||"Trees, grass, and underbrush were whipped into a fury; and the frightened crowd at the mountain's base, weakened by the lethal foetor that seemed about to asphyxiate them, were almost hurled off their feet. Dogs howled from the distance, green grass and foliage wilted to a curious, sickly yellow-grey, and over field and forest were scattered the bodies of dead whippoorwills."
Rating: Four shoggoths out of five
Nutshell: In a backwoods Massachusetts town named Dunwich, a young, less-than-human child is born. He grows rapidly into a menacing teenager, who, after his father's death, travels to Miskatonic University to seek The Necronomicon.
Commentary: This story is often considered among Lovecraft's best, though it seems to be slightly flawed by an excess of explanations at the ending.
History, Esoterica, and Factoids: "The Dunwich Horror" was published in April 1929 in Weird Tales. Lovecraft was paid $240, the largest sum he was paid for his fiction up to this time.
Oddly, all of the proper place names in "The Dunwich Horror" are fictitious, which is unusual for Lovecraft, who liked to use as many real elements as possible. He did mention in one letter that he imagined Dunwich in the vicinity of Wilbraham, MA, which he visited in 1928.
Dunwich is probably pronounced "DUN-nich" (not "DUN-wich") in accordance with the pronunciation of similar town names in the region.
The megalithic site mentioned in the tale is not real, but there are several megalithic sites scattered throughout New England.
The concept of "decayed" and "undecayed" families is an idea that pops up frequently in Lovecraft's work. He believed in bad blood, he was enormously prejudiced, and even upheld the Aryan nation as an ideal. However, it is interesting to note that in his personal interactions, his prejudices were more lax. His wife, for instance, was Jewish.
The list of demons in the sermon (Azazel, Buzrael, Beelzebub, and Belial) are all from The Bible and mentioned in Milton's Paradise Lost, except for Buzrael, which is fabricated.
The "Moodus noises" are a very real phenomenon, named for the town of Moodus, CT. Even before the town's settlement over 200 years ago, loud subterranean cracks and rumblings could be heard that seemed to have no apparent source. For the last century, tectonic activity has been suspected as the cause (Lovecraft mentions the possibility in a 1934 letter). However, it wasn't until 1979 did scientists prove that the noises were accompanied by slight earthquake activity (-2 on the Richter scale), which is also puzzling, because there is no known fault in the area. However, scientists are seem to be happy to attribute the noises to unusual tectonic activity and leave it at that.
The Pocumtucs were one of the seven aboriginal Indian tribes of Massachusetts. Their main settlement was in Deerfield, MA, which is in the north-central region of the state, near where Dunwich is supposed to be. They frequently fought with the Mohawk tribe over the region between the Hudson River and the Connecticut River. The tribe may have been 5,000 strong in 1600, but sharply declined from there due to epidemic and war. The Pocumtuc were destroyed during the King Philip's War (1675-76).
Candlemas is a Christian holiday that falls on February 2nd, marking the presentation of Christ in the temple. The date also corresponds with one of the four major celebrations of the Witches' Sabbath: Imbolic, which marks the banishing of winter.
Halloween is marked on the Christian calendar as All Hallows Eve, the day before Hallowmass (All Saints Day). October 31st also coincides with one of the two major Celtic festivals (Samhain), when fires were built on hilltops to mark the transition from autumn to winter and to honor the dead.
May Eve is also known as Beltane or Walpurgisnacht and is mentioned in a number of Lovecraft tales. It is also one of the major celebrations of the Witches' Sabbath along with Imbolic, and was also one of the two major Celtic festivals alongside Samhain. May Eve marks the beginning of spring.
Roodmas, or Holy Rood Day, is a Catholic holiday commemorating the finding of the Cross, celebrated on May 3.
Lammas is another Christian/pagan celebration that falls on August 1. In Christian theology, it marks the first-ripe grain at Mass or the first-year lambs at Mass. Once again, this day also marks another Witches' Sabbath, which is a celebration of the harvest.
"Alderney cows" is a term used to refer to both Jersey and Guernsey cows.
The entity of Yog-Sothoth was first seen in the tale "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" and is mentioned in other Lovecraft tales, but "The Dunwich Horror" is the only story in which Yog-Sothoth is a central figure. Humorously, Lovecraft mentioned in a letter that "Yog" doesn't always have to have ropy arms since he can choose any form, but he is probably fond of having them.
The Necronomicon is mentioned in several of Lovecraft's preceding works, but the mention of translators here is very interesting. Despite the fact that The Necronomicon and Abdul Alhazred are fabrications (Abdul Alhazred was actually a pseudonym that Lovecraft generated when he was a child), Olaus Wormius (Danish, 1588-1654) and John Dee (English, 1527-1608) are both quite real. Wormius was a doctor, and Dee was a mathematician who served briefly as physician to Queen Elizabeth I. The Dee translation was actually not original to Lovecraft; Frank Belknap Long first mentioned a Dee translation in his Mythos tale, "The Space Eaters". A hoax edition of The Necronomicon, released in 1978, claims to be Dee's translation of the tome.
The large section of The Necronomicon "cited" in "The Dunwich Horror" is the longest "excerpt" found in any Lovecraft story. Despite the book's appearance in many of his tales, Lovecraft actually "quoted" from it very rarely.
Shub-Niggurath actually appears in Lovecraft's fiction once before he wrote this tale, in his revision of Adolphe de Casto's "The Last Test" (1927). The entity remained ill-defined until well after this story, when Lovecraft defined her in his letters as a fertility goddess and the wife of Yog-Sothoth.
The reference to Arthur Machen's "Great God Pan" is to Machen's The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light (1894), to which "The Dunwich Horror" bears great resemblance. Machen's work is about a woman who mates with the god Pan and then bears a monstrous child.
The New England backwoods dialect used in "The Dunwich Horror" was also used in "The Picture in the House" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". It's not clear how Lovecraft developed this dialect; he admitted himself in a 1929 letter that even the most backwoods New Englanders don't have any accent discernible from his own.
The cryptography books listed in Chapter VIII are all quite real, and are all listed in that order in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which Lovecraft owned.
The words "voorish" and "Aklo" both originated in Arthur Machen's "The White People".
The term "vigintillion" refers to, well, a very big number. In American notation, it is one thousand novemdecillions, or 1063 In British notation, it is one million novemdecillions, or 10120.
The "Daemonolatria of Remigius" refers to a very real book by Nicolas Remi (1530-1612), published in Latin in 1595. It's basically a textbook for witch-hunting.
"Negotium perambulans in tenebris" translates to "the pestilence that walks in the darkness" from Psalm 91:6.
Film: "The Dunwich Horror" was made into the film The Dunwich Horror (1970), which starred Sandra Dee and Dean Stockwell. It is generally considered to be an unremarkable film, though many elements of the original story were left intact (an unusual thing for Lovecraft adaptations).
Availability: "The Dunwich Horror" can be found in The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (S.T. Joshi, editor) and in Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. The Annotated Lovecraft provides full footnotes, but Bloodcurdling Tales contains more stories for your hard-earned dollar.
Witch in her magic circle, conjuring demons.
Illustration from Nicolas Remi's Daemonolatria, from the German translation.