by Davide Massarin

“I’m going to burn his accursed diary, and if you men are wise you’ll dynamite that altar-stone up there, and pull down all the rings of standing stones on the other hills. Things like that brought down the beings those Whateleys were so fond of—the beings they were going to let in tangibly to wipe out the human race and drag the earth off to some nameless place for some nameless purpose.” – Henry Armitage, from The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

byronegg:

THE DUNWICH HORROR

Here is a piece I did recently based on the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Dunwich Horror” for “Puffed Shoggoths”, Trevor Henderson’s upcoming HP Lovecraft art zine . This gave me the chance to finally start reading some of the Lovecraft stories that have been sitting on my book shelf for some time. I was really drawn to his unheard of textures and horrors that are completely beyond our understanding and seem to always be just out of view.


M.S. Corley’s Wilbur Whateley

image

Hey! Thank you. I thought I’d post a more thorough (eh, kinda) response to your message since there are at least a few Dunwich fans who follow and someone among ‘em might want to pitch in on this later. I mean, you’ve essentially asked us to dream-cast The Dunwich Horror, right? Right? Okay, you didn’t actually ask for that, but you may get it from somebody now anyway. ha To your question, I would be open to anyone who’s not “conventionally attractive” (feel free to define that however you’d like) and who is of a height and build that would lend something to that “not quite human” presentation and/shuffle. A lot of that can be done with practical effects, obviously, so the options are wiiiide-open in my book. [Sorry for the ‘keep reading,’ mobile users; what’s below is my windy rhapsodizing over some theory related to the difficulty of adapting HPL’s fiction; that’s about it]

I’m generally laid back with this sort of thing anyway. And there are plenty of great character actors out there who’d be great in that part; however, I don’t think it’s the actors who’ve been the problem with previous adaptations. The problem rests more with the (very often discussed) difficulty of turning HPL’s fiction into something film-able. I’m not sure if it’s active any more/haven’t checked, but there used to be a good Lovecraftian film site called “Unfilmable,” if that tells you anything. 

Eh, let me jump back and qualify “difficulty,” I guess: I mean turning a production into something that evokes the same sort of horror in the viewer as the stories often do in the reader—without having the revelation of the “monster” quickly degenerate into silliness b/c it’s so easily identifiable and familiar within the realm of human experience, first hand or fictional. I mean, if something’s supposed to be “so terrifying” that simply seeing it drives a person out of their mind, having the reveal be of the ubiquitously squishy tentacle creature is a little disappointing. 

image

from Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture

The same can be said for how any production chooses to address (or not address) the “Other” aspects of Wilbur, both physical and behavioral.

I won’t get too far into a theory tangent (fighting the impulse, fighting it), but I’ll just point to ONE text that suits this convo: Graham Harman’s Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. It’s a key text for Speculative Realists, and there’s plenty of discussion in it of what he refers to as Lovecraft’s “gaps.” Those gaps are important, and they’re really at the heart of the “unfilmable” quality of his stories. 

They’re also why I don’t think it matters who they cast as Wilbur unless there’s first a sort of intentional/aware, focused “shift” in their approach to translating the story from a written to visual form. They say that some of the best Lovecraft adaptations aren’t actually based on his stories for a reason, I think. [SN to anyone who might seek-out more on Harman via Wikipedia: the entry on Spec Realism is a bit of a mess, so take it with a grain of salt. There’s still some bickering going on among the folks who don’t like it, and that’s fine; however, it has bled-over onto that page repeatedly no matter how many times it’s adjusted/readjusted by whomever. Just go deeper if you choose to explore it. And if you enjoy cosmic horror, it’s worth the effort.]

image

Dean Stockwell as Wilbur (1970)

