Have you read “the Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” by H.P. Lovecraft? Are you sure? I ask because, listen, I do a podcast called Appendix N. It’s me and another guy with my name (which he spells Geoff) talking about early to mid 20th century fantasy, often with one or two other guys on the grounds that they expressed interest to Geoff or maybe Jeff Greiner, who is like the executive producer of the podcast I guess? I don’t make these decisions, is all I’m saying. For a while now the podcast has been Jeff and Geoff Talk About HPL and REH because when you’re talking early to mid 20th century English-language fantasy, the big names are Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Robert Ervin Howard, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and we ran out of stuff to say about ERB.
Most recently we covered “the Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” HPL’s celebrated novella about a necromancer who tricks his descendant into resurrecting him, murders said descendent, and lives as him. Eventually his family and neighbors cotton to the way he looks at light bulbs and says stuff like ‘Forsooth! What cunning sorcery!’ or he’s listening to a radio and says ‘I say, this radio program reminds me of something Miles Standish told me on 3 June 1611,’ or the way he just apropos of nothing cries ‘ha ha! I am a necromancer from the seventeenth century who murdered Charles Dexter Ward, and these fools are none the wiser!’ Dude is not good at blending in, is my point. The authorities bring him to justice, more or less, and everyone lives happily ever after except for the dead descendent and his poor parents. It’s not bad! The racism that Lovecraft is so steeped in — what the ladies at Tor.com (who are doing basically the same thing as Geoff and me, but backwards and in heels) call the ‘the degenerate Dutch’ factor — is pretty mildly presented. I mean, not absent — this is Lovecraft, after all — but relatively light. Frankly if you want a full examination of the story you’re best off listening to the podcast episode.
The reason I bring it up here: until I sat down to re-read it as preparation for the discussion of the podcast, I had no idea I’d never read “the Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” I know there’s a chunk of HPL I haven’t red; stories that I understand to be lesser Lovecraft, like the bulk of his pre-1921 short stories. And I certainly haven’t read every item on Wikipedia’s bibliography, even when you limit it to the relatively brief period between 1926 and his death in 1937. Until I looked it up just now, I had no idea the man wrote a story called “Ibid” more or less simultaneously with “the Dunwich Horror.” (According to Wikipedia, because I know it’ll bug you: “Ibid” is a fictional biographical sketch of an imagined ancient philosopher named Ibidus, who supposedly coined all those quotes that are attributed to ibid. It’s a humor piece.)
But I did think I’d read all of the major Lovecraft canon, of which “the Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is certainly part. No doubt its length precluded its inclusion in the various Lovecraft reprint collections I read in junior high and high school. Somehow I never actually filled in the gap; I sought out At the Mountains of Madness and Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath but overlooked poor C. Dexter Ward. If I hadn’t read it for Appendix N only a few days earlier, I wouldn’t have noticed that a big chunk of the middle of Crooked, the Nixon-as-warlock/spy novel I told you about, is an homage. So this is the It that I Liked: double-check your HPL bibliography and confirm there aren’t any holes in your erudition that you aren’t already well aware of and have made your peace with.