Herbert West–Reanimator

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"Herbert West–Reanimator"
Weird Tales March 1942.jpg
Author H. P. Lovecraft
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror short story
Published in Home Brew
Publication type Magazine
Media type Print (Periodical)
Publication date February–July 1922

"Herbert West—Reanimator" is a short story by American horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was written between October 1921 and June 1922. It was first serialized in February through July 1922 in the amateur publication Home Brew.[1] The story was the basis of the 1985 horror film Re-Animator and its sequels, in addition to numerous other adaptations in various media.

The story is the first to mention Lovecraft's fictional Miskatonic University. It is also notable as one of the first depictions of zombies as scientifically reanimated corpses, with animalistic and uncontrollable temperament.

Inspiration[edit]

According to his letters, Lovecraft wrote the story as a parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein[citation needed]. He drops in numerous Frankenstein references (even hinting at the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as Shelley did).

Reaction[edit]

Lovecraft claimed to be unhappy with the work, writing it only because he was being paid five dollars for each installment.[2] Moreover, he disliked the requirement that each installment end with a cliffhanger, which was unlike his normal style. He also had to begin each installment with a recap of the previous episode. The book Science Fiction-The Early Years calls "Herbert West–Reanimator" "wretched work". [3] Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi claims that "Herbert West–Reanimator" is "universally acknowledged as Lovecraft's poorest work."[4]

Plot summary[edit]

Lovecraft originally serialised the story in Home Brew Vol. 1, No. 1–6, an amateur magazine published by his friend George Julian Houtain.

