Literature / The Dunwich Horror
The town of Dunwich, Massachusetts
is thoroughly unremarkable until Wilbur Whateley is born.
His "decayed" and inbred family was already unpopular due to their dabbling in the occult, and when Lavinia Whateley gives birth to a strange-looking child and refuses to say who the father was, it doesn't improve anyone's opinion of them. Wilbur grows incredibly fast - he begins talking at 11 months; by the time he's three, he looks ten years old; and at four and a half, around 15. The townsfolk don't trust him, as he gives them the creeps even more than the other Whateleys. For all that, though, they're still willing to sell cows to the Whateley mansion; money's money, after all, even if it is in the form of weird antique gold coins. Although for some reason, despite the truly vast amount of livestock Old Whateley buys, his herd never seems to get bigger...
The household only gets more suspicious with time. The farmhouse always seems to be mysteriously under construction, with more and more windows being boarded up; the townsfolk also suspect that interior walls are being knocked out. When Wilbur is ten, Old Whateley dies, shrieking instructions to Wilbur on his deathbed; two years later, Lavinia Whateley disappears on Halloween night and is never found.
Around this point, Wilbur begins to search for an unabridged copy of the Necronomicon
, having learned all of what he knew from his grandfather's library; his copy of said book is a shortened English version, which he apparently found insufficient. He discovers that nearby Miskatonic University has a complete copy, but the librarian refuses to loan it out to him. So he breaks in to steal it, only to be killed by a guard dog.
And that's when things get really
One of H.P. Lovecraft
's most famous stories, it was adapted to film twice: as a So Bad, It's Good Cult Classic
in 1970, and a remake by Syfy
in 2009. It has also been adapted thrice
, generally more faithfully, as a Radio Drama
, first as an episode of the long-running Suspense
series in the 1940s starring Ronald Colman
, later by the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, and yet again by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society for their Dark Adventure Radio Theater
series as well as the Youtube channel Chilling Tales for Dark Nights
. You can read it here
The Dunwich Horror provides examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness:
- Alien Blood: Yellow-green "ichor."
- Alliterative Name: Wilbur Whateley.
- Animals Hate Him: Dogs loathe Wilbur Whateley, to the point where he has to start carrying a gun to defend himself from them. In fact, it's a dog that eventually kills him.
- Antagonist Title: In the sense that the titular Horror is the last Whateley child, a Half-Human Hybrid Eldritch Abomination which nearly destroys the town at the end.
- The Antichrist: Wilbur Whateley seems to be a shoo-in for the title, given the circumstances of his birth and childhood and his "goatish" appearance. As it turns out, his father is not Satan, but an Eldritch Abomination nonetheless.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The Horror itself.
- Author Avatar: One (mostly busted) theory is that Wilbur may have been one, adding Reality Subtext to the story.
"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." - Robert M. Price in the introduction to The Dunwich Cycle
- Lovecraft himself went on record saying he very much identified with Professor Armitage. Old, bookish, with occult knowledge and capable of putting two and two together in matters of horror.
- Badass Bookworm: The professors.
- Badass Grandpa: Professor Armitage, the leader of the expedition against the Horror, is 73 years old.
- Beast with a Human Face: The titular horror, once revealed, is shown to be a gigantic egg-shaped tentacled multi-legged Eldritch Abomination with a distinctively yard width-long human face that resembles The Whateleys'.
- Bittersweet Ending: People have died at the hands of the monstrosity the Whatley's released, but it's successfully killed, and Yog-Sothoth loses a foothold in our world.
- Black and White Morality: Unusual for Lovecraft. Just to make it clear, the "black" isn't Yog-Sothoth, but the Whateleys, who are arguably weaponizing Yog in the form of Wilbur and his brother.
- Body Horror: The description of Wilbur's corpse.
- Chekhov's Gun: The fact that dogs hate Wilbur. Also the fact that Wilbur is fastidious about being fully dressed to hide his monstrous physique.
- Creepy Child: Wilbur Whateley, in spades.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: This is one of Lovecraft's only stories to have an unambiguously happy ending. Sort of.
- Did You Just Romance Cthulhu?: Going a full step beyond romancing a mere Great Old One like Cthulhu, Lavinia had children with Yog-Sothoth itself, the infinite Outer God that lives beyond the universe. Somehow.
- Eldritch Abomination: Guess who Wilbur and Twin's daddy is.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: For all their madness and apocalyptic designs, Wilbur and his grandfather seem to have been quite close, with Wilbur caring for the old man during his final illness.
- Evil Albino: Lavinia, though arguably more tragic and misguided than outright villainous.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Considering how human morality doesn't really apply to some of Lovecraft's creations evil may not be the best word to use, but regardless there is a damn good reason dogs hate Wilbur Whateley.
- Evil Old Folks: Old Whateley.
- Evil Smells Bad: "By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, . . . As a foulness shall ye know Them."
