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Old 29th May 2010, 06:33 AM   #1 (permalink)
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The Dunwich Horror

I have taken S. T. Joshi to task in many places for his insistence that "The Dunwich Horror" is one of H. P. Lovecraft's "artistic failures." In his wonderful and definitive study, The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos, S. T. spends many pages discussing the story and stressing his viewpoint -- with which I entirely disagree. The bone of S. T.'s contention is that, at this stage in his writing, Lovecraft had expressed disdain for weird fiction that was rooted in human interest, that expressed ideas of good vs. evil, and that was what Lovecraft claimed was his soul artistic goal -- the creation of non-supernatural cosmic art. S. T. likes to quote Lovecraft's statement, "To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all." To my way of thinking, such a philosophy would lead to very little weird fiction being written. And I do not want to judge Lovecraft's work by what he claimed it should be, but what it is. And it is among the finest that we have.

That said, the supernatural aspect of "The Dunwich Horror" raises many questions in my mind that are not easily answered. One of my dilemmas is the relationship between these unearthly creatures from Outside and alternative dimensions with mortal blood, human or otherwise. How can cosmic creatures, whose origin must pre-date earth life, require blood? Not cow blood, either. From Wilbur's diary, in Dr. Armitage's translation: "They from outside will help, but they cannot take body without human blood."

It is strange for find Lovecraft the devoted atheist writing about "the soul." What is the supernatural connection between the human soul and the whippoorwills of Dunwich? "'They whistle jest in tune with my breathin' naow,' he said, 'an' I guess they're gittin' ready to ketch my soul. They know it's a-goin' aout, and dun't calc'late to miss it. Yew'll know, boys, arter I'm gone, whether they git me er not. Ef they dew, they'll keep up a-singin' an' laffin' till break o' day. Ef they dun't they'll kinder quiet daown like. I expeck them an' the souls they hunts fer have some pretty tough tussles sometimes." This is utterly supernatural. It is also splendid story-telling; and H. P. Lovecraft was, before he was a rationalist, an expert story-teller in regards to his fiction.

The aspect of good and evil seems refuted by the hints that Lovecraft gives concerning the Old Ones. They were, they are, they will be. Time is on their side. Either we human pygmies will be "cleared off" or we will extinguish of our own accord.

Supernatural phantasy is beyond rational thought. It is in no way beneath the fiction of cosmic indifference that one finds in At the Mountains of Madness or "The Shadow out of Time." The first fiction of Literature is that is tell a story and has an effect -- and Lovecraft often emphasized that one of the most important functions of weird fiction is its creation of mood. With "The Dunwich Horror," Lovecraft evokes, forcefully, powerfully, They from Outside, ideas that are beyond good and evil, mundane reality or the Supernatural.

To-night, after recording my vlog concerning the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, I went to my bedroom and listened to their dramatic rendition of "The Dunwich Horror" in their Dark Advbenture Radio Theatre series. It was absolutely effective. True, much of that effectiveness was conjured by the sheer genius of talent that is evident in every aspect of The HPLHS and their wondrous products. But the core of the magick comes from Lovecraft's story, one of the strangest tales ever told, and told so effectively, so brilliantly.

An artistic failure? Nay, my dear S. T. -- a masterpiece.
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Old 29th May 2010, 09:47 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

A spirited and well-argued defense.
Now, I haven't read it in a while (In fact its high time I returned to Lovecraft generally--I'm always spouting off on this forum so I've really no excuse these days) but I've always felt that Dunwich does contain unadulterated cosmic horror, yet cleverly obscured by the ill-educated, yokel Whateleys, who act as a kind of filter.
They live in a remote environment, are essentially raised in a Judeo-christian culture-at-large (rebelling against it as they are), and their understanding of what they're doing comes from the works of Alhazred and the like--writers from earlier, even less scientific times. None of them could tell you slightest thing about quantum physics, say.

For all we know, there may not have been a need for human blood at all, initially, it was just the sort of thing all of the above mentioned would think you'd have to feed the Old Ones. Maybe it just provides some psychic focus for the summoners. And then old brother-in-the-barn gets a taste for it. Such gibbered confusions (especially that whippoorwill thing) are the source of much speculative delight for the reader.

