Short Story Review – The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

Summary from Goodreads

In the degenerate, unliked backwater of Dunwich, Wilbur Whately, a most unusual child, is born. Of unnatural parentage, he grows at an uncanny pace to an unsettling height, but the boy’s arrival simply precedes that of a true horror: one of the Old Ones, that forces the people of the town to hole up by night.


“The Dunwich Horror” is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft first published in 1929. I read this story in Necronomicon, a large collection of Lovecraft’s “Best Weird Tales” including the complete Cthulhu Mythos cycle. I’ve always liked the idea of Lovecraft’s horror, telling of otherworldly monstrosities too terrible to behold or comprehend, but I’d never gotten around to reading any. I chose “The Dunwich Horror” because unlike other well known stories like “The Call of Cthulhu” or “At the Mountains of Madness,” which I’m intent on reading, I’d heard of this story but knew nothing of what it’s about.

The setting is introduced through the frame of a hypothetical person driving through rural Massachusetts and making a wrong turn, whereupon they’d find themselves going through the isolated village of Dunwich. The people are inbred and superstitious, the town itself in a state of degradation, and something about the geography itself doesn’t seem right. I liked this presentation of the setting, as it allowed me to easily put myself in the shoes of this hypothetical traveller’s perspective. Though I learned little of what’s going on I got a good feel for the atmosphere of the location.

While much of the mystery of what took place is revealed by story’s end, there’s an air of mysticism and intrigue to the region established in the opening that doesn’t get explained beyond a history of dark rites and practices before the village was settled. I like that while I left the story feeling I understood the core elements of what took place there, trying to firmly understand the place gives me a feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty.

The narrative has the feel of a historical account, the “horror” described having already taken place according to the introduction. This mingles with standard prose as well, as we are privy to some details that would be too specific or internal for a more historical account. There is no characterized narrator, yet it doesn’t feel like an omniscient one either. No frame was made obvious to me, but it does read a lot like a character in-universe wrote this story about what happened. I like how this adds to the obscurity of the incident, even if it’s just my interpretation.

This style of writing could be a little dry at times too, however, and on more than a few occasions I had to reread small sections after my mind had wandered a little. This was a small problem for me, overshadowed by some rather aggravating dialogue. Most of the people of Dunwich speak with a heavy accent, which is very apparent in the text. While far from indecipherable I found these sections a chore that I could have done without.

“The Dunwich Horror” is a fine horror story with great atmosphere, mystery, disturbing ideas, and grotesque imagery. I had absorbed a general understanding of what Lovecraft’s horror is like before reading, which did affect my experience, but it did not diminish it in any substantial way. The ending had a particularly strong effect on the story tying the story together for me. While it has not left any lingering creeping feeling, it certainly left a a lasting impression. I recommend it if it’s horror you haven’t checked out already.


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