H.P. Lovecraft and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Toward the end of my teenage years, in the late 1970s, I was curious about the writings of a fantasy/horror writer by the unusual name of H.P. Lovecraft.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s Weird Tales magazine writings and his Cthulhu mythos were relatively unknown in popular culture until much later when he became more widely recognized as a writer of distinction emanating out of the pulp magazine world of the 1920s and 1930s, along with such contemporaries as Conan The Destroyer author Robert E. Howard, whom I discovered through Marvel comic books, Fritz Leiber, and others. 

I would likely never have discovered Lovecraft’s writings until I was much older and his works filtered their way into more popular culture, were it not for a rock band formed by my friend’s brother choosing to go by the name Lovecraft (not be confused with the 1960s American band H.P. Lovecraft).

I learned that the band’s name was a reference to the fringe writer of weird pulp fiction, and as a fan of the band, I was naturally curious to check out their namesake. 

I bought my first H.P. Lovecraft book at a now long-gone Coles bookstore that used to be just south of the corner of Yonge and Dundas streets in downtown Toronto, where Dundas Square sits today, across from the Eaton Centre. The less popular categories of books were kept down the stairs in the basement, and that’s where I found a selection of H.P. Lovecraft books – on the Science Fiction and Fantasy shelves with authors like Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, Michael Moorcock, and J.R.R. Tolkien and their strange but intriguing fantastical book covers.

Lovecraft was a writer of short stories that were bundled into various anthologies, and amongst the books available was a single novel: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Having a preference for novels over short stories, I selected in 1979 TCCDW as my first H.P. Lovecraft purchase.

Over the years I have enjoyed the strange but immensely accessible writing of Lovecraft, who has since reached a heightened level of academic acceptability, with his works being recognized for their originality and studied in university classrooms, and Lovecraft being cited as an inspiration to best-selling horror authors such as Stephen King and Clive Barker. 

A number of years ago, Penguin books published his collected short stories in three volumes, with an introduction and notes by H.P. Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi, lending further “legitimacy” to Lovecraft’s contribution and literary influence. With the copyrights on his material having expired, single edition anthologies are now easily and inexpensively accessible in digital or traditional print.

Around the time of 1979, I also began learning to play the guitar and to write song lyrics. It appears that in January 1980 I had enough inspiration and time on my hands to attempt a retelling of Lovecraft’s novella in rhyme. I lay no claims to being a competent poet or lyric writer, but here is my retelling of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as I wrote it almost 40 years ago.

* * *

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

© 1980, 2019, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved
Based on the novella by H.P. Lovecraft
Here is the story of Charles Ward
And the evil world that he explored
The doctors had locked him away
But he escaped and he still lives today.

A man who mostly stayed indoors
He studied on the second floor
Books of old and ancient scripts
Whose secrets could be found in crypts.

A laboratory in the attic
He studied as would a fanatic
His parents became quite concerned
But he told them that he had to learn.

He ordered chemicals from everywhere
He bottled and labeled them with special care
Heavy wooden crates from far away
Were moved up to the attic when his parents were away.

His incantations of black magic
Made him sound like a lunatic
The door to the attic was always locked
Of what he studied he never talked.

From the attic his parents heard moans
And voices yet he was alone
Or so they thought, how could they suspect
The evil unearthed by black magic.

Charles was told that that was it
The neighours were complaining and the maid had quit
He agreed that they were right
But continued to work throughout the night.

Years went by and events occurred
Graves were robbed, some feared vampires lurked
Screams pierced the night in the little town
They seemed to come from underground.

By the river they found charred and twisted bones
Human or animal remained unknown
And a chemical odour which reminded one of death
Of the rotting decay of decomposing flesh.

It was now suspect that Charles was mad
So the doctor paid a visit to the lad
He talked like one who lived long ago
And of his recent past he did not know.

With his father’s permission he was locked away
Until he could find his sanity
Of his secret study and of weird events
Charles Ward refused to comment.

The townsfolk talked of Charles Ward
The blood he’d bought from the butcher store
The haunting screams and evil sounds
That seemed to come from underground.

Rumours told of ancient crypts
Underneath where Ward had lived
Where rituals occurred at night
And evil spirits came to life.

The doctor researched all he could
He studied things one never should
About the magic Ward had found
And what vileness lurked underground.

Of the trafficking of nightmare ghouls
Of bartered bones and ancient rules
Of ways to keep wise brains alive
In youthful bodies where they’d survive.

Of ‘essential saltes’ to raise the dead
To put them down – what must be said
Of secret rites behind closed doors
And caverns which must be explored.

In Charles’ basement the secret was found
A trap door which led underground
A black well filled with noxious air
He descended down the slimy stairs.

A godless sound faint to his ears
A soulless howl in the depth of fear
He stood in an ancient hall twelve feet high
With cobwebs, dust, and a fear he would die.

As he wandered the dark halls the evil stench grew
He passed crumbling coffins and signs of voodoo
Dark cells with heavy chains fastened to stone
And a slippery thumping sound followed by moans.

Black archways and empty rooms
Carvings on the walls of this gruesome tomb
Incantations and unspeakable fear
Of evil in the cold damp foul air.

He came across dozens of crude trap doors
Which led down to an unknown horror
A stenching smell rose from the darkness below
And the noises beneath began to grow.

He lifted a lid and shone down his light
The wails changed to cries that pierced the night
A futile scrambling and a thumping sound
From the horror caged beneath the ground.

He gathered his courage and looked below
Into the foulness where the evil grows
Something in there was trying to climb
But its foot kept slipping in the slime.

One look was too much and he screamed and screamed
The doctor couldn’t believe what he had seen
He dropped the light from his shaking hands
And heard its crunching when it landed.

He could not stand so he began to crawl
Amidst the wells and the cavern walls
His insane cries drowned the whining moans
In this dungeon of hell he was all alone.

He blindly crawled with a fear unknown
Of the twisted forms which writhed below
Which called to him to set them free
A horror so black that it could not be.

He couldn’t remember passing out
But when awakening he began to shout
He found himself in Charles’ old bed
His clothes torn and a bump on his head.

He ran downstairs to the trap door
And moved it like he had before
He thought that he had gone insane
The well was gone, no signs remained.

In his pocket he found a letter
“Forget all ye have seen, t’would be better.”
What proof had he now of what had occurred
Except a letter signed by Charles Ward.

That’s the story of Charles Ward
And the evil world which he explored
The doctors had locked him away
But he escaped and he still lives today.

So if you hear screams late at night
If your bones are cold or the moon is bright
If shadows lurk and you feel the fear
Beware that Charles Ward is near.

© 2019, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved. 

Barry Linetsky is a curious senior-level advisor and strategic enabler, writer, researcher, and photographer. His thought-leadership and research has been published by Rotman Magazine and Ivey Business Journal. He is the author of the acclaimed book The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press), and an Honorary Disney History Institute historian. He blogs at www.barrylinetsky.com.

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