The nearest example I can think of is Machen's White People- with a parochial, uneducated person telling us things they can't satisfactorily explain. Its an effective tactic towards creating something eerie and, as far as having human participation right next to the alien and inexplicable, you can have your cake and eat it.

So, yeah, very fond of this tale.
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Old 30th May 2010, 05:50 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

J-WO: The only problem with that scenario is that this is one of Lovecraft's few tales to be told in the third-person. While you have the views of the rustics of Dunwich, the narrative voice as a whole is extremely erudite and refined.

As for the whippoorwills as psychopomps... that was, again, HPL's love of classical Graeco-Roman traditions, combined with the genuine (apparently) existence of such a tradition in that part of Massachusetts regarding the birds in question, as related to him by his amateur colleague Mrs. Edith Miniter and her relation Evanore Beebe, while he was staying with them. It also strongly reflects, I think, his admiration for the use of the cat as psychopomp in Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (see Supernatural Horror in Literature, ch. VIII).

Wilum, as I have said before, you come to the defense of the tale admirably... but I still find myself in S. T.'s camp on this one. I don't think it is an "artistic failure" in the sense of it being a complete failure either artistically or otherwise... but I do agree that one can see the seams here, and that Lovecraft really hadn't assimilated the different aspects very well. What is there that is good is very good indeed... but what is off (to me, at any rate) tends to undermine the story as a totality, weakening and diluting it as a truly powerful artistic vision. Some of the points I find problematic you mention yourself, such as the need for human blood (common enough in witchcraft lore -- which would fit in well with Massachusetts history, of course -- but which really makes no sense with entities of this nature).

I also tend to disagree with you concerning the use of that quote from HPL... because other parts of that same quote puts this very much in context:

Quote:
Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form -- and the local human passions and conditions and standards -- are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown -- the shadow-haunted Outside -- we must remember to leave our humanity -- and terrestrialism -- at the threshold.
-- letter to Farnsworth Wright, 5 July 1927

(The italic emphasis is mine; the bold-faced represents HPL's.)

In other words, it's fine to have the human emotions and beliefs represented, so long as they are kept to the human characters or their history. But it is nonsense to attribute attitudes which are the result of a specific set of terrestrial evolutionary steps to totally alien entities which most likely had an evolutionary development of a completely different kind. It trivializes such entities and the concepts which they symbolize, reducing them to the petty interests and power-struggles and squabbles of what is, after all, a very minor bit of the much larger stream of Life.

This is where Lovecraft failed with this story -- in extending such petty concerns and behaviors to entities of such (supposedly) vast cosmic scope. As a result of trying to reconcile two such opposed views of these forces, beings, or entities (whatever one wishes to call them), too much confusing information (not allusiveness or ambiguity, but outright confusion) is given, resulting in something with a bit too much of the Biblical or classical myth aspects of gods which are a bit too involved in human-type power-politics to be truly seen as supernal or genuinely numinous.

To me, it's a pity, as there really is so much that is very, very good about this tale -- the evocation of the country, many of the characters (especially the Whateleys, including poor damned and doomed Lavinia), the passages from the Necronomicon, the general conflict between the human or semi-human figures, etc., etc., etc. So I can't help but feel very disappointed with this aspect of the thing, which takes a truly superb tale and drags it down several notches below where it otherwise would have been. (I suppose, in a way, this aspect of the tale has much the same effect on me that Nyarlathotep's presence as the Black Man in "Dreams in the Witch House" does on you, really.)

That said, it is still in many ways a fine story, and certainly one of the classics of the modern weird tale, for all its faults....
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Old 30th May 2010, 07:39 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

I think I agree with much of what you say although I don't want to. I also think I disagree with some of what I think I understand that Lovecraft is saying in his letter to Wright re: human character, & ye interest that can be convey'd by such. The matter requires some real study on my part, and so, inspired by you, my dear j. d., I have a little yen to study "The Dunwich Horror" with your ideas, and S. T.'s, in mind and then write my own semi-sequel novelette to Lovecraft's tale, something I've play'd with but have never seriously approach'd. We shall see if I really want to do this or if it is merely a perversion of the moment. The imp in me loves the idea of writing a sequel of 15,000 words to "The Dunwich Horror" for Uncommon Places, the book I am working on with S. T. that will be my next book for Hippocampus. I see the wicked little twinkle in my eye when I send him ye tale via email and say, "Here is my 15,000 word sequel to Lovecraft's 'artistic failure' -- enjoy."
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Old 31st May 2010, 02:21 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

LOL... You are a perverse devil, aren't you....?

