The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

Aside from the horror classics of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “The Call of Cthulhu” among one of Lovecraft’s most famous and known stories is “The Dunwich Horror”. The story is often criticized by scholars for being somewhat “formulaic” and for being the exception in Lovecraft’s ideas of an indifferent cosmos and humans being infinitely insignificant in the eyes of the universe.

Rather, the story is a classic battle between good and evil and is one of the few stories in which a hero is seen defeating the villain, although the triumph is ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Without spoiling too much, since I heavily encourage people, especially horror fans, to read the story, the tale is of the terror that is Wilbur Whateley and his family.

Born to the deformed albino Lavinia Whateley, they lived in Dunwich. Mainly isolating themselves from the rest of the world, Wilbur was obviously something else. Reaching maturity by the age of ten and being an eight foot, misshapen being who caused dogs around him to go into frenzies, Wilbur was being groomed by his grandfather, Old Whateley, in what many townsfolk presumed to be dark magic.

Progressively, their house increases in size as Old Whateley and Wilbur add more floors and enlarge it, to accommodate for… something. They shy away from people but routinely go to the top of Sentinel Hill to chant in odd hours before hiding away. It all goes downhill when Old Whateley dies, and Lavinia mysteriously disappears.

Overall, while the story is very in line with further rounding the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole, it is quite different from Lovecraft’s typical stories. This is more focused on humans and despite how little the great cosmos thinks of them, they were able to vanquish the horrible monstrosity, although the true threat still lurks in the dark periphery that humans are not allowed to glimpse into.

It feels real, Dunwich feels real, the terror of what characters go through feels real. It is the unspeakable terror that desecrates a small town. It lurks in the night but is preceding something far, far worse.

Nevertheless, humans prevented what would have been a global disaster, even if it may inevitably be temporary. While the story may not necessarily be about this triumph, but rather that we will never truly know the extent and power to which beings beyond us possess, and how many people are willing to give their devotion and whole life to it.

This is one of Lovecraft’s more accessible stories if you will. It is weird, yet grounded in his unconventional reality, and is an interesting mix of science fiction and horror. He gives vivid descriptions of the area and surroundings, immersing you into it, allowing you to visualize what types of horrors will befall this tiny outskirt village.

It is not like his typical stories, it has appeal for larger audiences, is weirder and almost surreal than his bone-chilling horror and is among his more popular works. He makes many exceptions to his rules and theories on this universe and mythos he has created, and although “The Dunwich Horror” bends that, it is done so to a great effect. A wonderful tale is created in the process, and his pantheon of horrors is expanded.

-Farrah M.

Th Dunwich Horror and other tales from H.P. Lovecraft are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Authors We Love: H.P. Lovecraft

Although many people do not know Howard Philips Lovecraft, what many people do know is his works. His stories precede him and are a staple in pop culture.

Born on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft was born the only child to Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susie Philips Lovecraft. Throughout his childhood Lovecraft was shown to be remarkable and intelligent, being able to read and write at the age of 3.

Lovecraft did not begin to write actual stories until the early 1900s, with his first short story “The Alchemist” being published in 1916. Soon after, “The Tomb” and “Dagon” were published. “Dagon” is considered to be the first of Lovecraft’s works that would eventually be grouped in a collection called The Cthulhu Mythos, coined by a close friend, August Derleth.

This mythos, meant to encompass Lovecraft’s stories which focused on the terrifying unknown and the capricious nature of the universe, includes a pantheon of terrible god-like beings called The Great Old Ones. This is partially inspired by the Greek pantheon, albeit a twisted, nightmarish vision of gods that watch over the universe and earth.

Stories such as “The Call of Cthulhu”, “At The Mountains of Madness”, “The Dunwich Horror”, and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” are the most popular of Lovecraft’s. He is also considered the pioneer of cosmic horror, a subgenre which emphasizes the insignificance of human’s actions because in the grand scheme of the universe we are nothing but playthings to horrors that lurk just beyond our solar system.

Other items from Lovecraft’s stories, such as the fictional city of Arkham, the nefarious Necronomicon, and even the great Cthulhu himself have been referenced in pop culture despite many people not knowing the true origins from which these staples come from.

Lovecraft’s stories as a whole are extremely well written and do a good job of sucking the reader in and keeping hold of them until they finish the story. Although the dialogue occasionally comes off as somewhat stilted and unnatural they are nonetheless excellent, terrifying stories. They are unsettling and they leave the reader with a looming sense of dread unlike any other.

The idea of an uncaring universe, with beings that we cannot even begin to comprehend existing just outside of our peripheral vision, brings out that instinctual, deep fear of the unknown, and the fear of being all alone.

The works of H. P. Lovecraft are available at the Mission Viejo Library. 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I first read The Alchemist when I was around eleven or so. The book was confusing to me, and although I enjoyed it, I felt as if I was missing the bigger picture in some way. The book contained a lot of symbolism and themes that I was slightly too young to fully comprehend.

Revisiting this six years later, I understand this book to be more than a fantastical adventure across Africa towards untold riches and going through trials and tribulations to come out on top. It is deep and the message resonated with me after I finished reading it.

This novel is not about the practice of alchemy or the journey of a young man, Santiago. At least, not solely about either of those. The main idea, or theme, is how fear often controls people. The novel proposes the idea that everyone has what it calls a Personal Legend. A Personal Legend is a goal that the universe has put out for someone or a dream they want to accomplish. This is supposed to bring someone ultimate satisfaction for completing it and in order to continue living a satisfactory life and achieve happiness new Personal Legends are continuously set out after one has been completed. However, throughout the book examples are shown of people who are often too afraid to fulfill their Personal Legend, and thus find themselves stuck in an endless routine, or feeling empty as a result of the fear holding them back.

Although following your Personal Legend can come at a price, like Santiago losing all his money while in a foreign country, this is the universe testing people and seeing if they are truly strong enough or dedicated enough to keep going. It rewards people who push past obstacles or get up to continue trying even when they fall.

Coelho is trying to encourage the readers of the story to go out and experience their own adventures, fulfill their own Personal Legends, lest you fall into a cycle, doomed to dissatisfaction.

Santiago is someone we look at as a reflection of ourselves. He has a comfortable life living in a certain way without changing, but his life is stagnant. Until he makes that decision to look at signs being given to him and taking a leap of faith to begin his journey. At first, it does not go well. He goes to a foreign country, loses nearly all his money to a con man, and has nothing but the clothes on his back. However, he begins working for a crystal merchant, and over time gains money. Although he is deciding to go back to Andalusia, at the last minute he decides to continue his journey to completing his Personal Legend in Egypt. He faces many hardships, almost dying along the way, but eventually, he makes it back to Andalusia, where he finds treasures waiting for him.

The story as a whole is actually inspiring. It shows that achieving your goal is not easy, nor should it be. But it is rewarding seeing it through to the end, and the satisfaction of fulfilling a goal that you worked hard to achieve is (in Coelho’s opinion) the way to have a happy, good life.

-Farrah M. 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive