The Dreams in the Witch House

The Dreams in the Witch House

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Encyclopedia
"The Dreams in the Witch House" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft --often credited as H.P. Lovecraft — was an American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction....

, part of the Cthulhu Mythos
Cthulhu Mythos
The Cthulhu Mythos is a shared fictional universe, based on the work of American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft.The term was first coined by August Derleth, a contemporary correspondent of Lovecraft, who used the name of the creature Cthulhu - a central figure in Lovecraft literature and the focus...

 genre of horror fiction
Horror fiction
Horror fiction also Horror fantasy is a philosophy of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, inducing feelings of horror and terror. It creates an eerie atmosphere. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural...

. Written in January/February 1932
1932 in literature
The year 1932 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*E. V. Knox replaces Sir Owen Seaman as editor of Punch magazine.*Samuel Beckett's first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, is rejected by several publishers....

, it was first published in the July 1933
1933 in literature
The year 1933 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* February 17 - The magazine Newsweek is published for the first time.* James Joyce's Ulysses is allowed into United States.-New books:...

 issue of Weird Tales
Weird Tales
Weird Tales is an American fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine first published in March 1923. It ceased its original run in September 1954, after 279 issues, but has since been revived. The magazine was set up in Chicago by J. C. Henneberger, an ex-journalist with a taste for the macabre....

.

Inspiration


"The Dreams in the Witch House" was likely inspired by the lecture The Size of the Universe given by Willem de Sitter
Willem de Sitter
Willem de Sitter was a Dutch mathematician, physicist and astronomer.-Life and work:Born in Sneek, De Sitter studied mathematics at the University of Groningen and then joined the Groningen astronomical laboratory. He worked at the Cape Observatory in South Africa...

 which Lovecraft attended three months prior to writing the story. Several prominent motifs—including the geometry and curvature of space, and a deeper understanding of the nature of the universe through pure mathematics—are covered in de Sitter's lecture. The idea of using higher dimensions of non-Euclidean space as short cuts through normal space can be traced to A. S. Eddington's
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, OM, FRS was a British astrophysicist of the early 20th century. He was also a philosopher of science and a popularizer of science...

 The Nature of the Physical World which Lovecraft alludes to having read (SL III p 87
Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft III (1929-1931)
Selected Letters III is a collection of letters by H. P. Lovecraft. It was released in 1971 by Arkham House in an edition of 2,513 copies...

).

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia says that "The Dreams in the Witch House" was "heavily influenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

's unfinished novel Septimius Felton"..

Plot summary


Walter Gilman, a student of mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 and folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 at Miskatonic University
Miskatonic University
Miskatonic University is a fictional university located in Arkham; a fictitious town which is said to exist in Essex County, Massachusetts. It is named after the Miskatonic River . After first appearing in the H. P...

, takes a room in the Witch House, a house in Arkham
Arkham
Arkham is a fictional city in Massachusetts, part of the Lovecraft Country setting created by H. P. Lovecraft and is featured in many of his stories, as well as those of other Cthulhu Mythos writers....

 thought to be accursed. The first part of the story is an account of the history of the house, which has once harboured Keziah Mason, an accused witch who disappeared mysteriously from a Salem
Salem, Massachusetts
Salem is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 40,407 at the 2000 census. It and Lawrence are the county seats of Essex County...

 gaol in 1692. Gilman discovers that for the better part of two centuries many if not most of its occupants have died prematurely.

The dimensions of Gilman's room in the house are unusual, and seem to conform to a kind of unearthly geometry
Geometry
Geometry arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. Geometry was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers ....

 that Gilman theorizes can enable travel from one plane or dimension to another. In his dream
Dream
Dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not definitively understood, though they have been a topic of scientific speculation, philosophical intrigue and religious...

s Gilman is taken to a city of Lovecraft's "Elder Things", and even brings back tangible evidence that he's actually been there. Several times his dreaming self encounters a bizarre "congeries of iridescent, prolately spheroidal bubbles", as well as a trapezoidal figure, both of which seem sapient.

Of much more direct concern, however, are Gilman's nightly dream sojourns with the old hag Keziah Mason and her rat-bodied, human-faced familiar
Familiar spirit
In European folklore and folk-belief of the Medieval and Early Modern periods, familiar spirits were supernatural entities believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic...