"From the Dark"
The narrator is a doctor who went to medical school with the titular character. Informing the reader that Herbert West has recently disappeared.
The narrator goes on to explain how he met West when they were both young men in medical school, and the narrator became fascinated by West's theories, which postulated that the human body is simply a complex, organic machine, which could be "restarted." West initially tries to prove this hypothesis, but is unsuccessful. West realizes he must experiment on human subjects. The two men spirit away numerous supplies from the medical school and set up shop in an abandoned farmhouse. At first, they pay a group of men to rob graves for them, but none of the experiments are successful. West and the narrator go into grave robbing for themselves. One night, West and the narrator steal a corpse of a construction worker who died just that morning in an accident. They take it back to the farmhouse and inject it with West's solution, but nothing happens. Later an inhuman scream is heard from within the room containing the corpse which forces the two students to instinctively flee into the night. West accidentally tips over a lantern and the farmhouse catches fire. West and the narrator escape. The next day, however, the newspaper reads that a grave in potter's field had been molested violently the night before, as with the claws of a beast.
"The Plague-Daemon"
Some time has elapsed since West and the narrator resurrected the corpse of the accident victim. Since the farmhouse burned down, West has been unable to perform many of his experiments, and as college Dean Halsey refuses to allow him access to human cadavers and the university's dissection lab, his research has been stunted. West has a stroke of luck, though, when a typhus epidemic breaks out and West and the narrator are called to help tend to the many dying victims. West, now finding himself consistently surrounded by the dead and the dying, begins injecting his patients with a new serum, which has no greater effect than causing some of the bodies eyes to open. Eventually, Halsey succumbs to typhoid, and as a final act of twisted respect for his former rival, West steals his corpse to reanimate. West and the narrator take Halsey's body back to West's room at a boarding house, where they inject it with West's new serum. Halsey does in fact reanimate, but is inexplicably less intelligent and more violent than their previous experiment. Halsey beats West and the narrator into unconsciousness and then embarks on a killing spree, beating and murdering over a dozen people before finally being apprehended by the police. The cannibal murderer is soon committed to an local mental institution.
"Six Shots by Midnight"
Now licensed doctors, West and the narrator have gone into practice together as the physicians in the small New England town of Bolton, purchasing a house near the town's cemetery; so as to have consistent access to corpses. Still intent upon successfully reanimating a human being, West and the narrator claim the body of a black boxing champion, who died of a head wound in an illegal back-alley street fight. The men gambling on the fight arrange for West to dispose of the body, as it clears them of any crime; West happily agrees and he and the narrator hurriedly take the body back to West's lab and inject it with another new serum. When nothing happens, West and the narrator take the corpse out to a meadow and bury it. Several days later, there are reports around town of a missing child. The mother dies during a fit of hysteria, and the father tries to kill West in a fit of rage that West could not save her. That night, West and the narrator are startled by an aggressive pounding on their back door. Opening the door, West and the narrator come face to face with the corpse of the boxer, covered in mildew and dirt, hunched over at the back entrance. Hanging from his mouth is the arm of a small child. Almost instantly West empties an entire revolver into the beast.
"The Scream of the Dead"
Some time after West killed the reanimated boxer, the narrator returns home from vacation to discover the perfectly preserved corpse of a man in his and West's home. West explains that during the narrator's absence, he perfected a type of embalming fluid that perfectly preserves a corpse as it is the moment the chemical is injected into the bloodstream; injected at the precise moment of death, the chemical prevents decomposition from even beginning. West reveals to the narrator that the dead man in their home is a traveling salesman who had a heart attack during a physical examination; as the man died before West's eyes, he was able to preserve it with the embalming fluid and has been waiting for the narrator to return so that the two of them can reanimate the body together. West injects the man with his latest serum. Signs of life gradually begin to appear. When the narrator questions the man he mouths words with seeming rationality and intent. Just before the man returns to a final death he begins screaming and thrashing violently, revealing in a horrible scream that West was in fact his killer.
"The Horror From the Shadows"
Five years have passed since West temporarily reanimated the traveling salesman and West has joined the Great War as a means to procure more bodies. Now serving as a medic in Flanders during World War I, West has gone beyond the point of simply trying to reanimate corpses; his experiments now include isolating parts of the body and reanimating them independently in an attempt to prove the machine-like quality of the human body. On the battlefield, West befriends his commanding officer, Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, also a medic, and shares with him his theories and methods on reanimation. Shortly thereafter, Clapham is killed as his plane is shot down (along with the pilot, Lt. Ronald Hill). West immediately begins work on his body. Clapham was nearly decapitated in the crash and West finishes the job and injects the trunk with his serum, the head being placed in a vat (West could not use Hill's body as it was torn to pieces in the crash). The corpse comes to life and begins thrashing violently, reliving its last moments of life. Clapham's severed head begins to speak from across the room, shrieking out, "Jump, Ronald, for God's sake, jump!". Just then the building is destroyed by a bomb shell. West and the narrator survive, but there is no sign left of their commanding officer. The two men assume that he was vaporized in the blast, although West is since known to speak fearfully of a headless doctor with the power of reanimation.
"The Tomb-Legions"
A year after returning from World War I, West, now described by the narrator as degenerating even further in his thinking, has moved into a house which is directly connected to an ancient system of catacombs which served as tombs for early settlers. One night reading the newspaper, West comes across an article detailing a series of strange, seemingly nonsensical events involving a riot at an insane asylum. A wax-headed man (Clapham) followed by a group of disturbing-looking followers carrying a box demanded that the "cannibal" killer (Halsey), who was locked up in the asylum 16 years prior, be released to them. Witnesses claimed that his voice came not from himself, as his lips or wax face did not move, but he seemed to speak as if ventriloquist. When the invaders were refused exchange for the killer, they took him by force. West spends the remainder of the night in a near catatonic state until someone comes to the door. The narrator answers it only to find a group of men. One of the figures presents the narrator with the large box, which the narrator then gives to West. West refuses to open the box and insists that they incinerate it. The two men carry it to the basement and burn it. As soon as the box burns, the zombies tear through the wall of West's home via the catacombs to which it is connected. Leaving the narrator alone, the zombies soon attack West. Realizing that his own death is imminent, West allows the zombies to disembowel him. As an final insult, Major Clapham-Lee decapitates West's corpse before leading his army of zombies off into the night. The narrator does not reveal much to the police about the missing Herbert West, and the information he does reveal they refuse to believe since the catacomb wall seems intact and undisturbed. He is forever haunted, considered mad, by his knowledge of what transpired and the lack of resolution regarding the raised corpses.

Characters[edit]

Herbert West[edit]

Herbert West is the inventor of a special solution, or "reagent", that can resurrect the dead. He is portrayed as a brilliant, narcissistic and intensely driven young man of an amoral nature; traits carried over into the 1985 film. His arrogance and lack of respect for life (and death) prove to be his undoing.

The narrator[edit]

West's only friend, the narrator initially attaches himself to West in college out of a kind of hero worship mentality, awed at the daring of West's experiments. Over time, though, as West's experiments become more morally reprehensible, and West seems to lose interest in science and instead indulge in sheer perversity, the narrator comes to fear West and becomes a kind of slave to him, too afraid of West's capacity for evil to outright abandon him. In the 1985 film adaptation, the character is (ostensibly) named Dan Cain (played by Bruce Abbott).

