The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Title: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
Publisher (read edition): Del Rey

Lovecraft is one of those writers that you either love or hate. But despite how you feel about him, it is undeniable his influence on modern dark fiction. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is an example of all of that. One of the backbone stories of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, it tells the tale of the eponymous character in his research into an ancient relative with a sinister history. True to a trait of any Lovecraft story, the search for knowledge that humankind is not ready for leads to disastrous and disturbing fates.

What a lot of people don’t care for about Lovecraft is the writing, mostly the tendency to write in a more archaic tone and vocabulary. It the first third of the book, it is one of the heaviest uses of that style, and is the weakest point in the story. Now, it makes sense since he trying to write about events between the Salem witch trials and the American Revolution. But it is a style that, even in the 1920’s and 30’s was uncommon to read, let alone today.

But if you can get through that section, you do read a great, disturbing tale. Lovecraft proved, in this and other stories, that the terrors you can’t seen are the most terrifying. Through the rest of the book sounds of uncanny and weird goings-on are a subtle soundtrack. Lovecraft, despite the prose, does manage to show how the atmosphere affect the characters. Now, we do see somethings, like the degradation of Ward’s appearance and mind, but also of “specimens” and other arcane elements that Lovecraft never gives a full picture of. Many say it is to let the reader fill in the blanks and create their own terror. But he was just staying true to something he believed: There are just something humans cant comprehend because we are so small in comparison to the rest of the universe. By trying to describe the unknowable is to state you think you do know it. In that way, the terrors of this and other Lovecraft stories are possibly the most terrifying in literature.

The ending my feel predictable, but then, this kind of mystery has been used in different genres so many times since The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was first published. And it still affected by the style of writing that emphasis of dramatic middles with a falling action, ending in a dénouement like the greek and Shakespearean dramas. While a major influence of modern fiction, it can’t be read like modern fiction. That wasn’t Lovecraft’s intent.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, while not an introductory story for Lovecraftian tales, is still a key text to what it means to be Lovecraftian.

Horror Reader Level: Intermediate

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Title: The Trial
Author: Franz Kafka
Publisher: Various

I’m sure that those not haven’t read much horror are surprised by this Spotlight. Kafka has influenced much of the literary world. But to say that a story of his is a horror story, I’m sure there are few trying to hold back the “blasphemous.” And I’m not that surprised. I bet there are even those that would say “The Metamorphosis” is more horror than The Trial. And then I would remind those people that for a very long time, horror was as much about psychological horror as it was supernatural, which seems to have more of a dominating stance these days.

Atmospheric horror is a tradition that has been around for a long time, but it could be said it got a boost from H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos. Even now, writers look to him to figure out how to create a world that permeates the fears they want to invoke. Doing this forms a setting for a story where you never know what is around the next corner, or in the shadows, or behind the closed door. It is the most effective methods of Horror, which is why The Trial has found its way here. Kafka, a decade or so before Lovecraft, created a tale that was quintessential atmospheric horror.

Through out this story, Josef K. is haunted by the mysterious Court and Law. First thought of as actual entities, Court and Law soon become ever present forces in K.’s life. Their minions show up where ever they want. They can completely alter the life of those they wish. And fighting them seems to be a Sisyphean task. In some ways, it is more effective than most uses of atmospheric horror. As many draw from Lovecraft, his atmospheric horror is more of a cosmic horror (i.e. The malevolence is so grande and beyond comprehension that it more about the unknown that is terrifying) where Kafka’s horror is completely within our understanding. The idea that the you can be accused of crime, never being told what that crime is, not seeing the evidence of that crime to defend yourself, is one that has happened through out history. You can’t read this book and not feel the same suffocation K. Feels as the power of the Court bear down on him, because we have all had moment or will have a moment just like that.

The Trial is just the first example of how horror exists outside the Horror genre. Proof that even if you don’t read Horror book, you most likely have read Horror stories.

Horror Reading Level: Beginner

Kevin Lucia Quickfire

Today we are honored to have Kevin Lucia answer our questions on horror as not only a writer, but a teacher and a reviewer. He has read and analyzed many permutations of Horror fiction and has added his own brand with great success.

This interview is also a part of a month long blog tour. Check out all the other interviews and guest blog post Kevin has done this month. Kevin is also holding a contest for a free copy of his book Hiram Grange and the Chosen One over on Goodreads.

Continue reading “Kevin Lucia Quickfire”