 Brown Jenkin, sojourns which he increasingly believes are actually happening in the real world. One night, Gilman dreams Keziah, Brown Jenkins, and the infamous "Black Man
Nyarlathotep
Nyarlathotep, also known as the Crawling Chaos, is a malign deity in the Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe created by H. P. Lovecraft. First appearing in Lovecraft's 1920 prose poem of the same name, he was later mentioned in other works by Lovecraft and by other writers and in the tabletop...

" force him to be an accomplice in the kidnapping of an infant. He awakes to find mud on his shoe and news of the kidnapping in the newspaper.

On May Eve (Walpurgis Night
Walpurgis Night
Walpurgis Night is a traditional spring festival on 30 April or 1 May in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. It is often celebrated with dancing and with bonfires. It is exactly six months from All Hallows' Eve.-Name:...

), Gilman dreams that he thwarts Keziah from sacrificing
Human sacrifice
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings as part of a religious ritual . Its typology closely parallels the various practices of ritual slaughter of animals and of religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice has been practised in various cultures throughout history...

 the baby, only to have it killed by Brown Jenkin. Coming back to wakefulness in this plane, Gilman hears an unearthly cosmic sound that leaves him deaf. The next morning, Gilman is found dead in his room in the Witch House, a hole burrowed through his chest and his heart eaten out.

The landlord then abandons the house completely, and when it is finally demolished years later, a space between the walls is found filled with children's bones, a sacrificial knife, and a bowl made of some metal that scientists are unable to identify. A strange stone statuette of a star-headed "Elder Thing" is also found, and these items go on display in the Miskatonic University museum, where they continue to mystify scholars
Academia
Academia is the community of students and scholars engaged in higher education and research.-Etymology:The word comes from the akademeia in ancient Greece. Outside the city walls of Athens, the gymnasium was made famous by Plato as a center of learning...

.

Walter Gilman


Walter Gilman, formerly of Haverhill, Massachusetts
Haverhill, Massachusetts
Haverhill is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 60,879 at the 2010 census.Located on the Merrimack River, it began as a farming community that would evolve into an important industrial center, beginning with sawmills and gristmills run by water power. In the...

, came to Miskatonic to study "non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics", which he linked to the "fantastic legends of elder magic". He is troubled by mental tension brought on by studying too hard, and at one point is forbidden by his professors to further consult Miskatonic's collection of rare books, including the Necronomicon
Necronomicon
The Necronomicon is a fictional grimoire appearing in the stories by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and his followers. It was first mentioned in Lovecraft's 1924 short story "The Hound", written in 1922, though its purported author, the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in...

, the Book of Eibon and Unaussprechlichen Kulten
Unaussprechlichen Kulten
Unaussprechlichen Kulten is a fictional work of arcane literature in the Cthulhu Mythos. The book first appeared in Robert E. Howard's short stories "The Children of the Night" and "The Black Stone" as Nameless Cults. Like the Necronomicon, it was later mentioned in several stories by H. P...

.

Keziah Mason


Keziah Mason was an old woman of Arkham who was arrested as part of the Salem witch trials
Salem witch trials
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before county court trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693...

 of 1692. In her testimony to Judge John Hathorne
John Hathorne
John Hathorne was an executor in the Salem witch trials, and the only one who never repented of his actions. He was also a merchant in Salem, Massachusetts....

, she had spoken of "lines and curves that could be made to point out directions leading through the walls of space to other spaces beyond.... She had spoken also of the Black Man, of her oath, and of her new secret name of Nahab." She later disappeared mysteriously from Salem Gaol, leaving behind "curves and angles smeared on the grey stone walls with some red, sticky fluid" that were inexplicable even to Cotton Mather
Cotton Mather
Cotton Mather, FRS was a socially and politically influential New England Puritan minister, prolific author and pamphleteer; he is often remembered for his role in the Salem witch trials...

. Gilman comes to suspect that Mason--"a mediocre old woman of the Seventeenth Century"--had developed "an insight into mathematical depths perhaps beyond the utmost modern delvings of Planck, Heisenberg, Einstein, and de Sitter
Willem de Sitter
Willem de Sitter was a Dutch mathematician, physicist and astronomer.-Life and work:Born in Sneek, De Sitter studied mathematics at the University of Groningen and then joined the Groningen astronomical laboratory. He worked at the Cape Observatory in South Africa...

."

Mason is described as having a "bent back, long nose, and shrivelled chin". She wears an expression "of hideous malevolence and exultation", and has a "croaking voice". She dresses in "shapeless brown garments".

