The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Incantations of black magic unearthed unspeakable horrors in Providence, Rhode Island. Evil spirits are being resurrected from beyond the grave, a supernatural force so twisted that it kills without offering the mercy of death!Cover illustration: Michael Whelan...

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Title:The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
Author:H.P. Lovecraft
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward Reviews

  • Nickolas the Kid

    Μια παλιά κριτική στο METAL INVADER!!!

  • Stephen

    Let me be clear at the outset of this review that when it comes to the work of

    , I am definitely one who drinks deep the

    . For me his stories are something to be savored and relished; succulent, meaty feasts of atmosphere, hyper-lush imagery and dark melodrama dipped in dread. If you’ve read other works by HPL and have not been impressed or fallen under his spell, this story is not likely to change your mind. However, if you are already a wanton Lovecraft gourmand and have not yet sampled

    Let me be clear at the outset of this review that when it comes to the work of

    , I am definitely one who drinks deep the

    . For me his stories are something to be savored and relished; succulent, meaty feasts of atmosphere, hyper-lush imagery and dark melodrama dipped in dread. If you’ve read other works by HPL and have not been impressed or fallen under his spell, this story is not likely to change your mind. However, if you are already a wanton Lovecraft gourmand and have not yet sampled this tasty dish, you are in for a treat.

    The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is the longest work of fiction produced by Lovecraft and is his only novel coming in at about 180 pages. Much of the novel is told in epistolary format as a serious of diary entries, newspaper clippings, and quotes from journals and reports. In brief, the novel recounts the story of a brilliant young man, Charles Dexter Ward, who in the early 1900‘s undergoes a bizarre and unexplained “mental collapse” soon after becoming obsessed with one of his ancestors named Joseph Curwen. Curwen was a wealthy shipping merchant was was rumored to be a powerful and evil alchemist and sorcerer who, though almost 100 years old did not look more than 40 when he “died.”

    After young Charles Ward suffers his breakdown and mysteriously vanishes, his physician, Dr. Marinus Willett, begins investigating the weird goings on. We learn of the nefarious past of Ward’s ancestor and the rumors of diabolical acts that surrounded him during his life. As the mystery slowly unfolds, Willett eventually discovers...[insert mind-blowing and totally satisfying resolution].

    I don’t really want to go into any more detail because the slow unveiling of the mystery and the subtle clues and hints peppering the narrative that eventually all come together at the climax are quite impressive and part of the charm of the tale.

    However, I can’t help teasing you by offering that the central mystery touches on a plethora of cleverly integrated horror staples including vampirism, zombies, necromancy, black magic, alchemy, the

    and the

    , including the first mention of

    , the Lurker at the Threshold aka Opener of the Way...aka “He who is a Scary-multi-eyed-multi-mouthed-Ginormous-JELLO mold”...

    This story is really a seminal tale of the Cthulhu Mythos and one of the aspects I found most appealing is that Lovecraft creates a seriously spooky tension-filled atmosphere in this story without directly expounding on the cosmology of the “elder gods.” All the reader is told is of some vast conspiracy involving some “vast” and “nameless” malevolence from beyond the stars. It is a perfect example of the “less is more” technique for instilling maximum dread into the narrative.

    In sum, I thought this was outstanding. I’m not giving this quite 5 stars only because HPL’s prose is not as dripping with imagery as some of his more famous stories and the length of the novel left a little too much time for Lovecraft to discuss the architecture of Providence at the turn of the century which got a bit stale after a while. However, those minor nits aside, this is a definite

    for fans of HPL.

    4.5 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION.

  • Lyn

    The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft is definitely one of his best works and this is a high compliment, as I have liked almost all that I have read from him.

    This work, first published in 1927, combines most of the themes common to his works: occult, arcanery, unspeakable nighttime horrors, deep dark pits with unknown creatures, etc. even some hints of the Cthulu cult.

    The other element of this book that is noteworthy is the scope of influence that Lovecraft created. Innumerable hor

    The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft is definitely one of his best works and this is a high compliment, as I have liked almost all that I have read from him.

    This work, first published in 1927, combines most of the themes common to his works: occult, arcanery, unspeakable nighttime horrors, deep dark pits with unknown creatures, etc. even some hints of the Cthulu cult.

    The other element of this book that is noteworthy is the scope of influence that Lovecraft created. Innumerable horror genre books and movies have borrowed liberally from Lovecraft’s themes and even works like Harry Potter show semblances of Lovecraftian influence.

    If you like the horror genre, this is a must read, and if you have never read a Lovecraft work, this is a good one to start.

    A very good read.

  • mark monday

    Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

    I, Joseph Curwen, necromancer supreme, have rather a bone to pick (forgive my little joke). I have noticed many problems with your narrative The Case of

    .

    of all: that title. Surely you realize that

    am the protagonist of the tale - not the fey amateur Charles Dexter Ward? I do not think it is too much to ask that the title of your document correctly identify its leading personage.