Finally (on those gaps), if you’ve seen those Tumblr posts in the past that say something along the lines of: “Lovecraft: this horror is unknowable, unnameable, indescribable. Lovecraft: describes the thing…“ (laughter ensues)…that’s essentially what Harman’s getting at. The joke’s fine, I suppose, at least on a very surface/mechanical level anyway. If you’ve ever read Lovecraft (I mean a general “you”) you recognize that rhetorical pattern, of course, but the dismissal misses (and misunderstands) the function of the “gap.”The “gap” exists somewhere between “the thing” and the flurry of attempts at describing it; it’s the intentionally-crafted disconnect between how something is described and the “thing” itself, the slippery space most folks look to fill with familiarity and recognition, even in their Horror (hey, Horror is a conservative genre, remember)…that comforting “human” experience, etc. (”Oh, it’s a tentacle” or “Oh, it’s an alien…it’s ‘just like’ a werewolf…that’s not scary…kill it, worship it”) That a horror-response is followed by a flurry of failed attempts at description just highlights the pitiful limitations of human perception and not, as that jokey post seems to imply, a failure with the writing. And it’s that same “space” that creates so much failure during the adaptation process, etc. Woefully simplified, but that’s my view of things anyway/my reading of Harman, etc. 

And all of that was to say, again, that I really don’t think it matters who plays Wilbur until those writers/directors explores the function of the “gap” in the story, as well as its effects upon readers and potential viewers (veiling, what “unknowabilty” means and how something “unperceivable” could ever translate into some visual form). Do I know how someone might do that? Oh, no way. Nope. I’ve got no idea. It continues to be a great challenge, though, just based on what I’ve read/heard anyway. And the fact that it’s failed so many times doesn’t mean people should stop trying. I love watching the adaptations, even when they’re pretty bad. 

How was that for long and rambly? 😀  Answering was a great break from the other not-so-happy junk I’m dealing with today, so thanks for the fun ask and distraction for a bit. 

[Oh, and if anyone out there wants to dream-cast Dunwich, I’m all for it despite my inability to offer any specific names/ideas. I’m sure others will do much, much better.]

M.S. Corley’s Wilbur Whateley

image

Hey! Thank you. I thought I’d post a more thorough (eh, kinda) response to your message since there are at least a few Dunwich fans who follow and someone among ‘em might want to pitch in on this later. I mean, you’ve essentially asked us to dream-cast The Dunwich Horror, right? Right? Okay, you didn’t actually ask for that, but you may get it from somebody now anyway. ha To your question, I would be open to anyone who’s not “conventionally attractive” (feel free to define that however you’d like) and who is of a height and build that would lend something to that “not quite human” presentation and/shuffle. A lot of that can be done with practical effects, obviously, so the options are wiiiide-open in my book. [Sorry for the ‘keep reading,’ mobile users; what’s below is my windy rhapsodizing over some theory related to the difficulty of adapting HPL’s fiction; that’s about it]

I’m generally laid back with this sort of thing anyway. And there are plenty of great character actors out there who’d be great in that part; however, I don’t think it’s the actors who’ve been the problem with previous adaptations. The problem rests more with the (very often discussed) difficulty of turning HPL’s fiction into something film-able. I’m not sure if it’s active any more/haven’t checked, but there used to be a good Lovecraftian film site called “Unfilmable,” if that tells you anything. 

Eh, let me jump back and qualify “difficulty,” I guess: I mean turning a production into something that evokes the same sort of horror in the viewer as the stories often do in the reader—without having the revelation of the “monster” quickly degenerate into silliness b/c it’s so easily identifiable and familiar within the realm of human experience, first hand or fictional. I mean, if something’s supposed to be “so terrifying” that simply seeing it drives a person out of their mind, having the reveal be of the ubiquitously squishy tentacle creature is a little disappointing. 

image

from Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture

The same can be said for how any production chooses to address (or not address) the “Other” aspects of Wilbur, both physical and behavioral.

I won’t get too far into a theory tangent (fighting the impulse, fighting it), but I’ll just point to ONE text that suits this convo: Graham Harman’s Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. It’s a key text for Speculative Realists, and there’s plenty of discussion in it of what he refers to as Lovecraft’s “gaps.” Those gaps are important, and they’re really at the heart of the “unfilmable” quality of his stories. 

