Classic weird tale by H.P. Lovecraft, written in 1928 and published for the first time in the April 1929 issue of "Weird Tales" magazine.

The story focuses on a young man named Wilbur Whateley, the purported son of a man known only as "Wizard" Whateley and Lavinia Whateley, his simple-minded albino daughter. Wizard Whateley was, as you might guess, a wizard -- and not the "robe and pointy hat and magic wand" kind of wizard, but a depraved, diabolical worshiper of a monstrous deity called Yog-Sothoth. When Wilbur was born, his father started teaching him all he could about evil magic rituals.

Wilbur was what you'd call a precocious child. And by "precocious," I mean "grows to full adulthood in only ten years." He was a large and extraordinarily ugly kid, too -- chinless, with a goat-like appearance, and intelligent but very creepy eyes.

Wilbur had learned plenty of evil magic from Wizard Whateley, but he wanted to know more. He owned a copy of the dreaded Necronomicon -- the most terribly evil book in Lovecraft's pantheon -- but it was a poor translation, without all the knowledge that Wilbur needed to bring the Old Ones back to Earth. So he traveled from his rural home in desperately poor Dunwich, Massachusetts, to the nearby larger city of Arkham, home of Miskatonic University, whose celebrated library contains an unabridged Latin version of the Necronomicon.

Unsurprisingly, when Wilbur asks if he can take the book home with him, the head librarian, Dr. Henry Armitage, tells him no way. This prompts Wilbur to break into the library late one night. He is attacked and killed by a guard dog, and Armitage and two of his university colleagues get to the library in time to discover that Wilbur Whateley wasn't entirely human. His head and hands look normal, but aside from that, he's got alligator skin, his legs are covered with thick black fur, he's got a bunch of tentacles growing out of his stomach and another serving as a tail -- all those tentacles have mouths attached. He's got rudimentary eyes on each hip. And then his whole body melts away and dissolves into nothing.

That's not even the end of the story. Not long after Wilbur's death, the Whateley family home explodes as some gigantic invisible monster -- apparently growing inside the building for years -- forces its way out and begins searching for food, stomping all over the Dunwich area on legs the size of tree trunks. It eats a few herds of cattle and a couple of local families. At last, Armitage, along with his colleagues Dr. Francis Morgan and Professor Warren Rice, arrives with the library's copy of the Necronomicon. They cast a spell from the book to destroy the monster -- but before it dies, it becomes visible -- it has the Whateley family face -- chinless and goatish -- but nothing else is even vaguely human, or even terrestrial. It was, we learn, Wilbur's twin brother, but it took more after his true father, Yog-Sothoth.

This is one of Lovecraft's most popular and most reprinted stories -- but it's still somewhat controversial, mostly because it so spectacularly breaks the mold of Lovecraft's other stories. It's the story of a battle between three human professors and a couple of monstrous, non-human entities spawned by an extra-planar god of terrifying mystical power -- and humanity beats the ever-lovin' crap outta the bad guys. This appears to be the primary reason that Lovecraft scholar and critic S.T. Joshi despises "The Dunwich Horror" -- and frankly, that makes me question Joshi's abilities as a critic, 'cause this is a daaaaamn good story. Wilbur Whateley is an outstanding character, even before you find out about his dinosaur legs and tentacular stomach. Wizard Whateley is great, too, and even slow-witted Lavinia comes across as an interesting character, trying in her limited way to join in the family business.

This story wears its influences right on its sleeve where anyone can see 'em -- Lovecraft loved the stories of Arthur Machen, especially "The Great God Pan." (And by the way, if you've never read that one, go track it down. It's a hell of a tale, no joke.) Both stories featured people who appeared fairly normal but ended up being only partially human. Lovecraft also borrows elements from other Machen stories, including "The Novel of the Black Seal" and "The White People."

My other favorite bit of trivia about this story is that, though Lovecraft obviously used the geography around New England as his model for Dunwich, he took the name from a town on England's eastern coast which has been mostly washed away into the ocean during a number of strong storms over the centuries.

Research: "The Dunwich Horror" by H.P. Lovecraft; "Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales" by Kenneth Hite.

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