    : I have noticed a strong bias against scholars of the so-called "dark" arts in your work - a

    Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

    I, Joseph Curwen, necromancer supreme, have rather a bone to pick (forgive my little joke). I have noticed many problems with your narrative The Case of

    .

    of all: that title. Surely you realize that

    am the protagonist of the tale - not the fey amateur Charles Dexter Ward? I do not think it is too much to ask that the title of your document correctly identify its leading personage.

    : I have noticed a strong bias against scholars of the so-called "dark" arts in your work - a bias that clearly and unfairly slants your narrative in favor of such laughable nonentities as that impressionable youth, his hysterical parents, his meddling doctor, etc, as well as towards questionable groups such as the unimaginative bourgeoisie and the overly imaginative lower classes, and various small-minded institutions including the Church and the Mental Ward. Your insufferable bias against such studies - indeed, against all those who would bravely dig up graves, retrieve bodies, revive those bodies, and proceed to imprison, interrogate, and torture those revived bodies until certain ancient bits of knowledge are at last shared - is not just regrettable and close-minded, but genuinely insulting on a personal and professional level. For shame, sir, for shame! Your prejudices do you no credit.

    : I find your general attitude towards a humble wizard such as myself, as well as towards my peers, we who only wish to remain immortal, even if it means possessing and discarding otherwise useless youths (like Charles Dexter Ward for example), so that we may come to learn ancient knowledge and thus reshape the world and all of mankind, for the better good no doubt, well... I just have to say that your entire attitude towards my lifestyle choice is appallingly narrow-minded and shockingly judgmental. Very unbecoming behavior for a writer of 'horror' fiction!

    I will admit that there are many good things within your story. You have been accused of indulging in intensely theatrical purple prose; personally, I find your style of writing to be highly atmospheric, thrilling, and surprisingly enjoyable overall. The narrative itself is involving and even rather intricate. You have also been accused of tellnotshow-itis. I did see some of that in your lengthy flashback to my own story (the tragic tale of an unjustly accused and persecuted investigator of the supernatural - a former pillar of the community! oh how the small-minded love to tear down their betters!)... but that was merely a story within a story, told secondhand, and so I forgave it. Conversely, the last third of the novella - where the insufferable Dr. Willett finds my secret underground cavern and its attendant labs, cells, sacrificial altar, and deep well-cages for the unruly undead - is written in an exciting and tense

    style that I much appreciated. I was quite pleased with your descriptive powers and I cheered frequently at every gasp of horror uttered by the unimaginative and mulish Dr. Willett. And last but certainly not least, regarding the public accusations that detail your racism: as a necromancer who does not discriminate based on race when choosing my various living, dead, and undead victims, I was specifically on the look-out for any race-based judgments. I am happy to note that I saw no example of that sort of foolishness. Well, save for the black cat unfortunately named "Nig". That made me quite uncomfortable.

    But back to my grievances! Most repugnant of all: the ending. You seek to reduce me, sir, to conquer me as I have conquered death! I laugh in the face of that. Ha! Ha! Ha! From tiny particles of dust I shall rise again. And when I do, know that even your currently deceased state shall offer you no refuge.

  • Char

    That was just a sample of the type of writing found within this short novel by H.P. Lovecraft. Reading this reminded me how much I love this type of writing.

    I hereby vow to read more of Lovecraft

    That was just a sample of the type of writing found within this short novel by H.P. Lovecraft. Reading this reminded me how much I love this type of writing.

    I hereby vow to read more of Lovecraft's work this year. Yeah, I made a vow, baby. A vow!

  • Mir

    The blurb says:

    Rather amusing in retrospect, as the character doesn't seem to realize the danger until near the end; if the book were written from Ward's perspective, presumably he would be having a satisfying few years of progressing in his fascinating historical research. His family, too, is only mildly concerned, wishing he would write more often and maybe get a girlfriend. Only the

    The blurb says:

    Rather amusing in retrospect, as the character doesn't seem to realize the danger until near the end; if the book were written from Ward's perspective, presumably he would be having a satisfying few years of progressing in his fascinating historical research. His family, too, is only mildly concerned, wishing he would write more often and maybe get a girlfriend. Only the omniscient narrator is really worried.

    The Horror is mostly rather understated, but the monstrosities are classic Lovecraft:

    It's kind of sweet on some level that Lovecraft thinks it is fine for grown men to scream hysterically and maybe faint when they see scary stuff. Not the 18th century guys, though; they were made of sterner stuff back then and only have PTSD when the action is over.

    I enjoyed this book. It is not very scary, so don't be put off by the NAMELESS TERROR expressed by various characters. The prose is somewhat less purple than is oft Lovecraft's wont -- my impression is that he is a lot more lurid when writing about the Dreamlands and other Unknown exotic locations than when using real world settings (this is set in an area he knew himself, and that is clear from the descriptions of streets and houses and neighborhoods; it may be extra enjoyable if you are from this bit of New England yourself).

    My edition, which is the Creation Oneiros one, had enough typos to be mildly distracting, but on the plus side did not have the claustrophobically squashed print I've encountered in several Lovecraft reprints.