They’re also why I don’t think it matters who they cast as Wilbur unless there’s first a sort of intentional/aware, focused “shift” in their approach to translating the story from a written to visual form. They say that some of the best Lovecraft adaptations aren’t actually based on his stories for a reason, I think. [SN to anyone who might seek-out more on Harman via Wikipedia: the entry on Spec Realism is a bit of a mess, so take it with a grain of salt. There’s still some bickering going on among the folks who don’t like it, and that’s fine; however, it has bled-over onto that page repeatedly no matter how many times it’s adjusted/readjusted by whomever. Just go deeper if you choose to explore it. And if you enjoy cosmic horror, it’s worth the effort.]

image

Dean Stockwell as Wilbur (1970)

Finally (on those gaps), if you’ve seen those Tumblr posts in the past that say something along the lines of: “Lovecraft: this horror is unknowable, unnameable, indescribable. Lovecraft: describes the thing…“ (laughter ensues)…that’s essentially what Harman’s getting at. The joke’s fine, I suppose, at least on a very surface/mechanical level anyway. If you’ve ever read Lovecraft (I mean a general “you”) you recognize that rhetorical pattern, of course, but the dismissal misses (and misunderstands) the function of the “gap.”The “gap” exists somewhere between “the thing” and the flurry of attempts at describing it; it’s the intentionally-crafted disconnect between how something is described and the “thing” itself, the slippery space most folks look to fill with familiarity and recognition, even in their Horror (hey, Horror is a conservative genre, remember)…that comforting “human” experience, etc. (”Oh, it’s a tentacle” or “Oh, it’s an alien…it’s ‘just like’ a werewolf…that’s not scary…kill it, worship it”) That a horror-response is followed by a flurry of failed attempts at description just highlights the pitiful limitations of human perception and not, as that jokey post seems to imply, a failure with the writing. And it’s that same “space” that creates so much failure during the adaptation process, etc. Woefully simplified, but that’s my view of things anyway/my reading of Harman, etc. 

And all of that was to say, again, that I really don’t think it matters who plays Wilbur until those writers/directors explores the function of the “gap” in the story, as well as its effects upon readers and potential viewers (veiling, what “unknowabilty” means and how something “unperceivable” could ever translate into some visual form). Do I know how someone might do that? Oh, no way. Nope. I’ve got no idea. It continues to be a great challenge, though, just based on what I’ve read/heard anyway. And the fact that it’s failed so many times doesn’t mean people should stop trying. I love watching the adaptations, even when they’re pretty bad. 

How was that for long and rambly? 😀  Answering was a great break from the other not-so-happy junk I’m dealing with today, so thanks for the fun ask and distraction for a bit. 

[Oh, and if anyone out there wants to dream-cast Dunwich, I’m all for it despite my inability to offer any specific names/ideas. I’m sure others will do much, much better.]

M.S. Corley’s Wilbur Whateley

image

Hey! Thank you. I thought I’d post a more thorough (eh, kinda) response to your message since there are at least a few Dunwich fans who follow and someone among ‘em might want to pitch in on this later. I mean, you’ve essentially asked us to dream-cast The Dunwich Horror, right? Right? Okay, you didn’t actually ask for that, but you may get it from somebody now anyway. ha To your question, I would be open to anyone who’s not “conventionally attractive” (feel free to define that however you’d like) and who is of a height and build that would lend something to that “not quite human” presentation and/shuffle. A lot of that can be done with practical effects, obviously, so the options are wiiiide-open in my book. [Sorry for the ‘keep reading,’ mobile users; what’s below is my windy rhapsodizing over some theory related to the difficulty of adapting HPL’s fiction; that’s about it]

I’m generally laid back with this sort of thing anyway. And there are plenty of great character actors out there who’d be great in that part; however, I don’t think it’s the actors who’ve been the problem with previous adaptations. The problem rests more with the (very often discussed) difficulty of turning HPL’s fiction into something film-able. I’m not sure if it’s active any more/haven’t checked, but there used to be a good Lovecraftian film site called “Unfilmable,” if that tells you anything. 

