelief of the very real region upon which Dunwich and its surroundings was based, as I mentioned earlier. Another such blending of genuine lore or fact is his reference to the fireflies who "come out in abnormal profusion to dance to the raucous, creepily insistent rhythms of stridently piping bullfrogs". This is his use of something he himself encountered while in the Wilbraham area. As Joshi mentions in his note (in The Annotated Lovecraft):

    This is from a letter to his aunt Lillian D Clark, of 1 July 1928.

    As for the last question -- I think we see something of this with the "death" (or dispersal) of Wilbur's brother, who meets his nemesis atop Sentinel Hill. There, the whippoorwills surround the entire area (a hint, perhaps, that the number of whippoorwills would be related to the "size" or strength of the "soul" in question?), so much so that, when blasted with the being's "demise", "over field and forest were scattered the bodies of dead whippoorwills". (Obviously, Wilbur's brother's "soul" was nowhere nearly as human as was his own... which merely caused them to flee in panic.)

    I'm not sure what you mean by "augmented" here... but it is quite possible that she was offered up as a sacrifice by Wilbur magically... whether any actual physical violence on his part was a part of it or not. This is a point which is left obscure, I think, to deliberately increase the reader's disquieting sense of unease about exactly what did happen to poor Lavinia....
     
    Jun 4, 2010
    #33
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