Of course, one can always remind STJ of "The Recurring Doom"....

The thing is, I see nothing wrong with doing a sequel to "The Dunwich Horror"... any more than I had an objection to the variant aspects of Stanley Sargent's "Black Brat of Dunwich", which is a fine story. There is plenty of room to explore various ideas left open by Lovecraft, just as there are many aspects of the stories surrounding the story which remain to be told... all of which are perfectly viable for exploration by someone writing in the Lovecraftian vein. The challenge is to make it one's own... and you've more than proven capable of doing that on many occasions. 'Twould be interesting to see what you do with such material... and I'd love to be the proverbial fly on the wall should you actually deliver such to S.T.....
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Old 31st May 2010, 04:21 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

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In other words, it's fine to have the human emotions and beliefs represented, so long as they are kept to the human characters or their history. But it is nonsense to attribute attitudes which are the result of a specific set of terrestrial evolutionary steps to totally alien entities which most likely had an evolutionary development of a completely different kind. It trivializes such entities and the concepts which they symbolize, reducing them to the petty interests and power-struggles and squabbles of what is, after all, a very minor bit of the much larger stream of Life.

This is where Lovecraft failed with this story -- in extending such petty concerns and behaviors to entities of such (supposedly) vast cosmic scope. As a result of trying to reconcile two such opposed views of these forces, beings, or entities (whatever one wishes to call them), too much confusing information (not allusiveness or ambiguity, but outright confusion) is given, resulting in something with a bit too much of the Biblical or classical myth aspects of gods which are a bit too involved in human-type power-politics to be truly seen as supernal or genuinely numinous.
I cannot see, in "The Dunwich Horror," where Lovecraft infused his Great Old Ones with these petty human concerns. Yog-Sothoth, in the story, seems concerned with cleaning the earth of human vermin, which seems a "god"-like potential. I have just started my close reading of the text in the original edition of The Dunwich Horror and Others (Arkham House, 1963, an edition I recently re-bought [it was one of my first Arkhams when I began to read Lovecraft in the early 1970s] so as to have Coye's jacket depicting Wilbur), and already have a page of notes for my novelette, "Our Sinless Infancy" (the title is taken from Lamb's epigraph). I am struck anew with the story's richness of setting and character. Wilbur and his brother (let's call the brother Fred -- no, let's not...) are partially human. Wilbur moreso. I don't see that we can think of the entities described in this story as anything other than supernatural, and I don't see that as artistic error. They are as potent as Lovecraft wanted them to be, and magnificent. They are awesome beings from alien dimension -- what a magnificent idea! They will not behave as we understand "gods" should behave -- they are beyond comprehension (and to try to comprehend them, from what one reads in the Necronomicon or from dwelling on their enigma, will cause one to go utterly insane -- they are like some daemonic cosmic sun: to gaze too deeply into its fire is to go blind).

My tale concerns a son of Dunwich who, after graduating from Miskatonic, visits friends in Sesqua Valley. What I really want is half of the novelette (10,000 words) in Sesqua Towne, and ye other half (another 10,000) in Dunwich Village. I'm gonna take my time with this one and not exhaust myself as I did with my recent effort -- & I will interrupt its creation with doing a number of non-Mythos prose poems. I suspect the story may take a few month's labor. I heartily beg y'all for insights into "The Dunwich Horror" -- feed me, I prithee......
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Old 31st May 2010, 06:21 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

I've just reread S. T.'s pages on the story in The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos, and he says many intelligent things; but I feel it is a mistake for him to condemn the story for being what Lovecraft intended the tale to be: a work of supernatural phantasy. I've just started to read the tale in the Dell pb edition, The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, as I want to do a line-by-line comparison with the text in the original edition of The Dunwich Horror and Others; and in the introductory note to the story in the Dell book, S. T. quotes from a letter HPL wrote to Derleth: "The action takes place amongst the wild domed hills of the Upper Miskatonic Valley--far northwest of Arkham, & is based on several old New England legends..." Legends. And it is an interesting point that, in setting tales in the "real" world, Lovecraft invented mythical towns such as Arkham, Kingsport, and Dunwich.

