Howard Phillips Lovecraft - The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (551.0 Kb)
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The Case of Charles Dexter Ward has long been one of my favorite books. Charles Ward is an intellectual young recluse steeped in antiquarianism (much as Lovecraft himself was) who discovers horrible secrets about a distant ancestor, one consciously expunged from public records and histories at the end of his ill-begotten life. Ward engulfs himself in a genealogical and historical pursuit of knowledge of this man, a passion all the more emblazoned by each mysterious discovery he makes. This ancestor, Joseph Curwen, was reputa... More >>>
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The Case of Charles Dexter Ward has long been one of my favorite books. Charles Ward is an intellectual young recluse steeped in antiquarianism (much as Lovecraft himself was) who discovers horrible secrets about a distant ancestor, one consciously expunged from public records and histories at the end of his ill-begotten life. Ward engulfs himself in a genealogical and historical pursuit of knowledge of this man, a passion all the more emblazoned by each mysterious discovery he makes. This ancestor, Joseph Curwen, was reputably a dabbler in the black arts who fled from Salem in advance of the remarkable witchcraft trials in that town. Finding refuge in Providence, he lived a reclusive, mysterious life, made even more mysterious by his eternally youthful appearance. A recluse by nature, he spent most nights at a farmhouse in Pawtuxet. A continuing series of terrible cries and noises detected from that farmhouse, in conjunction with a number of missing locals and rumors of brutality against Negro slaves surreptitiously brought to that abode culminated in a raid by local citizens determined to put an end to whatever monstrous acts the strange man was committing. No member of that raiding party ever dared discuss what he saw or heard during that awful night. Ward's knowledge of Curwen is greatly advanced when he discovers an old painting of him (revealing a face virtually identical to his own) and a set of personal papers hidden behind that painting. He then launches into terrible studies of the occult at home and abroad, then returns home to put to use the arcane secrets he has learned. His doctor and father eventually grasp the nature of Ward's actions and unite themselves in a determination to block Joseph Curwen's ancient ambitions and plans to once more walk the earth with the aid of his great-great-great grandson. The horrors they encounter in the pursuit of this objective are richly described and deliciously gruesome.
This story is pretty much straight horror with no deeply mythological overtones beyond those of necromancy. Lovecraft does an excellent job of always pushing the action along while providing a rich, deep, historical background of both Curwen and young Charles Ward. The ending chapter contains some of Lovecraft's most terror-inducing, menacingly evil scenes and is not to be missed by those with a gratuitous admiration for the macabre. For those readers who find the Cthulhu Mythos stories too strangely remote and otherworldly, this novella provides a more practical, more individualistic vision of horror sure to affect the reader more viscerally than do mysterious references to the Ancient Ones. Anyone considering reading Lovecraft for the first time would do well to make this book his introduction to the master of horror. This is everything a horror story should be.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 - March 15, 1937) was an American author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, known then simply as weird fiction.
HP Lovecraft was one of the early exponents of horror fantasy, best known for the series of works known collectively as the Cthulhu Mythos. He peppered his books with references to an occult work called The Necronomicon, and, as his fame grew, he was besieged by readers asking where they could find a copy of it. But the truth was that Lovecraft had invented the book and its title. He wrote in a letter of 1937: 'The name Necronomicon (necros, corpse; nomos, law; eikon, image = An Image of the Law of the Dead) occurred to me in the course of a dream, although the etymology is perfectly sound.' So the title came before everything else, and substituted, perfectly reasonably, for the work itself.
This is a game that many writers have played, and the history of literature is full of references to books that don't, in fact, exist. Margaret Atwood, AS Byatt, Dorothy L Sayers, Frank Herbert, Martin Amis, Arthur Conan Doyle and many, many others have all joined in. Some of my favourite fictional titles are from Kurt Vonnegut, who, as Kilgore Trout, writes non-existent works such as The Barring-Gaffner of Bagnialto, or This Year's Masterpiece, which are usually accompanied by helpful plot summaries. Perhaps the most notorious fictional-book-inventors have been writers such as Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges; naturally enough, since their writing often draws attention to literature as itself an artefact.
With the Necronomicon there was a difference, however. Other writers began to treat it as if it really did exist, quoting from the nonexistent work and even composing large sections of it; several Necronomicons were in fact later published, by hoaxers including L. Sprague De Camp and Colin Wilson.
Lovecraft's major inspiration and invention was cosmic horror, the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason, like his protagonists, gamble with sanity. Lovecraft has developed a cult following for his Cthulhu Mythos, a series of loosely interconnected fiction featuring a pantheon of human-nullifying entities, as well as the Necronomicon, a fictional grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore. His works were deeply pessimistic and cynical, challenging the values of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Christian humanism. Lovecraft's protagonists usually achieve the mirror-opposite of traditional gnosis and mysticism by momentarily glimpsing the horror of ultimate reality.
Although Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now commonly regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century, who together with Edgar Allan Poe has exerted "an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction". Stephen King has called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.