The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

by H.P. Lovecraft

“. . . do not calle up That which you can not put downe”

Dependent upon your specific definition, this is the only novel written by Lovecraft. His other works of some length beyond short stories do not reach the word count of this tale and are generally considered novellas.

Charles Ward, born into prosperity, dives deeply into the occult world attempting to uncover information about his ancestor Curwen, a long-dead wizard prosecuted and killed in Salem with whom Charles shares an uncanny physical resemblance. The townspeople grow increasingly alarmed and force Charles into an asylum while his doctor attempts to uncover the circumstances surrounding Charles’ supposed madness.

Many mystery elements are present in the story, and much of the plot is driven through questions the characters are asking themselves or from interpretations of intercepted letters meant for one of the occultists. Lovecraft exhibits a high degree of familiarity with the arcane here, and it comes off completely natural.

There is no shortage of the horror Lovecraft is known for. Mostly of a slow-burning, creeping kind, there are no boisterous shocks to keep the audience frightened. There is, however, one particularly memorable scene where the horror is realized in a much more literal way, though with none of the blood and guts, torture or dismemberment prevalent today. All told we’re invited to follow along if we can, and in doing so experience the same dread the characters are.

Lovecraft is an acquired taste. Many of us are probably constantly reading comments about how bad his writing was. These comments would be originating from a lack of experience with the obfuscating style and incorrect that the style in itself is poor. While the author’s stories can sometimes leave us sitting there blinking after finishing, wondering why we bothered, a bit of experience with him can put those days behind us. Nearly everyone loves riding a jet ski for the first time, but not everyone feels the same about surfing. One is extremely approachable to just about all, and the other takes a great deal of patience and practice to unlock the mysteries.

Published posthumously, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a fairly complex, maddening horror story of the occult. It’s tough to recommend to those yet uninitiated or unaccustomed to the world of Lovecraft, but for those who have come up against Lovecraft’s wall and have pushed through: you’re going to love it.

4 stars


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