I love supernatural horror -- perhaps this comes from being a practicing Mormon; people ask me, how can I believe such rot, & I reply, "Oh, I can believe in anything so long as it is utterly outlandish." My own approach to the writing of weird fiction is to emphasis the supernatural, and this is something I learned from H. P. Lovecraft.
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Old 31st May 2010, 07:20 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

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I have taken S. T. Joshi to task in many places for his insistence that "The Dunwich Horror" is one of H. P. Lovecraft's "artistic failures." In his wonderful and definitive study, The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos, S. T. spends many pages discussing the story and stressing his viewpoint -- with which I entirely disagree. The bone of S. T.'s contention is that, at this stage in his writing, Lovecraft had expressed disdain for weird fiction that was rooted in human interest, that expressed ideas of good vs. evil, and that was what Lovecraft claimed was his soul artistic goal -- the creation of non-supernatural cosmic art. S. T. likes to quote Lovecraft's statement, "To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all." To my way of thinking, such a philosophy would lead to very little weird fiction being written. And I do not want to judge Lovecraft's work by what he claimed it should be, but what it is. And it is among the finest that we have.

That said, the supernatural aspect of "The Dunwich Horror" raises many questions in my mind that are not easily answered. One of my dilemmas is the relationship between these unearthly creatures from Outside and alternative dimensions with mortal blood, human or otherwise. How can cosmic creatures, whose origin must pre-date earth life, require blood? Not cow blood, either. From Wilbur's diary, in Dr. Armitage's translation: "They from outside will help, but they cannot take body without human blood."

It is strange for find Lovecraft the devoted atheist writing about "the soul." What is the supernatural connection between the human soul and the whippoorwills of Dunwich? "'They whistle jest in tune with my breathin' naow,' he said, 'an' I guess they're gittin' ready to ketch my soul. They know it's a-goin' aout, and dun't calc'late to miss it. Yew'll know, boys, arter I'm gone, whether they git me er not. Ef they dew, they'll keep up a-singin' an' laffin' till break o' day. Ef they dun't they'll kinder quiet daown like. I expeck them an' the souls they hunts fer have some pretty tough tussles sometimes." This is utterly supernatural. It is also splendid story-telling; and H. P. Lovecraft was, before he was a rationalist, an expert story-teller in regards to his fiction.

The aspect of good and evil seems refuted by the hints that Lovecraft gives concerning the Old Ones. They were, they are, they will be. Time is on their side. Either we human pygmies will be "cleared off" or we will extinguish of our own accord.

Supernatural phantasy is beyond rational thought. It is in no way beneath the fiction of cosmic indifference that one finds in At the Mountains of Madness or "The Shadow out of Time." The first fiction of Literature is that is tell a story and has an effect -- and Lovecraft often emphasized that one of the most important functions of weird fiction is its creation of mood. With "The Dunwich Horror," Lovecraft evokes, forcefully, powerfully, They from Outside, ideas that are beyond good and evil, mundane reality or the Supernatural.

To-night, after recording my vlog concerning the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, I went to my bedroom and listened to their dramatic rendition of "The Dunwich Horror" in their Dark Advbenture Radio Theatre series. It was absolutely effective. True, much of that effectiveness was conjured by the sheer genius of talent that is evident in every aspect of The HPLHS and their wondrous products. But the core of the magick comes from Lovecraft's story, one of the strangest tales ever told, and told so effectively, so brilliantly.

An artistic failure? Nay, my dear S. T. -- a masterpiece.
Is objectivity to be assigned to the class of an art form? Is that the great mystery, because than it still needs to be explained.
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Old 31st May 2010, 08:28 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

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Is objectivity to be assigned to the class of an art form? Is that the great mystery, because than it still needs to be explained.
This is an excellent point, Tinsel. It is difficult for me to be objective because I have such an emotional relationship with Lovecraftian horror in my role as a creative artist. My entire reason for staying within the Lovecraft weird tale tradition is an almost punk-rock defiance to they who tell me it is an artistic mistake to do so. I am an emotional voice, countered by the calm and wise approach that we get from, say, j.d., who has thought deeply on such matters and writes of them with keen clarity. My emotional standpoint on "The Dunwich Horror" is rooted, I suppose, in "author's intent." What was HPL trying to accomplish in this story, and how much of that was tainted (corrupted?) by the market he had in mind? That he wrote the tale with Weird Tales in mind as market seems undeniable. Lovecraft described himself as a realist -- however, he was also a fantasist -- and "The Dunwich Horror" is a tale of dark phantasy and legend, set in a mythical town of his invention, one of his many localities that exist primarily as haunts of legend. I say that "The Dunwich Horror" is a masterpiece for many reasons -- its character alone as simply amazing upon repeated analysis! -- and that as story it is a complete success.
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Old 31st May 2010, 08:59 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

