“From a private hospital for the insane near Providence, Rhode Island, there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person. He bore the name of Charles Dexter Ward and was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a mere eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a profound and peculiar change in the apparent contents of his mind. Doctors confessed themselves quite baffled by his case, since it presented oddities of a general physiological as well as psychological character.”
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
When I began to prepare for writing this review, I was surprised to discover that I don’t actually have a copy of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward in any of the Lovecraft anthologies on my shelves. It’s been a long time since I read it, and had to hunt it up online to refresh my memory.
There are at least two rather loose film adaptations of this story–two that I’ve seen, anyway:
- The Resurrected/Shatterbrain, starring Chris Saradon and John Terry, which places events in a modern-day film-noirish setting with stop-animation monsters.
- The Poe’d-up Haunted Palace, starring Vincent Price and Debra Paget in a Victorian gothic version with putty-faced mutants roaming the misty streets of Arkham.
In both films, Ward is a much more mature man than the character in Lovecraft’s tale.
Charles Dexter Ward’s descent into madness is said to have begun with his interest in a distant ancestor, one Joseph Curwen, who dabbled in alchemy and necromancy.
Charles identified strongly with Curwen, whom he resembled closely. As his obsession increased, his own studies into the occult deepened. He repeated Curwen’s experiments and, after coming of age, he took up with mysterious companions who aided him in his secret work. His youthful appearance changed to that of an older man; his style of speech became more archaic, his handwriting changed too, and his knowledge of the modern world vanished while he seemed more in touch with 18th-century New England.
After The Thing on the Doorstep and The Shadow out of Time, you might be thinking that this is another Lovecraft story about body-swapping and that Charles has been possessed by the spirit of Curwen… but that’s not what happens this time.
The story is online at http://www.dagonbytes.com/thelibrary/lovecraft/thecaseofcharlesdexterward.htm