Dunwich: Sources and Ideas for Writers

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July 23, 2015 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

Having covered Kingsport previously, we now head along the Aylesbury Pike a rather long way, turning at Dean’s Corners, to Dunwich…


Lovecraft only wrote a single story set there, 1928’s “The Dunwich Horror“.  (He also name-checked it in the poem “The Ancient Track” (1930), if you want to get into the finer details… which I do, of course.)  HPPodcraft covered the story over 4 episodes – 1 2 3 4.

Keith Herber integrated Lovecraft’s vision of Dunwich with the Hyperboreans stories of Clark Ashton Smith, making it the village also the site of an ancient Hyperborean settlement.  For an introduction to Smith’s Hyperborean tales a good place to begin is on the website, in particular Laurence J. Cornford’s “A Hyperborean Glossary“, which is not just a collection of every Hyperborean term and proper name that Smith invented, but includes a useful list of all of Smith’s stories set in Hyperborea as well.  Conveniently, all of Smith’s stories can be found on the same site.  If you don’t want to read them all, the Double Shadow podcast (which discussed Smith’s weird fiction) has you covered – Huzzah! Foum wine for all!


Inspirational Places

Sentinel Elm in Athol, Massachusetts

“Meanwhile I was receiving urgent invitations from the learned Mrs. Miniter, now residing with a cousin on her ancestral rural soil of Wilbraham, to extend my round of visiting to her part of the Province; which is but a little south of Athol, across that lovely Swift River Valley now doom’d to extinction for reservoir purposes.”
– Lovecraft to his Aunt Lillian, July 1, 1928.

Lovecraft’s inspiration from Dunwich came from a variety of source, but foremost among these was a visit to Edith Miniter’s home in Wilbraham, Massachusetts in the summer of 1928.  There’s some interesting discussion of Lovecraft’s visit to Wilbraham in David Haden’s Lovecraft in Historical Context vol IV; see “The terribly nice old ladies : Miniter and Beebe at Wilbraham.” on page 49, from which I obtained the above quote.

Other likely sources were a visit to Athol in the same year (see David Haden on that, especially the Sentinel Elm), and a hike to the Bear’s Den water fall (see below).  I myself made a visit, perhaps unwise considering the season, to some of these places in the winter of 2011-12.  See also my earlier post on whippoorwills.


“…there were a Rattling and Rolling, Groaning, Screeching, and Hissing, such as no Things of this Earth cou’d raise up, and which must needs have come from those Caves that only black Magick can discover, and only the Divell unlock.

Lovecraft hinted that there might be some underground chambers beneath Dunwich – Keith Herber located (and populated) a massive cavern complex beneath the village.  While geologically there are very few caves in Massachusetts and greater New England, the best source for these is 1939’s sadly out of print Underground New England (reprinted in 1846 as New England’s Buried Treasure), by Clay Perry, who himself would make an interesting NPC in the 1920s.

Megaliths and strange stones

Burnt Hill site in Heath, Massachusetts

The summits are too rounded and symmetrical to give a sense of comfort and naturalness, and sometimes the sky silhouettes with especial clearness the queer circles of tall stone pillars with which most of them are crowned.

While it was published in 1946, William Goodwin’s The Ruins of Great Ireland in New England is a useful resource when it comes to the sorts of stone structures (and naturally occurring formations) that have been taken up by various flavors of Pre-Columbian contact theorists – basically any Old World group claimed to have created some sites in the Americas.  This particular work promotes the notion of an Irish settlement of parts of New England in the 9th century and helped to make famous ‘Mystery Hill’ (aka “America’s Stonehenge”) in North Salem, New Hampshire.  Goodwin, of course, was busy roaming about New England in the 1920s looking for evidence of ancient stone structures and he would make a great real-life NPC to encounter in Dunwich…

The modern incarnation of this notion is the organization NEARA – the New England Antiquities Research Association.  As they describe themselves: “From our modest beginnings as an outgrowth of the work of William B.Goodwin and his 1946 The Ruins of Great Ireland in New England, since 1964 NEARA has grown like a stone in the water spreading like ripples into waves of expanding interests and disciplines. Whether by land or sea we have followed the currents of northern culture from the ice age to the last century.  Who are we? Are we a diffusionist organization chasing early voyages to the “new world over many millennia? Or maybe we are an alternative archeological society using astronomy, dowsing and other esoteric methods of studying the past, or a lithic sites study group, running around in the woods looking for odd bits of stone piled up in strange ways.”

The Moodus Noises

Noises in the hills continued to be reported from year to year, and still form a puzzle to geologists and physiographers.

Lovecraft’s inspiration here was almost certainly Connecticut’s so-called Moodus Noises, about which see this site as a start.

Unusual Geology

Bear’s Den Falls

Gorges and ravines of problematical depth intersect the way” 

Dunwich has exceptionally rough terrain for Massachusetts, though these rocky spots are not unknown in the Bay State.

“…others try to explain the Devil’s Hop Yard—a bleak, blasted hillside where no tree, shrub, or grass-blade will grow…

There is a real Devil’s Hopyard in Connecticut, very near to Moodus…

Role-playing Games:

As seen above, there is a sourcebook for Dunwich for the Call of Cthulhu RPG.  Written by Keith Herber in 1991, Return to Dunwich was reprinted in 2002; for the differences between editions, see the preceding link.

As would be expected, there are a small number of scenarios set in Dunwich – see here for a list.  As for secondary materials, there is my article “Saucer Attack 1928! The Dunwich ‘Horror'” from The Unspeakable Oath #21, which presents the incidents from the titular story through the lens of 20th century UFO lore.

As with our earlier post on Kingsport, feel free to post comments and suggestions of other useful sources for articles and scenarios.

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