I read The Dunwich Horror only very recently, when it was linked to one of these threads, and I know nothing at all about Lovecraft, so apologies if this is something which is very jejune or, contrariwise, something which has been discussed to death elsewhere. But since in creating a mythical town he has used the name of a real one, is there meant to be a link in some way with the real Dunwich in Suffolk? I was thinking in particular of the idea of a thriving town/city being overcome by powerful natural forces. Or is it simply coincidence?
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Old 31st May 2010, 09:20 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

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I read The Dunwich Horror only very recently, when it was linked to one of these threads, and I know nothing at all about Lovecraft, so apologies if this is something which is very jejune or, contrariwise, something which has been discussed to death elsewhere. But since in creating a mythical town he has used the name of a real one, is there meant to be a link in some way with the real Dunwich in Suffolk? I was thinking in particular of the idea of a thriving town/city being overcome by powerful natural forces. Or is it simply coincidence?
Judge, that is something which has been debated for quite some time among various Lovecraft scholars, so it certainly is germane to the discussion, and should be brought in, I think. He certainly read Swinburne, so was aware of the British Dunwich through that connection ("By the North Sea") and, if I recall correctly, was also aware of its tale from other sources; but whether or not he had any other intent beyond the fairly common tendency for American colonial towns to be named after British counterparts it is difficult to say... though, given his tendencies to such layers of reference, it is entirely possible. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is very likely, given some of the descriptions in the poem....

By the North Sea (by A. C. Swinburne)

Wilum: Before returning to the debate (which I will attempt to do later this evening, following a close re-reading of the tale so I can cite specifics -- I can see I'm going to have to marshall any arguments with you very carefully on this one!), I thought you might be interested in looking into ideas concerning some of these points (all citations taken from The Annotated Lovecraft, as you had mentioned using that text as well):

Mrs. Whateley's "unexplained death by violence" when Lavinia was age 12... perhaps at the cusp of puberty? Was this by Wizard Whateley, or something else? And to clear the way for what was to come, or was she, too, a sacrifice to ensure its success (or for some further embodiment)? (p. 116)

Lavinia's pride in her "black brat" -- understandable, when it is the offspring of a "god" -- cf. the various human "spouses" of Jove and the like... and perhaps the origin of such tales in analogous phenomena to what we have here (a possible intent of HPL's). (ibid.)

Wilbur's "oddly elongated ears" -- relation to satyrs, perhaps? This would tie in with Machen's work, which had a definite influence on this tale. (p. 120)

I'm sure I'll have some other thoughts later, but perhaps these will be of use to you as well....
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Old 31st May 2010, 09:50 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

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Judge, that is something which has been debated for quite some time among various Lovecraft scholars, so it certainly is germane to the discussion, and should be brought in, I think. He certainly read Swinburne, so was aware of the British Dunwich through that connection ("By the North Sea") and, if I recall correctly, was also aware of its tale from other sources; but whether or not he had any other intent beyond the fairly common tendency for American colonial towns to be named after British counterparts it is difficult to say... though, given his tendencies to such layers of reference, it is entirely possible. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is very likely, given some of the descriptions in the poem....

By the North Sea (by A. C. Swinburne)

Wilum: Before returning to the debate (which I will attempt to do later this evening, following a close re-reading of the tale so I can cite specifics -- I can see I'm going to have to marshall any arguments with you very carefully on this one!), I thought you might be interested in looking into ideas concerning some of these points (all citations taken from The Annotated Lovecraft, as you had mentioned using that text as well):

Mrs. Whateley's "unexplained death by violence" when Lavinia was age 12... perhaps at the cusp of puberty? Was this by Wizard Whateley, or something else? And to clear the way for what was to come, or was she, too, a sacrifice to ensure its success (or for some further embodiment)? (p. 116)

Lavinia's pride in her "black brat" -- understandable, when it is the offspring of a "god" -- cf. the various human "spouses" of Jove and the like... and perhaps the origin of such tales in analogous phenomena to what we have here (a possible intent of HPL's). (ibid.)

