The short story Dreams in the Witch House by H.P. Lovecraft is a devilishly good horror tale coming in at thirty pages or so. A few months back I reviewed the movie The Dark Sleep based on this very short story. You can read that review here. Having now read the story, I can compare the two, and I can unequivocally state that they are really quite different. The movie is only loosely based on the story; it had about three or four shared elements, and that’s it. Plus, the movie had a reasonably happy ending. Not so Dreams in the Witch House.
Anyway, the short story begins with the main character, Walter Gilman, living in a run-down garret in “changeless, legend-haunted city of Arkham …” Gilman is a student at a nearby university, caught up in studying advanced mathematics and quantum physics, as well as folklore. What has brought him to this particular building and the apartment therein, is his knowledge of said folklore. Apparently, the infamous witch (again, this is a witch with a Lovecraftian spin, not a practitioner of modern Wicca), Keziah Mason, of the Salem witch-trial days who escaped from Salem, and fled here to Arkham, along with a strange rat-like familiar that was often seen haunting the house and local area these many years later. The crux of the story is very much the crux of much of Lovecraft’s writing. He operates under the premise that advanced science and mathematics can be used to “rediscover” occult secrets; in this case, the secrets of witchcraft. As a result of his studies, Walter Gilman, while exploring the occult side of mathematics, using it to inadvertently travel across dimensions, is drawn into a confrontation with the ghost of Keziah Mason, and her hideous rat-like familiar, as well, one of Lovecraft’s personal favorites, Nyarlathotep … the crawling chaos. I won’t dwell on the final result; I’ll let the intrepid reader find out for him/herself.
Strengths: there was enough depth to keep the reader interested; the writing was typical Lovecraft with a masterful use of mood and surreal atmosphere that gave the tale a very haunting aspect. Weaknesses: I’d say the length: it was too short to be a novella, and too long to really be a short story. I guess it might qualify as a novelette, but I think it should have been expanded more into a novella. He had a lot going that could have enriched the story even more.
Anyway, I’ll give H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House four stars out of five.