Great and dreadful Cthulhu is without doubt Lovecraft’s most recognized creation, and many who are only casually aware of his work may think he’s the end-all and be-all of his work. I’d even personally go so far as to say that Cthulhu in the present day is overexposed, his shadow obscuring many of H.P.’s other fascinating creatures and stories. So on this Throwback Thursday, I’m casting a light on one of his lesser know creations before they… or I… scurry off into the darkness.
The thing that lay half-bent on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-yellow ichor and tarry stickiness was almost nine feet tall, and the dog had torn off all the clothing and some of the skin. It was not quite dead, but twitched silently and spasmodically while its chest heaved in monstrous unison with the mad piping of the expectant whippoorwills outside. Bits of shoe-leather and fragments of apparel were scattered about the room, and just inside the window an empty canvas sack lay where it had evidently been thrown. Near the central desk a revolver had fallen, a dented but undischarged cartridge later explaining why it had not been fired. The thing itself, however, crowded out all other images at the time. It would be trite and not wholly accurate to say that no human pen could describe it, but one may properly say that it could not be vividly visualized by anyone whose ideas of aspect and contour are too closely bound up with the common life-forms of this planet and of the three known dimensions. It was partly human, beyond a doubt, with very manlike hands and head, and the goatish, chinless face had the stamp of the Whateley’s upon it. But the torso and lower parts of the body were teratologically fabulous, so that only generous clothing could ever have enabled it to walk on earth unchallenged or uneradicated.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror
Wilbur Whateley is the main antagonist of Lovecraft’s classic short story The Dunwich Horror. Published in 1929 in the pages of Weird Tales, it would go on to become a cornerstone story in his Cthulhu Mythos. It’s loaded with many of HP’s most famous elements: The Necronomicon is present and a primary focus within its plot, as is Yog-Sothoth who is introduced as a member of the Outer Gods for the very first time in the tale. Lovecraft’s established settings of Miskatonic University and Arkham are integral within the tale as well.
However, The Dunwich Horror differs significantly from most of HP’s stories in that its protagonists —A pair of university professors and the head librarian of Miskatonic University— actually triumph over the titular horror! This almost never happens in Lovecraft’s work, with most his victories (if you can call them that) being pyrrhic at the very best. And I find it delightful that in this almost singular exception found within his mythos, it’s a trio of scholars that save the day armed with guts and knowledge… learned men of the type Lovecraft would respect.
The Dunwich Horror was well liked by its author, ranking as one of HP’s favorites. Many fans of his work would agree. It builds really well and has a great climax, and that makes it one of my favorites too. Oddly, Lovecraft didn’t think he’d be able to sell it. But Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright wasted no time in accepting the submission when it landed on his desk. Lovecraft earned a cool $240 for is work (a little under $3000 in today’s money), and he was glad to get it.
Wilbur is fairly unique in the Mythos lore as he isn’t human or a distinct non-human species. He is, in fact, a hybrid born from the union of his albino human mother, Lavinia Whateley… and the Outer God Yog-Sothoth. This resulted in him being a bizarre chimera mixing human and highly alien forms in both biology and appearance. Although Wilbur’s hands were manlike, and his facial appearance —while described as “goatish” and “chinless” — was passable as a very ugly human, he needed to be otherwise clothed to wander society. Uncovered, Lovecraft describes him as follows:
Above the waist it was semi-anthropomorphic; though its chest, where the dog’s rending paws still rested watchfully, had the leathery, reticulated hide of a crocodile or alligator. The back was piebald with yellow and black, and dimly suggested the squamous covering of certain snakes. Below the waist, though, it was the worst; for here all human resemblance left off and sheer phantasy began. The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur, and from the abdomen a score of long greenish-grey tentacles with red sucking mouths protruded limply.
Their arrangement was odd, and seemed to follow the symmetries of some cosmic geometry unknown to earth or the solar system. On each of the hips, deep set in a kind of pinkish, ciliated orbit, was what seemed to be a rudimentary eye; whilst in lieu of a tail there depended a kind of trunk or feeler with purple annular markings, and with many evidences of being an undeveloped mouth or throat. The limbs, save for their black fur, roughly resembled the hind legs of prehistoric earth’s giant saurians, and terminated in ridgy-veined pads that were neither hooves nor claws. When the thing breathed, its tail and tentacles rhythmically changed colour, as if from some circulatory cause normal to the non-human greenish tinge, whilst in the tail it was manifest as a yellowish appearance which alternated with a sickly grayish-white in the spaces between the purple rings. Of genuine blood there was none; only the foetid greenish-yellow ichor which trickled along the painted floor beyond the radius of the stickiness, and left a curious discoloration behind it.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror
There is a twist in the The Dunwich Horror, however. Although Wilbur is malevolent and grotesque both inside and out, he is not the “horror” that the story is named for. To say more risks spoiling the tale for those uninitiated to it, but I’ll go so far as to mention that the Whateley home holds an unseen secret that shouldn’t be left unattended.