Wilbur's "oddly elongated ears" -- relation to satyrs, perhaps? This would tie in with Machen's work, which had a definite influence on this tale. (p. 120)

I'm sure I'll have some other thoughts later, but perhaps these will be of use to you as well....
I have made a note of the mother's death when Lavinia was 12, as I think, when I move the second portion of the novelette into Dunwich, I want to touch on matricide. I'm creating, as main character, my own "Wilbur Whateley," although his relationship to Yog-Sothoth (although magical) will be entirely psychic/psyche. His name will be Enoch Moodus, and as he explains to Simon Gregory Williams, "We have faint incestuous ties to the Whateleys." Machen is, of course, something I want to touch on in the tale. Humorously, I saw S. T.'s American Supernatural Tales on my bedside stand and I thought, "Oh, I'll read "The Great God Pan" in that edition," and then I was outraged that S. T. had not included Machen in -- oh, yes, American Supernatural Tales.

I've been curious about the Whateley twins' need for blood (I assume that Wilbur had this as part of his diet as did his brother), and noticed something just now for the first time:

"Odd wounds or sores, having some aspect of incisions, seemed to afflict the visible cattle; and once or twice during the earlier months certain callers fancied they could discern similar sores about the throats of the grey, unshaven old man and his slatternly, crinkly-haired albino daughter."

I love that, the idea of Wizard Whateley and his daughter "nursing" the twins with their mortal blood. The idea of blood must figure potently in my own novella.
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Old 1st June 2010, 12:08 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

I've just started reading the tale again (After something like eight or ten years!) so as not to be an ill-informed jabberer. At least, I hope it should make me less of one!

Something I'd totally forgotten--what's with those dug up skeletons the ethnologists suppose to be Caucasian? Some kind of Atlantis/ Hyperborean thing? It was pretty popular in HPLs day, wasn't it? (Another possibility is they were descendants of the lost English colony, but I can't imagine that was ever the authors intention.)

Though they're obviously meant to be the erectors of the stones, they seem to be fairly at odds with the essential rustic mystery of the story- whippoorwills, inbreeding, locked barns etc. Well, maybe not 'at odds' so much as a stark contrast. Does mention of them turn up later? Whatever, its an interesting thread that HP's left there for some Mythosapostle to pick up. You can see a Howard/Lovecraft world crossover in it, for starters.
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Old 1st June 2010, 12:21 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

Yes, I recall that point coming up in a discussion with Tinsel at one point -- that they were using it to "nurse" Wilbur and his brother during those early months; after which, one assumes, the quantity of blood needed (at least for the brother) became far too much, and required something as large as a cow or bull; to have continued feeding them from their mother and grandfather would have killed either or both before Wilbur was ready to take on the task appointed, in effect.

A few more things which may be of interest:

As Old Whateley lies dying:

Quote:
After a pause, during which the vlock of whippoorwills outside adjusted their cries to the altered tempo [of his breathing] while some indications of the strange hill noises came from afar off
-- p. 127

indicating a linkage not only between the hill-noises (or what makes them) and Wilbur and his twin, but the entire Whateley clan, something which may also find a hint of confirmation in the phrasing describing the cries of Wilbur's brother atop Sentinel Hill:

Quote:
From what black wlls of Acherontic fear of feeling, from what unplumbled gulfs of extra-cosmic consciousness or obscure, long-latent heredity, were those half-articulate thunder-croakings drawn?
-- p. 171 (emphasis added)

There is also Lovecraft's choice of wording when Lavinia disappears/dies:

Quote:
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.
-- pp. 128-29

Not only do we see here the possible relationship between the Whateleys and the unseen presences (and I think that is a note which should be explored at some time, given Hoadley's sermon at the beginning of the tale), but also I disagree with Joshi's note in The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft that "cachinnation" here "seems more broadly to be merely a loud chattering" (p. 129). While I agree that this is indeed one of the associations intended, I would contend that the mocking aspect of "loud or immoderate laughter" is also very present, and in fact adds considerably to the horror (and pity) of Lavinia's death, as even the forces which have used her and to which she is related mock her in her final moments.

