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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward - H.P. Lovecraft
“There is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker's perspective and whispers terrible hints of obscure cosmic relationships and unnameable realities behind the protective illusions of common vision.”
That little passage explains why Lovecraft’s characters often go mad at the mere sight of blasphemous eldritch monstrosities from beyond; something I often wondered about. It is also a fine example of his penchant for convoluted sentence structures.

When I read [b:At the Mountains of Madness|32767|At the Mountains of Madness|H.P. Lovecraft|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388341769s/32767.jpg|17342821] I felt that Lovecraft is preferable in smaller doses, that is when his stories are not novel length. It seems that when he gives himself room with the novel format he overindulges his tendency to ramble, overwrite and include unnecessary details. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward reinforces this impression to me.

This is basically about an undead necromancer called Joseph Curwen who is foolishly resurrected by his descendent the eponymous Charles Dexter Ward through evocations, and other black magic shenanigans. Curwen of course wrecks all kinds of havoc because you don’t come back to life via black magic to do charity work.

One thing I noticed about reading Lovecraft is that the creepy atmosphere is more effective if you read the stories in a quiet room, unfortunately I read this book in a living room while family members are watching TV and it rendered the creep factor completely ineffective. I also find the depiction of Curwen’s early life fairly mundane and less than riveting. The usual Lovecraftian tropes are all accounted for, the awful smells, the creepy noises, the creaking, the screaming and what not. The “unmentionable” Necronomicon by Mad Paula Abdul Alhazred is of course mentioned. Poor Cthulhu does not get a look in though his cousin Yog-Sothoth is often referred to.

Lovecraft’s idiosyncratic prose style can be both entertaining and frustrating. As I mentioned before he is more readable in short story format. At novel length he often repeats himself with the description of funny smells, funny noises etc. The faux-archaic English passages are also hard to decipher. The climax of the story is unexpected though, it makes the whole thing almost worthwhile. I also particularly like this passage:
“It was a godless sound; one of those low-keyed, insidious outrages of Nature which are not meant to be. To call it a dull wail, a doom-dragged whine, or a hopeless howl of chorused anguish and stricken flesh without mind would be to miss its quintessential loathsomeness and soul-sickening overtones.”
He could have been reviewing a Justine Bieber album here.

Not my favorite Lovecraft book then, the very best of Lovecraft is to be found in
The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre
. Exactly what it says on the tin. The perfect Halloween read.