H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

The Dunwich Horror Review

The Dunwich Horror (first published in Weird Tales 1929)

by H.P. Lovecraft

dunwich horror

by Santiago Caruso

The novella begins with a prolonged setup of the Massachusetts town of Dunwich and the surrounding features such as Round Mountain, The Devil’s Hop Yard, and Sentinel Hill atop which a strange ring of stone columns thought to have built by now extinct tribes of Indians. It is perhaps these stones that started the stories of witches and devils that haunt the areas around Dunwich, however, what is know is the general disdain travelers have for loitering in the town any longer than they absolutely have to.  The Dunwich folk are mostly composed of but a few families such as the Bishops and the Whatelys.  A few of the branches of these familial trees have fallen into degeneration over the decades.  It is one such family that story revolves largely around.

Wizard Whately and his albino daughter, Lavina, bizarre and deformed part of the degenerated Whatelys living our at a farm near Dunwich.  The xenophobic townsfolk usually take little interest in affairs others, but the birth of Lavina’s son is of note for several reasons.  For one, the boy is a bastard with the father unknown by any in Dunwich.  Cursorily, Lavina doesn’t shun the boy, but in fact, seem proud of the goatish looking baby.  The other oddity is the the boy’s, Wilbur,  astonish rate of growth and mental development.  By a year and half the boy had grown to the size of a child normally thought to be four.  Wilbur began speaking at eleven months seemly skipping lisping and forming sentences almost immediately.

Wizard Whately began odd projects soon after Wilbur’s  birth.  He found renewed wells of stamina to repair and make additions to his old dilapidated home.  Old Whately also began to purchase additional cattle though the surrounding folk noted that his herd size never appeared to increase.  For years after none of the people of Dunwich paid this branch of Whatelys any mind as was common for them to mind their business.  However, ten years after the birth of Wilbur, the boy who have the appearance and demeanor of a man aided his grandfather in restoring the old barn on the property for some strange purpose.  It was later in the spring that old WIzard became worn out and sick.  The Whippoorwills had gather in frightening number at the Whately farm.  According to Wizard to try an take his soul as he died.

With the death of old Wizard Whately, it was up to Wilbur to finish what sinster task his grandfather has started.  To do so required an earlier edition of the Necromonicon written by the Mad-Arab Abdul Alhazred for a passage written on page 751.  Wilbur writes many universities and even visits Arkham’s own Miskatonic University to get his hands on own.  It only by Dr. Henry Armitage’s refusal that the boy is unable to get the required knowledge from the book.  Yet something urgent is requiring Wilbur to return to home…

The Dunwich Horror is a departure from Lovecraft’s normal first person narrative.  Although, the author doesn’t stray that far from it.  The story is still told in a typical account style writing that gives feels like Lovecraft wanted to have it told from single source (such as a newspaper reporter) but could make all the elements he wanted fit.  This does allow the story to give the reader information  and immediate tension not usually found in his story.  Because the story isn’t written after the fact, the climax can actually generate a more visceral experience that typically found in H.P. Lovecraft.  Not withstanding first short chapter, the Dunwich Horror has an easier narrative for readers new to H.P. Lovecraft to follow.

Elder Signs

Bottomline: The Dunwich Horror is one of my top five favorite Lovecraft tales.  It makes a good entry into reading the author as the story is about villains trying to bring about the end the world and academicians attempting to stop them. Six out of six elder signs to keep the gate and the key of Yog-Sothoth sealed away.

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H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

The Call of Cthulhu Review

The Call of Cthulhu (originally published in Weird Tales 1928)

by H.P. Lovecraft

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by Neil John Buchanan

The short story begins with a short diatribe on the mercy of ignorance written in the first person of the narrator (presumed to be Francis Wayland Thomas of Boston).  He is the great-nephew of the deceased Doctor George Gammel Angell, Professor of Languages at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (note of trivia: this is Lovecraft’s hometown).  The narrator is Professor Angell’s sole heir and executor.  While searching through the deceased files and and boxes, the narrator discovers a lock box without an obvious key.  Curious, he solves the puzzle of where the key is found opens this box to discover various manuscripts, articles, and papers on people having strange dreams and even more bizarre cults as well as a clay bas relief of modern construction of exceedingly ancient hieroglyphics and design.Image

Among the papers and manuscripts in the lock box is the account of its sculptor an Anthony Wilcox of the Rhode Island School of Design written in his dead great-uncles own hand.  It seems that Wilcox created the bas relief after a fit of nightmares of a strange  city of unimaginable size with colossal lumbering things miles in height.  In this terrible city Wilcox heard a language unknown to him but didn’t seem human.  The only words he could make out were, “Cthulhu fhtagn.”  Wilcox later falls into a strange fever-like delirium for more than a week where the young man plagued terrible visions of this same strange place with the sounds “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh” are most repeated.  When the fever breaks, Wilcox hads no memories of the previous days.  The narrator’s uncle learns that Wilcox malady was isolated as many poets, painters, and other artist had similarly fallen a fever-like delirium with similar accounts all occurring within the span of little more than a month.  And all stopping on April 2 the same day as Wilcox’s recovery.Image

The next bit of evidence found within the lock box the narrator introduces is that of an account from Inspector John Raymond Legrasse of the New Orleans police.  He was investigating a strange statuette that had seized after what most called a voodoo cult.  However, what Inspector Legrasse saw during that raid was far more sinister than he could imagine in the blackest part of Africa.  The statuette was craved to look-like a thing with a vaguely humanoid form with a octopus-like head with a mass of tentacle feelers and narrow wings.  The work seemed to be centuries old yet no expert could recognize the school or culture it cold be part of.  Even the soapy green stone with flakes of gold seemed unlike anything known in modern geology.

It wasn’t until Inspector Legrasse collaborated with a Professor William Channing Webb, a professor of anthropology at Princeton made any sort of connection.  Professor Webb while touring Greenland and Iceland to study the native peoples, came across a similar strange tribe or cult of West Greenland to that of Inspector Legrasse.  Both cults were chanting the same phrase, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” which the professor had translated as, “In the house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

The Call of Cthulhu is an interesting way to structure a story with much of it done via the narrator relating the artifacts and notes to the reader as he finds and examines them from his dead great-uncle’s lock box.  Lovecraft also selects some fantastic locations for many of the accounts within the story such as the swamps of Louisiana, the tundra of west Greenland, and even the south Pacific.  Even today these places invoke a sense of mystery and isolation from the rest of the world.  I also enjoyed how Lovecraft feeds the reader just a little more about Cthulhu and what is occurring slow building the story and giving everything involved, such as the dreamers and cults, a grounded surrealism to it.  The way that Lovecraft chooses to tell the story is genius; as the reader and the narrator investigate the clues and evidence before engaging in humanity’s fight against Cthulhu.  Lovecraft alludes to the idea that like the narrator, Francis Wayland Thomas, finding his deceased great-uncle’s notes and thus becoming involved.  We the reader, having read his account and seen the evidence, take his place as he took his great-uncle’s in death.

It has been some years since I read this story, and I will honestly say I forgotten nearly all of the first chapter.  What remember most about this story was the raid of the cult in the swamp and the encounter with the sailors near the end.  The Call of Cthulhu is not one of my favorite Lovecraft stories.  Unfortunately, I did find the framework of the story more interesting than the story itself.  However, if you like the idea of the Cthulhu mythos this story is mandatory reading.

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Bottomline: It is a very innovative way of telling a story.  Lovecraft outdid himself in attempting to create a coherent series of events of near end of the world.  I give The Call of Cthulhu 6 out of 6 elder signs sealing the ancient one away until the stars are right once again.

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