Also, on the point of the whippoorwills, there are some hints that Lovecraft may have been using the idea of psychopomps more broadly here, as well; so that the souls they seek for prey are not merely those of humans (something indicated by their attempts to capture those of Wilbur and his brother), but of all living things. This seems indicated by their loud cries following the attack on the Elmer Frye barn and the slaughter of the beasts inside (but before the attack on the farmhouse and the Frye family), for instance (p. 149). That they are, however, limited to the souls of terrestrial life would seem indicated by their reaction as Wilbur's soul (apparently) leaves his body:

Quote:
Outside the window the shrilling of the whippoorwills had suddenly ceased, and above the murmurs of the gathering crowd there came the sound of a panic-struck whirring and fluttering. Against the moon vaast clouds of feathery watchers rose and raced from sight, frantic at that which they had sought for prey.
-- p. 141

Here it may be well to recall how much more of the human there is in Wilbur than in his brother; for when they seek to catch the soul of the latter, the result is quite different:

Quote:
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.
-- p. 172

In this last, in fact, we may see not only the total alienness of Wilbur's brother's "soul", but (perhaps) the direct intervention of his father to protect his favored son's soul from desecration, destroying those who had sought to convey it to the underworld (keeping in mind, of course, the original use of the psychopomp from Graeco-Roman myth).

This idea, incidentally, of the commonality of the souls of all terrestrial life, would seem to be a fictional adumbration of something he had addressed long before, in his letters to the Transatlantic Circulator, published as "In Defence of Dagon":

Quote:
To argue that one may prove the existence of the human "soul" from the fact that corpses do not weep when the orchestra plays "Hearts and Flowers", is somehting hardly calculated to disturb the assurance of the mechanistic materialist! Mr. Wickenden avoids the ticklish question of the lower animal world. Here we have organisms for which not even the boldest theist tries to claim "souls" -- yet among them we find psychic phenomena of a very advanced order. Even a Beethoven symphony affects many animals strongly -- a case where Mr. W. would find difficulty in tracing the physico-chemical action connecting the sounds and the manifestations. One might ask, to the confounding of those who aver that men have "souls" whilst beasts have not, just what the difference may be betwixt the effect of music on man and on beast; and also just how the evolving organism began to acquire "spirit" after it crossed the boundary betwixt advanced ape and primitive human? It is rather hard to believe in "soul" when one has not a jot of evidence for its existence; when all the psychic life of man is demonstrated to be precisely analagous to that of other animals -- presumably "soulless".
-- Miscellaneous Writings, pp. 170-71

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Old 1st June 2010, 01:00 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: The Dunwich Horror

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Originally Posted by J-WO View Post
Something I'd totally forgotten--what's with those dug up skeletons the ethnologists suppose to be Caucasian? Some kind of Atlantis/ Hyperborean thing? It was pretty popular in HPLs day, wasn't it? (Another possibility is they were descendants of the lost English colony, but I can't imagine that was ever the authors intention.)

Though they're obviously meant to be the erectors of the stones, they seem to be fairly at odds with the essential rustic mystery of the story- whippoorwills, inbreeding, locked barns etc. Well, maybe not 'at odds' so much as a stark contrast. Does mention of them turn up later? Whatever, its an interesting thread that HP's left there for some Mythosapostle to pick up. You can see a Howard/Lovecraft world crossover in it, for starters.
J-WO: I wonder about that interpretation. There is certainly grounds for it, but to me it strikes me more as the idea that these are the remains, perhaps, of sacrifices; made either by the Indians or (following their summoning) the Elder entities themselves. But Lovecraft does not give any further hint of this aspect in the tale; and, given the extreme age of the stone structures, it is unlikely he is referring to the "lost English colony". He may, however, be referring to wanderers from earlier times, such as those which led to the discovery of "Vinland"; in which case it would seem to be a reference to them as the builders of these stone circles -- a link to such northern European sites, for instance; and perhaps yet another instance of his hints at such things being a global rather than local phenomenon.

Wilum -- entering once again into the controversy...