  • Sr3yas

    is the only lengthy work of Lovecraft classified as a novel rather than a novella. Lovecraft wrote this story in 1927, and as per legend, When HPL finished writing this novel he was so disappointed with the final draft that he decided to shelve it instead of publishing it, and only after Lovecraft's demise did this work found the light in 1941.

    is the only lengthy work of Lovecraft classified as a novel rather than a novella. Lovecraft wrote this story in 1927, and as per legend, When HPL finished writing this novel he was so disappointed with the final draft that he decided to shelve it instead of publishing it, and only after Lovecraft's demise did this work found the light in 1941.

    The Case tells the story of Charles and his obsession with his sinister 18th-century ancestor, Joseph Curwen, whose idea of hobbies were murdering people and conjuring ungodly creatures from distant abysses no man should ever venture upon. Kids, If any of you invent time travel, do not try an expedition to the 18th century. It was not a fun time.

    Anyways, Mr. Curwan, AKA Dark Wizard of Providence is long gone and his legacy was almost forgotten, thanks to the work of scared, yet sensible officials of the city.

    forgotten.

    Enter Charles Dexter Ward.

    If you've read enough Lovecraftian tales, you will see the footprints of this story in many of his acclaimed tales. I think when HPL shelved this story, he borrowed the interesting parts from the pages of the novel and dropped them in his short stories like

    and many more. Also, the plot and revelations of the novel are easily guessable after decades of reuse of these elements in horror medium, so don't expect any surprises here.

    Yet with Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, we get something special... Something wholesome. This is one of the rare HPL standalone tales which boasts complete backstories, fleshed out characters and a definite ending. Even though I knew exactly what's going to happen, I enjoyed the writing, especially the parts where Charles tracked down the gruesome history of his enigmatic ancestor and the sinister last act.

    Overall, this is a must-read for Lovecraft's fan club. After all, this is his only novel!

  • Apatt

    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

    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

    I felt that Lovecraft is preferable in smaller doses, that is when his stories are not novel (or even novella) length. It seems that when he gives himself elbow room with the longer format he overindulges his tendency to ramble, overwrite and include unnecessary details.

    reinforces this impression for me.

    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”

    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 tends to repeat himself with the description of funny smells, funny noises etc. The faux-archaic English passages are also hard to decipher. Lovecraft seems to aspire to be a literary prose stylist, unfortunately, his literary ambition exceeds his talent.

    A scene from this story

    The climax of the story is unexpected though, it makes the whole thing almost worthwhile. I also particularly like this passage:

    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

    . Exactly what it says on the tin. That anthology is the perfect Halloween read, I cannot say the same about

    .

  • Leonard Gaya

    (1927) is probably a culmination in Lovecraft’s career. After some short stories such as

    ,

    or

    , it is the first work of fiction that has the dimension of a full novel and goes over the themes he had previously developed. The investigation into a dark mystery —usually taking place around the town of Providence, Lovecraft’s place of residence. The discovery of a repulsive cult, most evocative of Alchemy, Qabalah or Voodoo —or rathe

    (1927) is probably a culmination in Lovecraft’s career. After some short stories such as

    ,

    or

    , it is the first work of fiction that has the dimension of a full novel and goes over the themes he had previously developed. The investigation into a dark mystery —usually taking place around the town of Providence, Lovecraft’s place of residence. The discovery of a repulsive cult, most evocative of Alchemy, Qabalah or Voodoo —or rather a depraved or primitive version of these esoteric practices. A hoard of letters or notes, written in a cryptic, foul language —including a copy of the

    by the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. Finally the unearthing of a ghastly secret, hidden in a stifling underground, that presents a threat of cosmic proportions.

    More specifically, Lovecraft probably wrote

    with Poe’s story,

    , in mind. In both cases, there is a fascination for the occult, for dead, dying or “undead” characters; for some dark form or science or witchcraft. Lovecraft also develops the theme of the

    , typical of the fantasy/science-fiction genre, from Stevenson’s

    to Gaiman’s

    .

    All in all, however, Lovecraft's story is perhaps overly complex for a short novel, with many irrelevant background descriptions and epistolary texts about colonial Rhode Island; or maybe too stretched out for a short story, which makes it a bit winding and difficult to follow.

    The

    TV series (starring the excellent Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) is, the way I see it, indirectly inspired by Lovecraft’s novella.

  • Alejandro

    A novella focused in the investigation of a psychiatrist about Charles Dexter Ward...

    ...medically certified insane, who escaped from a mental asylum (funny enough, while Arkham, Mass., inspired the famous

    ’s Arkham Asylum...

    ...it seems that there wasn’t any mental asylum in H.P. Lovecraft’s work named it in that way)...

    ...so the investigation of this psychiatrist who is obsessed with an ancestor involved in dark practices.

    But

    A novella focused in the investigation of a psychiatrist about Charles Dexter Ward...

    ...medically certified insane, who escaped from a mental asylum (funny enough, while Arkham, Mass., inspired the famous

    ’s Arkham Asylum...

    ...it seems that there wasn’t any mental asylum in H.P. Lovecraft’s work named it in that way)...

    ...so the investigation of this psychiatrist who is obsessed with an ancestor involved in dark practices.

    But sometimes, the past must be left in the past!

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