Critics have noted with some surprise that Mason is "struck with panic" at the sight of a crucifix
Crucifix
A crucifix is an independent image of Jesus on the cross with a representation of Jesus' body, referred to in English as the corpus , as distinct from a cross with no body....

.

Brown Jenkin


Brown Jenkin, Mason's familiar
Familiar spirit
In European folklore and folk-belief of the Medieval and Early Modern periods, familiar spirits were supernatural entities believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic...

, is "a small white-fanged furry thing", "no larger than a good-sized rat", which for years haunts the witch house and Arkham
Arkham
Arkham is a fictional city in Massachusetts, part of the Lovecraft Country setting created by H. P. Lovecraft and is featured in many of his stories, as well as those of other Cthulhu Mythos writers....

 in general, "nuzzl[ing] people curiously in the black hours before dawn". The creature is described:

The Black Man


In his dreams, Gilman is introduced by Mason to
This character is later identified as "the immemorial figure of the deputy or messenger of hidden and terrible powers--the 'Black Man' of the witch-cult, and the 'Nyarlathotep
Nyarlathotep
Nyarlathotep, also known as the Crawling Chaos, is a malign deity in the Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe created by H. P. Lovecraft. First appearing in Lovecraft's 1920 prose poem of the same name, he was later mentioned in other works by Lovecraft and by other writers and in the tabletop...

' of the Necronomicon
Necronomicon
The Necronomicon is a fictional grimoire appearing in the stories by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and his followers. It was first mentioned in Lovecraft's 1924 short story "The Hound", written in 1922, though its purported author, the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in...

."Also to be noted, a later reference to markings on the floor Gilman finds among his own footprints suggest the Black Man has cloven hooves instead of feet.

Father Iwanicki


There was a Father Iwanicki in an early draft of Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a novella by H. P. Lovecraft. Written in November-December 1931, the story was first published in April 1936; this was the only fiction of Lovecraft's published during his lifetime that did not appear in a periodical....

" (1931), but the character was excised from the final version.

Reaction


August Derleth
August Derleth
August William Derleth was an American writer and anthologist. Though best remembered as the first publisher of the writings of H. P...

's negative reaction to the unpublished story was conveyed by Lovecraft to another correspondent: "Derleth didn't say it was unsalable; in fact, he rather thought it would sell. He said it was a poor story, which is an entirely different and much more lamentably important thing." Lovecraft responded to Derleth: "[Y]our reaction to my poor "Dreams in the Witch House" is, in kind, about what I expected—although I hardly thought the miserable mess was quite as bad as you found it.... The whole incident shows me that my fictional days are probably over."

Thus discouraged, Lovecraft refused to submit the story for publication anywhere; without Lovecraft's knowledge, Derleth later submitted it to Weird Tales, which indeed accepted it.

Many later critics have shared Derleth's view. Lin Carter
Lin Carter
Linwood Vrooman Carter was an American author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as an editor and critic. He usually wrote as Lin Carter; known pseudonyms include H. P. Lowcraft and Grail Undwin.-Life:Carter was born in St. Petersburg, Florida...

 calls the story "a minor effort" that "remains singularly one-dimensional, curiously unsatisfying." Peter Cannon
Peter Cannon
Peter H. Cannon is an H. P. Lovecraft scholar and an author of Cthulhu Mythos fiction.Cannon first made his name in Lovecraft studies with his graduate theses written in the 1970s - A Case for Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Lovecraft's New England...

 claims that "most critics agree" that "The Dreams in the Witch House" ranks with "The Thing on the Doorstep
The Thing on the Doorstep
"The Thing on the Doorstep" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft, part of the so-called Cthulhu Mythos universe of horror fiction. It was written in August 1933, and first published in the January 1937 issue of Weird Tales.-Inspiration:...

" as "the poorest of Lovecraft's later tales." S. T. Joshi
S. T. Joshi
Sunand Tryambak Joshi — known as S. T. Joshi — is an award-winning Indian American literary critic, novelist, and a leading figure in the study of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and other authors of weird and fantastic fiction...

 referred to the tale as "one of [Lovecraft's] poorest later efforts."

Recently, more favorable criticism of "Dreams" has appeared. Weird Tales
Weird Tales
Weird Tales is an American fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine first published in March 1923. It ceased its original run in September 1954, after 279 issues, but has since been revived. The magazine was set up in Chicago by J. C. Henneberger, an ex-journalist with a taste for the macabre....