While direct statements linking either Yog-Sothoth specifically, or the Old Ones generically to such human concepts as "good" and "evil" are scarce, the implications of such are, I would argue, very much there. In part, this is bound up (just as is the case with the Mi-Go in "The Whisperer in Darkness") to their use of mendacity and "shady" acts to gull their human pawns/foes... something which simply doesn't jibe with the idea of such vast, indifferent cosmic entities, but rather gives them the air of earthly con-men. And, as you and others have noted, why would they need human beings for so many things if they are so far above us? Thus, when they descend to such practices, it diminishes their impressiveness. This dependency is emphasized throughout the story, of course, but perhaps nowhere so specifically as in this description of the Whateley's rituals and their effects:

Quote:
Twice a year they would light fires on the top of Sentinel Hill, at which times the mountain rumblings would recur with greater and greater violence, while at all seasons there were strange and portentous doings at the lonely farmhouse.
-- p. 125

The only other such specific passage relating to their reliance on human intervention is the passage from the Necronomicon, specifically it states

Quote:
They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons.
As to their malign, rather than indifferent or only malign when human beings become obstructive, intent:

Quote:
Their hand is at your throat, yet ye see Them not, and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold.
The idea (implied rather than stated) that they must wait until Man has passed from this sphere, also reduces their potency, I think (p. 134). And, of course, even though the passage is to some degree reflecting the thoughts of Armitage, it is also through the third-person narrative voice that we have such a statement as

Quote:
but a close survey of the Necronomicon, in those parts which Wilbur had sought so avidly, seemed to supply new and terrible clues to the nature, methods, and desires of the strange evil so vaguely threatening this planet.
Here is it obvious that Lovecraft lost the objectivity necessary to such a narrative stance and let his admitted sympathy for Armitage and his cause override his more seasoned authorial sense... and the result is to openly transform this from a cosmic battle wherein humankind is negligible at best, to a very humanocentric battle wherein we hold center stage.

The upshot of all this is the final sequence of events, with the death of Wilbur's brother which, while an amusing parody of the Crucifixion, is absolutely farcical on its own. It is, in its own way, as flawed as Derleth's ending to "The Shuttered Room" -- indeed, I would argue that this is yet another example of Derleth's directly stealing something from Lovecraft for his "posthumous collaborations", just as he did with his own "The Whippoorwills from the Hills", which copies, in its final lines, the very phrasing of the ending of "The Rats in the Walls". And the ludicrous image of Armitage, Rice, and Morgan performing their ritual (honestly, try to actually picture the scene in your mind) is appallingly bad. Frankly, I think it completely kills all the atmospheric tensity which the tale has managed to otherwise build up. And, of course, the very fact that these clowns (and yes, I agree entirely with Joshi and Burleson that Armitage is a buffoon -- a sententious, pedantic, and pathetic buffoon at that) actually avert any genuine catastrophe by such simple-minded spell-weaving... makes the climax of the tale a rather poor joke.

Now, I hate to be so hard on HPL with this one... as I've said elsewhere, there is much in this tale which is truly magnificent, and for those things I think it deserves to be remembered and even included fairly high in his corpus. But I cannot help but find the reduction from such a powerful beginning -- with hints of relationship to, say, "The Colour Out of Space", which really does depict with grim majesty the incursion of such an outer entity on our terrestrial and human sphere (and manages to do so in a way which genuinely evokes both the cosmic and the intensely human by proper use of the Gardner family's tragedy) to such a pitiful, hackneyed concept as "black-vs.-white magic" with, of course, white winning the day. He could not, of course, have black win the day without violating his entire concept of verisimilitude (after all, if Yog-Sothoth's plan succeeded, we'd all be wiped off the face of the planet; at the very least, the events in Dunwich would have quickly become known to the whole world as its repercussions rippled out and destroyed human society)... but he most assuredly could have found a much, much better and more artistic method of averting such a fate.

Granted, he used something very similar for the climactic scene of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward... but there we did have human pitted against human, specifically a human who was showing hybris, overweening pride, and which in fact provided the perfect opportunity for his downfall. Therefore, the dramatic tension of that scene, though it wobbles a bit, is nonetheless fairly well maintained, and the story succeeds. Here, we have humans against cosmic entities and their offspring... quite a different thing.

I realize that you are highly unlikely to agree with me on these points (after all, if STJ has failed to win the day with you on this one, I'm hardly likely to fare better), but this is my honest, considered opinion... and, damn it, I want to like the bloody thing! I simply can't see it as other than, ultimately, an artistic failure on Lovecraft's part. Not, as I've noted, entirely, but so fatally flawed that I must, perforce, honestly put it in that class.
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