Stanley C. Sargent
[NB: The following article was originally written for the 97th mailing of The Esoteric Order of Dagon amateur press association as the introduction to my story, "The Black Brat of Dunwich," which can be found in the current issue of Cthulhu Codex # 10 (Necronomicon Press).]
I recently decided to try an experiment with one of HPL's better-known tales. When I initially read Lovecraft, I was impressed by his thorough plotting, every detail of the narrative seeming having been worked out very carefully. As I reread some of his stories over time, it becomes apparent that there actually were numerous loose ends left dangling throughout many of his tales. Obviously, there could be several possible explanations for these incomplete aspects: Some were undoubtedly intended to enhance the arcane atmosphere of the tales, while further elaboration of some other ideas might well have overburdened an already lengthy text (although it is doubtful such would have bothered HPL). I choose to view many of these incomplete aspects as "clues" intentionally implanted within the tales to serve as hints at alternate interpretative possibilities.
I chose "The Dunwich Horror" as my victim as I feel that story was an especially personal one for HPL due to its intensely (and I believe consciously) autobiographical theme. It also fit my requirements as to length and the number of the aforementioned clues it contains.
A few examples of clues or aspects not fully elaborated in the original tale are: the relationship of Wilbur to his mother and her death (obviously the death of HPL's own mother affected him so traumatically that he was unable to write of it even fictively); Armitage's mysterious visit to the Whateley farm long before he encountered Wilbur at the Library; the unexplained roundedness of the hills around Dunwich; the purpose of whippoorwills attempting to capture a dying soul, and; what really took place on Sentinel Hill.
I should explain that I have come to view "The Dunwich Horror" as a capsule portrait of HPL himself. Viewed as three separate aspects of one personality, Wilbur Whateley, Wilbur's invisible twin, and Henry Armitage together describe the way HPL saw himself as composed of an outer mundane persona, a mass of pent-up inner passion and turmoil, and the guardian who protected the mundane consciousness from the demon imprisoned within.
Wilbur is defined by HPL's own view of himself. Wilbur is an awkward, ugly, shunned and lonely outsider. He is a misunderstood near-recluse whose seeming physical "disabilities" conceal a deeper, more painful secret. Wilbur and HPL were both raised by a grandfather and half-mad mother, the former dying before the latter in each case. HPL, like his creation, was largely self-educated through the advantage of his grandfathers' library of "ancient" books.
Wilbur's invisible twin brother is HPL's dark secret as well; collectively, it is his repressed adventurous nature, his sexuality, and his urge to break free of the burden of conventionalism to which his outer persona so desperately clung. Like Wilbur's twin, such unbridled (and unthinkable to HPL) passions were seen as dangerous to a mundane world of clearly defined limitations. HPL kept the monster imprisoned in his subconscious, just as the Whateleys constrained theirs within the fragile walls of their farmhouse; such monsters grow ever more powerful and thus must be tightly repressed if one hopes to retain the bounds of a self-imposed Victorian sensibility like HPL's. Should such a horrific beast be freed, the local world at least would suffer irreparable devastation.
Henry Armitage I took to symbolize the rigid and unrelenting guardian of HPL's inner urges. It is Armitage's duty to keep HPL's spontaneous abandon pent-up within, preventing any break with his otherwise traditional thought and behavior. He is a lock of repression, responsible for thwarting the threat of uncontrolled desire buried deep within Pandora's Box. Without Armitage, neither the residents of Dunwich nor HPL himself could rest easy in the knowledge that the borders of their narrow existence were safe.
It is important to note that Armitage is portrayed not so much as a likeable character, but rather as an arrogant, over-bearing, secretive, controlling, and ridiculously dramatic person, thus reflecting the resentment felt even by the "safer" side of HPL's personality.
Thus, with story in hand (the Joshi corrected version, of course) and imagination in tow, I sat down not to simply retell the tale, but to devise a more human, alternative comment on the original. Not incidentally, I strove to avoid even the slightest direct contradiction of the original. My job was to "connect the dots" carefully placed throughout the tale.
Created: August 11, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004