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Short Stories Challenge – Dreams In The Witch-House by H.P. Lovecraft from the Collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

By Bibliobeth @bibliobeth1

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What’s Dreams In The Witch-House all about?:

Dreams In The Witch-House is the story of a mathematics whizz who stays in an room rumoured to be haunted by an old witch and her frightening familiar and comes to somewhat of a sticky end himself as the Witches Sabbath approaches and her power over him grows.

What did I think?:

Let me put this out there straight away – this was NOT one of my favorite short stories by H.P. Lovecraft in this collection. Before I started my Short Stories Challenge, I hadn’t actually read anything by the author and from the tales I have read so far, I seem to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with his work. He is a bit of a force to be reckoned with and was a pioneer in the genre at the time he was writing but his stories so far have been a bit of a mixed bag for me.

Our main character is a scholar of mathematics called Walter Gilman and the story is set in the small superstitious town of Arkham, famed for its multitude of hidey holes where witches fled to escape their persecutors in the 17th century. The particular room in which Walter is staying was the prison of one of the more notorious and dangerous witches, Keziah Mason where, legend has it, there was no feasible explanation for her escape past her gaoler whom when questioned, turned into a gibbering wreck who mumbled that all he saw was a terrible, “white-fanged furry thing.”

Walter is studying mathematics and its link with local folklore – more specifically, those dimensions known and unknown to us and is investigating the link between these unknown realms and strange lines and curves that were painted by the witch Keziah just before her escape. They appear to point to an otherworldly place in time and space that can be visited but has incredibly dark undertones and is clearly the work of evil and malign forces. Local rumours in the town speak of the presence of human tooth marks in sleeping people, strange smells, violet lights, cries of children and of course, the furry white fanged being which is thought to be the witch’s familiar. It was thought to carry messages between the witch and the Devil and sustained itself by suckling on the witch’s blood. Stranger still, it even has a name – Brown Jenkin and has the appearance of a “good-sized rat” with startlingly human features.

As the Witches Sabbath on May Eve draws closer things dramatically worsen for Walter. What has started out as rather feverish dreams turns into sleep-walking and more terrifying dreams where the old crone Keziah and Brown Jenkin edge closer and closer to him. They are trying to get him to come with him somewhere beyond human comprehension and do unspeakable things and he seems to have no control over himself and his actions while he is dreaming. As a result, as the dreaded day approaches and once more, a child goes missing from the town (which the townspeople seem to be expecting), he cannot have had anything to do with it – can he?

So, this seems like quite an exciting premise for a story and I have to say the only reason I stuck with it was that I was intrigued as to how it was all going to turn out. However, it was SUCH a slog to get there! I’m not sure if it was all the mathematics that put me off – any mention of maths tends to go a bit over my head and make me shudder but it just read in a very over-complicated way that didn’t interest me at all. On a positive note, I did quite enjoy the ending where the tension seemed to go up a notch but for the effort it took to get there, I’m afraid it wasn’t worth it.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Enough Of This Shit Already by Tony Black from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7


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