Eh, let me jump back and qualify “difficulty,” I guess: I mean turning a production into something that evokes the same sort of horror in the viewer as the stories often do in the reader—without having the revelation of the “monster” quickly degenerate into silliness b/c it’s so easily identifiable and familiar within the realm of human experience, first hand or fictional. I mean, if something’s supposed to be “so terrifying” that simply seeing it drives a person out of their mind, having the reveal be of the ubiquitously squishy tentacle creature is a little disappointing. 

image

from Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture

The same can be said for how any production chooses to address (or not address) the “Other” aspects of Wilbur, both physical and behavioral.

I won’t get too far into a theory tangent (fighting the impulse, fighting it), but I’ll just point to ONE text that suits this convo: Graham Harman’s Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. It’s a key text for Speculative Realists, and there’s plenty of discussion in it of what he refers to as Lovecraft’s “gaps.” Those gaps are important, and they’re really at the heart of the “unfilmable” quality of his stories. 

They’re also why I don’t think it matters who they cast as Wilbur unless there’s first a sort of intentional/aware, focused “shift” in their approach to translating the story from a written to visual form. They say that some of the best Lovecraft adaptations aren’t actually based on his stories for a reason, I think. [SN to anyone who might seek-out more on Harman via Wikipedia: the entry on Spec Realism is a bit of a mess, so take it with a grain of salt. There’s still some bickering going on among the folks who don’t like it, and that’s fine; however, it has bled-over onto that page repeatedly no matter how many times it’s adjusted/readjusted by whomever. Just go deeper if you choose to explore it. And if you enjoy cosmic horror, it’s worth the effort.]

image

Dean Stockwell as Wilbur (1970)

Finally (on those gaps), if you’ve seen those Tumblr posts in the past that say something along the lines of: “Lovecraft: this horror is unknowable, unnameable, indescribable. Lovecraft: describes the thing…“ (laughter ensues)…that’s essentially what Harman’s getting at. The joke’s fine, I suppose, at least on a very surface/mechanical level anyway. If you’ve ever read Lovecraft (I mean a general “you”) you recognize that rhetorical pattern, of course, but the dismissal misses (and misunderstands) the function of the “gap.”The “gap” exists somewhere between “the thing” and the flurry of attempts at describing it; it’s the intentionally-crafted disconnect between how something is described and the “thing” itself, the slippery space most folks look to fill with familiarity and recognition, even in their Horror (hey, Horror is a conservative genre, remember)…that comforting “human” experience, etc. (”Oh, it’s a tentacle” or “Oh, it’s an alien…it’s ‘just like’ a werewolf…that’s not scary…kill it, worship it”) That a horror-response is followed by a flurry of failed attempts at description just highlights the pitiful limitations of human perception and not, as that jokey post seems to imply, a failure with the writing. And it’s that same “space” that creates so much failure during the adaptation process, etc. Woefully simplified, but that’s my view of things anyway/my reading of Harman, etc. 

And all of that was to say, again, that I really don’t think it matters who plays Wilbur until those writers/directors explores the function of the “gap” in the story, as well as its effects upon readers and potential viewers (veiling, what “unknowabilty” means and how something “unperceivable” could ever translate into some visual form). Do I know how someone might do that? Oh, no way. Nope. I’ve got no idea. It continues to be a great challenge, though, just based on what I’ve read/heard anyway. And the fact that it’s failed so many times doesn’t mean people should stop trying. I love watching the adaptations, even when they’re pretty bad. 

How was that for long and rambly? 😀  Answering was a great break from the other not-so-happy junk I’m dealing with today, so thanks for the fun ask and distraction for a bit. 

[Oh, and if anyone out there wants to dream-cast Dunwich, I’m all for it despite my inability to offer any specific names/ideas. I’m sure others will do much, much better.]