- Eyes Do Not Belong There: Wilbur has a second pair of eyes on his hips.
- For the Evulz: It is never explained why Old Whateley is helping Yog-Sothoth to render Earth uninhabitable to all humans including himself.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Poor Curtis Whately!
- Guns Are Worthless: Dr. Morgan brought a big-game rifle, even as his colleagues warned the monster cannot be put down by material weapons of any kind.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Wilbur himself. And his twin, though decidedly less humanoid.
- Hillbilly Horrors: Dunwich is a rundown, degenerate hamlet in the middle of nowhere. The Dunwich Whateleys are referred to as the "decayed" branch of the family.
- Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: An Eldritch Abomination who is coterminous with all time and space yet locked outside the universe we inhabit somehow impregnates a human woman. We're thankfully spared any real description, though hopefully it was magical in nature rather than physical.
- Human Mom Non Human Dad: Specifically, an extradimensional dad locked out of space-time.
- Humanoid Abomination: Wilbur Whateley.
- Interspecies Romance: Um...
"I dun't keer what folks think — ef Lavinny's boy looked like his pa, he wouldn't look like nothin' ye expeck. Ye needn't think the only folks is the folks hereabouts. Lavinny's read some, an' has seed some things the most o' ye only tell abaout. I calc'late her man is as good a husban' as ye kin find this side of Aylesbury; an' ef ye knowed as much abaout the hills as I dew, ye wouldn't ast no better church weddin' nor her'n."
- Invisible Monster: The titular horror, not existing fully in our reality, is corporeal for the most part, but also invisible.
- Lovecraft Country: One of the very stories to inspire this trope.
- Lovecraft Lite: Unusually for Lovecraft, this story has a good ending. Well, 'good' is a relative term, since a lot of innocent people still died horribly, but the evil is defeated without killing the last-minute protagonists and the rest of Dunwich, characters are traumatised but remain sane, and the earth is saved from Yog-So-Thoth.
- Nightmare Face: This seems to be the feature that most disturbs the person who gets a look at the Horror.
- No Body Left Behind: The death of Wilbur.
- No Communities Were Harmed: According to Lovecraft, Dunwich was based on the real-life towns of Ipswich and Greenwich in Massachusetts and Greenwich in Rhode Island.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The titular horror is never seen directly until very near the end; before that, all that can be seen is the silent aftermath of its rampages. Makes sense, since it's invisible.
- Occult Detective: The three professors, sort of.
- Prophecy Twist: Early in the story, Old Whateley says that one day, they'll hear a child of Lavinia's screaming his father's name from Sentinel Hill. Turns out it's Wilbur's twin.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Wilbur can easily be seen as this. He doesn't seem to have noticed, or maybe just doesn't care that most people really don't want the Earth to be pulled into horrible alien dimensions of lunacy and shit like that. Also a manchild in a more literal sense, as he is physically a fully bearded adult in his early teens.
- The Reveal: The Horror is Wilbur's twin brother.
- Running Gag: The Dark Adventure version turns Zeb Whateley's insistence that Wilbur, et al are from "the decayed side of the Whateley family" into one.
- Scenery Porn: The opening descriptions of the country around Dunwich.
- Self-Made Orphan: Well, he doesn't kill his father obviously, but its heavily implied that Wilbur either killed his mother himself, or had her killed.
- Shout-Out: To Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, Lovecraft's primary inspiration for "The Dunwich Horror."
"Inbreeding? . . . God, what simpletons! Show them Arthur Machen's Great God Pan and they'll think it a common Dunwich scandal! But what thing - what cursed shapeless influence on or off this three-dimensional earth - was Wilbur Whateley's father?"
- Fridge Brilliance: Wilbur is often described as "goatish." The Classical Pan is often depicted with the attributes of a goat, similar to fauns, satyrs, and, of course, Satan.
- Armitage's brief monologue that closes the story also recalls some of the speeches by Dr. Raymond in Great God Pan.
- Another Machen example: Wilbur's diary, as decoded by Armitage, is clearly inspired by "The White People," which purports to be the diary of a young girl's initiation into pagan witchcraft. The terms "Aklo" and "Voorish" also come from there.
- Three Faces Of Adam: Armitage, Rice and Morgan.
"In the end the three men from Arkham - old, white-bearded Dr Armitage, stocky, iron-grey Professor Rice, and lean, youngish Dr Morgan, ascended the mountain alone".
- To Create a Playground for Evil: Wilbur's goal is for Yog-Sothoth to drag Earth off to . . . somewhere and wipe out humanity in the process.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Necronomicon.
- Uncanny Valley: Invoked; people get nervous talking to Wilbur because he always seems off, to the point that he looked thirty at age ten.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: They're put off by him, sure, but no one seems to be very curious as to why Wilbur is growing at such an abnormal rate. They put it down to inbreeding.
- Younger Than They Look: Wilbur grows extremely quickly, and is an 8-foot-tall man by the time he's about 10.