's current Lovecraft columnist, Kenneth Hite
Kenneth Hite
Kenneth Hite is a writer and role-playing game designer. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor's degree in Cartography from East Central University. He has been writing games since 1981 and full-time since 1995...

, calls the story "one of the purest and most important examples of sheer Lovecraftian cosmicism," suggesting that it is the most fully fleshed-out expression of the author's "From Beyond" motif, also explored in such stories as "The Music of Erich Zann," "Hypnos," and "The Hound."

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia
An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia
An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia is a reference work written by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. It covers the life and work of American horror fiction writer H. P...

complains that "[w]hile the tale contains vividly cosmic vistas of hyperspace
Hyperspace (science fiction)
Hyperspace is a plot device sometimes used in science fiction. It is typically described as an alternative region of space co-existing with our own universe which may be entered using an energy field or other device...

, HPL does not appear to have thought out the details of the plot satisfactorily.... It seems as if HPL were aiming merely for a succession of startling images without bothering to fuse them into a logical sequence."

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations


"The Dreams in the Witch House" was made into a short segment for Showtime cable television's Masters of Horror
Masters of Horror
Masters of Horror is an informal social group of international film writers and directors specializing in horror movies and an American television series created by director Mick Garris for the Showtime cable network.- Origin :...

series, directed by Stuart Gordon
Stuart Gordon
After the University of Wisconsin demanded future theatrical productions by Screw Theater be overseen by a University Professor, Gordon cut his University ties to form Broom Street Theater. Its first production, the new translation of the risque Lysistrata, premiered in May 1969. Gordon is...

, under the title H. P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch-House
H. P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch-House
H. P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch House is the second episode of the first season of Masters of Horror, directed by Stuart Gordon. It is adapted from the short story "The Dreams in the Witch House" by American horror author H. P. Lovecraft...

. It alternates the plot and minor details of the original and puts it in a contemporary setting, with Keziah Mason becoming what the film's promotional materials refer to as "a luscious she-demon" and neighbor Frank Elwood changing genders to become Frances Elwood.

"The Dreams in the Witch House" was brought to the stage in 2008 by WildClaw Theatre Company in Chicago, in conjunction with Weird Tales
Weird Tales
Weird Tales is an American fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine first published in March 1923. It ceased its original run in September 1954, after 279 issues, but has since been revived. The magazine was set up in Chicago by J. C. Henneberger, an ex-journalist with a taste for the macabre....

 Magazine's 85th anniversary, under the title "H. P. Lovecraft's The Dreams in the Witch House". It was adapted and directed by WildClaw Artistic Director Charley Sherman.

A much looser adaptation inspired by the tale was the 1968 Curse of the Crimson Altar
Curse of the Crimson Altar
Curse of the Crimson Altar is a 1968 British horror film directed by Vernon Sewell and starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele and Mark Eden. The film was produced by Lewis M. Heyward for Tigon British Film Productions. The film was released as The Crimson Cult in the United States....

(aka. The Crimson Cult, Witch House, The Crimson Altar). It starred Barbara Steele
Barbara Steele
Barbara Steele is an English film actress. She is best known for starring in Italian gothic horror films of the 1960s. Her breakthrough role came in Italian director Mario Bava's Black Sunday , now hailed as a classic.Steele starred in a string of horror films, including The Horrible Dr...

, Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ is an English actor and musician. Lee initially portrayed villains and became famous for his role as Count Dracula in a string of Hammer Horror films...

, Boris Karloff
Boris Karloff
William Henry Pratt , better known by his stage name Boris Karloff, was an English actor.Karloff is best remembered for his roles in horror films and his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster in Frankenstein , Bride of Frankenstein , and Son of Frankenstein...

, and Michael Gough
Michael Gough
Michael Gough was an English character actor who appeared in over 150 films. He is perhaps best known to international audiences for his roles in the Hammer Horror films from 1958, and for his recurring role as Alfred Pennyworth in all four movies of the Burton/Schumacher Batman franchise,...

.

The story and characters were adapted by the author Graham Masterton
Graham Masterton
Graham Masterton is a British horror author. Originally editor of Mayfair and the British edition of Penthouse, Graham Masterton's first novel The Manitou was released in 1976. This novel was adapted in 1978 for the film The Manitou...

, in his novel Prey.