Incantations of black magic unearthed unspeakable horrors in a quiet town near 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!
This novel has both good plotting and an otherworldly atmosphere that pervades the book. The setting is 1920's New England where there was a revival in interest in the occult. However, the key to the tale is the 18th Century New England scene that Lovecraft had a lifetime interest in.
The character of Charles Dexter Ward was based on Lovecraft himself: a lonely intellectual who was an antiquarian who detested the Industrial Revolution. Ward's research into the occult leads to the reincarnation of one of his ancestors who in turn hatches a plot with both Ward and one of Ward's friends for a mass resurrection of the dead who would become mindless zombies dedicated to both the destruction of heavy industry in America as well as the forced expulsion, if not mass murder, of the Roman Catholic immigrants who Lovecraft detested so much from America.
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a fantasy/horror novel that tells you a lot about its author. H.P. Lovecraft was a self-styled aristocrat from a decadent Old Money family who bitterly hated the Roman Catholic Church and especially the Irish and Italian immigrants who by 1928, when this novel was first published, had already assumed a position of political power at the expense of the WASP elite that Lovecraft was a member of. Clearly, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was reflective of Lovecraft's religious bigotry and his hateful tendencies towards certain ethnic and religious groups. It should come as no surprise that during the 1930's, Lovecraft frequently praised Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a uniquely powerful and compelling work by a master of horror fantasy.
The story, unfolding slowly but with an ever increasing pace, revolves around the uncanny relation between one Charles Dexter Ward -a young antiquarian of an old Providence family, quite an alter ego of Lovecraft himself- and his ancestor Joseph Curwen, a Salem warlock from the 17th century. The descriptions of old Providence and its surroundings are exceedingly beautiful and graphic and reveal much of H. P. L. 's affection for his hometown. The story, of course, also has its great moments of cosmic fear, and the accounts of the good people of Providence's raid against Joseph Curwen and that of Dr. Willett, the avuncular and benevolent medical doctor of Ward's family, descending into the sheer abyss of horror (without even a drop of blood being splattered) belong to the most frightening and effective episodes in all of horror literature.
Lovecraft delves deeply into occult lore and black magic, much more so than in most of his other stories, where he mainly relies on some name-dropping, usually of the Great Old Ones and his own invented grimoires (like the Necronomicon & Cie.) to provide a touch of witchcraft, but he does it with utmost effectiveness, in total contrast to many of his contemporaries (and successors). The reason for this is certainly that he was a complete non-believer concerning anything supernatural.Read more ›
Some of the previous reviewers have alluded to the rather plodding pace at the beginning but once the character of J. Curwen is introduced you literally will not be able to put the book down. Even the rather slow start of the story is very entertaining (esspecially the glowing language Lovecraft uses to describe Ward's ramblings in Providence - clearly Lovecraft has a special kinship for the historian in the book's title character).
The story itself is compelling and foreshadows many plot elements that were to become horror mainstays in later years. Interestingly, the typical Lovecraftian mythos here are not the central object of the story, but merely mentioned almost in passing. Curwen - his diabolical use of his young descendent, the noble yet hopelessly naive Ward and the brave Dr. Willet have all become horror archetypes. While these characterizations could be considered wooden and almost one dimensional, they none the less fit the mood and "feel" of the story perfectly.
Lovecraft also treats the reader to well crafted details. The small, minor details and difficulties Curwen experiences in 'modern' day Providence illustrates this perfectly. Curwen's detailed and yet still mysterious history and the town's efforts to expunge his evil from their community are a gripping joy to read and re-read.