If you read one terrifying tale of demoniacal creatures terrorizing the hills of Vermont, let it be this one. I’d call this story the masterpiece of the tyrant of terror, H. P. Lovecraft. Stephen King referred to Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” the best horror story ever written. With the greatest of respect to the “Master of Horror”, “The Whisperer in Darkness” actually made me afraid to sleep with the lights off. It frightened me so much; I even get chills every time someone mentions Vermont to me.
Lovecraft put a lot of thought into his monsters. As he wrote this piece in 1931, classic creatures like Frankenstein and Dracula had been around for decades. He needed to come up with something creative to horrify his readers. He sure did in this one. Here’s his description of the beasts.
They were pinkish things about five feet long; with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membranous wings and several sets of articulated limbs, and with a sort of convoluted ellipsoid, covered with multitudes of very short antennae, where a head would ordinarily be. (Location 10753)
After reading this, mummies, zombies and witches don’t seem so scary; they’re also much better looking.
The narrator of the story cited a written account of the creatures. I liked how the author managed to work in some setting.
Briefly summarized, it hinted at a hidden race of monstrous beings which lurked somewhere among the remoter hills—in the deep woods of the highest peaks, and the dark valleys where streams trickle from unknown sources. (Location 10760)
This sure isn’t the Vermont I remember from the Newhart show.
Lovecraft came up with an exceptional plot for this story. Albert N. Wilmarth, a professor at Miskatonic University received a series of letters from Henry Wentworth Akeley, a resident of the hills the creatures inhabit. In each missive, Akeley described with accelerating intensity how he feared for his life. Here’s an excerpt from one of his last.
I think I am going crazy. It may be that all I have ever written you is a dream or madness. It was bad enough before, but this time it is too much. They talked to me last night—talked in the cursed buzzing voice and told me things that I dare not repeat to you. I heard them plainly over the barking of the dogs, and once where they were drowned out a human voice helped them. Keep out of this, Wilmarth—it is worse than either you or I ever suspected. They don’t mean to let me get to California now—they want to take me off alive, or what theoretically and mentally amounts to alive—not only to Yuggoth, but beyond that—away outside the galaxy and possibly beyond the last curved rim of space. I told them I wouldn’t go where they wish, or in the terrible way they propose to take me, but I’m afraid it will be no use. My place is so far out that they may come by day as well as by night before long. Six more dogs killed, and I felt presences all along the wooded parts of the road when I drove to Brattleboro today. (Location 11180)
Now here’s where the story really got scary. What follows is a section of a letter Akeley sent to Wilmarth a few days later.
It gives me great pleasure to be able to set you at rest regarding all the silly things I’ve been writing to you. I say “silly”, although by that I mean my frightened attitude rather than my descriptions of certain phenomena….In the past I have warned you not to come to see me. Now that all is safe, I take pleasure in rescinding that warning and inviting you…Bring along that phonograph record and all my letters to you as consultative data—we shall need them in piecing together the whole tremendous story. You might bring the Kodak prints, too, since I seem to have mislaid the negatives and my own prints in all this recent excitement. (Location 1294)
The professor accepted the invitation. Apparently, instructors at Miskatonic don’t share the acumen of their Harvard counterparts. As Wilmarth narrated the story, I knew he survived to tell it. Lovecraft’s ability to keep me engaged and trembling as I continued reading served as a true testament to his genius.
My only issue with “The Whisperer in Darkness” involved the lack of dialog. The choice of an erudite narrator made the language a bit stilted. A little interaction between characters may have helped make the story easier to read. I admit though, that Lovecraft’s dialog came across as overformal as his narration in his other stories.
As Halloween is coming up, now would be a great time to explore “The Whisperer in Darkness.” To get the full effect, try reading it in the dark on an e-reader. It will help to enhance the terrifying mood of the story. Just be prepared to sleep with the lights on afterwards.