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The town of Dunwich, Massachusetts was thoroughly unremarkable until Wilbur Whateley was born. The family was already unpopular due to their dabbling in the occult, and when Lavinia Whateley gave birth to a strange-looking child and refused to say who the father was, it didn't improve anyone's opinion of them. Wilbur grew incredibly fast - he began talking at 11 months; by the time he was three, he looked ten years old; and at four and a half, around 15. The townsfolk didn't trust him; he gave them the creeps even more than the other Whateleys. For all that, though, they were still willing to sell cows to the Whateley mansion; money was money, after all, even if it was in weird antique gold coins. Though for some reason despite the number of livestock they bought, the herd never seemed to get bigger...
The household only got more suspicious with time. The farmhouse always seemed to be mysteriously under construction, with more and more windows being boarded up; the townsfolk also suspected that interior walls were being knocked out. When Wilbur was ten, Old Whateley died, shrieking instructions to Wilbur on his deathbed; two years later, Lavinia Whateley disappeared on Halloween night and was never found.
It was around this point that Wilbur began to search for an unabridged copy of the Necronomicon. He had learned all of what he knew from his grandfather's library, but his copy of that book was a shortened English version, which he apparently found insufficient. He discovers that nearby Miskatonic University has a copy, but the librarian refuses to loan it out to him. So he breaks in to steal it, only to be killed by a guard dog. And that's when things get really weird.
One of HP Lovecraft's most famous stories, it was adapted to film twice: as a So Bad It's Good Cult Classic in 1970, and a remake by the Sci Fi Channel in 2009. It has also been adapted thrice, generally more faithfully, as a Radio Drama, first as an episode of the long running Suspense series in the 1940s starring Ronald Colman, later by the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, and yet again by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society for their Dark Adventure Radio Theater series. You can read it here.
This story includes examples of:
- Alien Blood: Yellow-green "ichor."
- Animals Hate Him: Dogs loathe Wilbur Whateley, to the point where he has to start carrying a gun to defend himself from them. In fact, it's a dog that eventually kills him.
- Attack of the 50 Foot Whatever
- Author Avatar: Disturbingly enough, Wilbur may have been one.
"Wilbur's being raised by a grandfather instead of a father, his home education from his grandfather's library, his insane mother, his stigma of ugliness (in Lovecraft's case untrue, but a self-image imposed on him by his mother), and his sense of being an outsider all echo Lovecraft himself." - Robert M. Price in the introduction to The Dunwich Cycle.
- Badass Bookworm: The professors.
- Badass Grandpa: Professor Armitage, the leader of the expedition against the Horror, is 73 years old.
- Black and White Morality: Unusually for Lovecraft. Just to make it clear, the "black" isn't Yog-Sothoth, but the Whateleys, who are arguably weaponizing Yog in the form of Wilbur and his brother.
- Body Horror: The description of Wilbur's corpse.
- Chekhov's Gun: The fact that dogs hate Wilbur.
- Creepy Child: Wilbur Whateley, in spades.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: This one of Lovecraft's only stories to have an unambiguously happy ending.
- Eldritch Abomination: References are made to several of the mythos deities, Yog-Sothoth in particular.
- Evil Albino: Lavinia.
- Evil Smells Bad: "By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, . . . As a foulness shall ye know Them."
- Half-Human Hybrid
- Hot Skitty-On-Wailord Action: An Eldritch Abomination who is coterminous with all time and space yet locked outside the universe we inhabit somehow impregnates a human woman.
- Humanoid Abomination: Wilbur Whateley.
- I'm Melting
- Interspecies Romance: Um. . .
"I dun't keer what folks think—ef Lavinny's boy looked like his pa, he wouldn't look like nothin' ye expeck. Ye needn't think the only folks is the folks hereabouts. Lavinny's read some, an' has seed some things the most o' ye only tell abaout. I calc'late her man is as good a husban' as ye kin find this side of Aylesbury; an' ef ye knowed as much abaout the hills as I dew, ye wouldn't ast no better church weddin' nor her'n."
- Invisible Monster: The titular horror.
- Lovecraft Country: Natch.
- Lovecraft Lite: Unusually for Lovecraft, it has a good ending.
- Nightmare Face: This seems to be the feature that most disturbs the person who gets a look at the Horror.
- Non-Identical Twins
- Nothing Is Scarier: The titular horror is never seen directly until very near the end; before that, all that can be seen is the silent aftermath of its rampages. Makes sense, since it's invisible.
- Occult Detective: The three professors, sort of.
- Prophecy Twist: Early in the story, Old Whateley says that one day, they'll hear a child of Lavinia's screaming his father's name from Sentinel Hill. Turns out it's not Wilbur.
- The Reveal: The Horror is Wilbur's twin brother.
- Running Gag: The Dark Adventure version turns Zeb Whateley's insistence that Wilbur, et al are from "the decayed side of the Whateley family" into one.
- Scenery Porn: The opening descriptions of the country around Dunwich.
- Shout-Out: To Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, Lovecraft's primary inspiration for "The Dunwich Horror."
"Inbreeding? . . . God, what simpletons! Show them Arthur Machen's Great God Pan and they'll think it a common Dunwich scandal! But what thing - what cursed shapeless influence on or off this three-dimensional earth - was Wilbur Whateley's father?"
- Fridge Brilliance: Wilbur is often described as "goatish." The Classical Pan is often depicted with the attributes of a goat, similar to fauns, satyrs, and, of course, Satan.
- Armitage's brief monologue that closes the story also recalls some of the speeches by Dr. Raymond in Great God Pan.
- Another Machen example: Wilbur's diary, as decoded by Armitage, is clearly inspired by "The White People," which purports to be the diary of a young girl's initiation into pagan witchcraft. The terms "Aklo" and "Voorish" also come from there.
- To Create a Playground For Evil: Wilbur's goal is for Yog-Sothoth to drag Earth off to . . . somewhere and wipe out humanity in the process.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Necronomicon.
- Uncanny Valley: Invoked; people get nervous talking to Wilbur because he always seems a little off.
- Younger Than They Look: Wilbur grows extremely quickly, and is an 8-foot-tall man by the time he's about 10.