The Dunwich Horror: TCL #57

Its been a while… Eons have past… Dark eons full of strange dreams…

Well about six months at any rate, for all of which ‘The Dunwich Horror’ has been sat in my to blog list after I read it back in august. you might imagine it has been sat waiting to be written about because I don’t like the story, which is not entirely incorrect, but is not the whole truth. the whole truth is I have been busy with other things and kept forgetting, but then ‘The Dunwich Horror’ is sadly easy to forget. Not least because there is so damn much of it, or rather there isn’t, but it feels like there is.

At a little over 16675 words it is long for a short story, in modern terms it is edging towards a short novella, but it is still a short story, but it is one that old tentacle huger drags out for all it is worth, and then a bit more. Which is not to say the length is an issue, but more the style of the writing, the building of tension upon… well basically nothing, and that is my issue with this tale. Lovecraft at his best build stories that in terms of tension are like climbing a staircase. Each step raises the stakes a little more, each building on the latter as you climb the stairs to the landing where you know there is something deeply wrong awaiting you, some dark malignant force…


Quite often, when you reach the top of the stairs you find the landing empty, or leading to another flight of stairs… And Lovecraft’s best short stories always do this. they build to a climax in slow steady steps that take the reader ever closer and with each step a little higher, a little more afraid of what they will find.

The Dunwich Horror doesn’t do this at all. For most of the story it just plods along vaguely hinting at the wrongness but failing to really build on itself. The scope is too wide for a short story, its charts a strange family history, a sinister old man with a strangely fay daughter, a daughter who dies suspiciously but not before giving birth to a son who is some what strange and sinister. Meanwhile the old man starts making odd changes to his house, and much comment is made about the number of cows in the family’s small herd. presumably this is a great and sinister mystery because the farmers who regularly sell the cows to the family, who’s herd never seems to get any bigger, are worried the cows may be getting eaten… or something.

Yes I know that’s a tad flippant, but as a tension raising device cows been eaten mysteriously leaves something to be desired…

Then the old man (Old Whateley)  dies and the grandson (Wilbur), who grew rather quickly, a tad too quickly, goes off to the Miskatonic to ‘borrow’ the Necromonicon, which causes a bit of a ruckus and end sup with him been mauled by a dog and dying… At which point his odd deformities come to light.

Which leaves the strange family farm house, and the last member of the family, and the one really good line in the whole story Wilbur’s twin brother, though it “looked more like the father than Wilbur did’ which is to say a giant monstrosity…

All of which is interesting to an extent and if it had been shorter, said rather less about the cows, and actually built a little tension it could have been so much better.

There are lots of people who love ‘The Dunwich Horror’. Its certain one of the most renown of Lovecraft stories, it has been the title story for several collections and there have been film versions (a 1970 horror of true 1970 mid budget horror style, see the trailer below, its actually somewhere between dreadful and awesome depending on your view of old horror movies)  , several comic book versions , audio productions, even a stage play.  So what do I know?

It is certainly one of the story’s central to the mythos, and perhaps worth a read if you never have. Perhaps it is just because it is one of the more famous stories I find it disappointing, and always have. This is far form the first time I have read it, but I always feel it lacks the tension and drama of Cthulhu, or MoM, the wit of Herbert West or the sheer strange allure of some of the better shorts. It fails at that most crucial of things, it never makes me want to read more.

So, tentacles.. if you have never read it, perhaps a 4, even a 5, and yes I realise that sounds odd after all I have just said but I suspect for me it gets a low score as much because I came to it jaded, knew the tale, and have never overly cared for it. So from me its a begrudging 3…

3out 6

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here




This entry was posted in amreading, cthulhu, horror, Lovecraft, mythos, Nyarlathotep, opinion, reads, retro book reviews, sci-fi, supernatural and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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