Dean Halsey[edit]

The Dean of Miskatonic University's medical school. He does not take West's theories about reanimation seriously and the narrator characterizes him as benevolently old-fashioned and closed-minded. Dr. Halsey dies from being severely overworked during a typhoid outbreak and is hailed as a community hero. West reanimates his body as a sign of respect. The reanimated Halsey's behavior is mistaken for insanity and he is locked in a mental institution.

Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee[edit]

West and the narrator's commanding officer during WWI. As the narrator does not know him terribly well, little information is given about him, other than he shares West's perverse fascination with cheating death. After Maj. Clapham-Lee dies when his plane is shot down, West decides to "honor" Clapham by chopping off his head and trying to bring his body back to life. The experiment backfires when the decapitated body revives acting out its final actions before dying in a plane crash and the severed head also revives yelling for his co-pilot to "jump". The zombie, now wearing a head of wax and the original head in a black case, spends the next year finding the "survivors" of West's experiments, which West wasn't fast enough to kill off, leading them in an assault on West in revenge for his attempts to use them to play God. West is torn apart, while the zombie of Clapham-Lee takes the head, since West took his.

Adaptations[edit]

The story first saw adaptation in EC's Weird Science in 1950.[5] In issue #14 of the magazine From the Tomb, released in June 2004, edited by Peter Normanton, various other 1950s horror comics homages to Herbert West are discussed, including "Atlas' Adventures" in Weird Worlds #24, where Dr. Karl Veblen created a "life generator" serum. He had a co-conspirator arranged to revive himself after death with it, but the co-conspirator returned Cleopatra instead.

It was Stuart Gordon's 1985 film Re-Animator that would prove the most famous adaptation. Updated to a contemporary setting, Re-Animator takes its plot and characters from the first two episodes of the serial, depicting West as a medical student at Miskatonic University, while Bride of Re-Animator uses material from the last two episodes.

Bride was followed by 2003's Beyond Re-Animator which moved Herbert West to a prison, and had very little to do with Lovecraft's story.

More recently, Dynamite Entertainment has produced a comic, Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator, inspired equally by the film Re-Animator and the Lovecraftian roots of the story, with West as a villain in league with Yog-Sothoth, amongst other Lovecraft references, battling Ash Williams from the Evil Dead film series.

"Herbert West, Reanimated" written as a round-robin serial by Robert Price & others, for Crypt of Cthulhu #64 (1989), was a sort of sequel in which Sir Eric Moreland Chapman-Lee resurrects and reassembles Dr. West, who then escapes, kills and resurrects his assistant and resumes his increasingly wild experiments with life & death, leading to mind-transfers & cloning.

An audiobook version of the story, published in 1999, is performed by Jeffrey Combs, who played Herbert West in the three film versions.[6]

The story's narrative forms part of the plot of a video game based on Lovecraft's work, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land.

In 2008, a similar idea to “Reanimator” is portrayed in the Japanese anime television series, One Piece. A doctor is hiding secrets from the main characters which involve a giant laboratory containing several experiments to bring corpses back to life, creating several monsters in the process. (Taniguchi, Daitoku & Terakawa, 2008)

Other appearances[edit]

  • The Splatterhouse games, taking place in a zombie-infested mansion owned by "Dr. Henry West", seem to take their cue from the story.
  • The Lovecraft-based Visual novel series Demonbane reimagines Herbert West as a guitar-playing lunatic mad scientist.
  • Herbert West was featured in a story arc in the Hack/Slash comic book series.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Straub, Peter (2005). Lovecraft: Tales. The Library of America. p. 823. ISBN 1-931082-72-3. 
  2. ^ Straub, Peter (2005). Lovecraft: Tales. The Library of America. p. 828. ISBN 1-931082-72-3. 
  3. ^ E. F. Bleiler and Richard Bleiler. Science-Fiction: The Early Years. Kent State University Press, 1990. (p.454). ISBN 9780873384162.
  4. ^ Scriptorium - H.P. Lovecraft
  5. ^ Miskatonic University library - H.P. Lovecraft in the Comics
  6. ^ SFFAudio - The future never sounded so good

References[edit]

  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1986) [1922]. "Herbert West—Reanimator". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-039-4.  Definitive version.
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) [1922]. "Herbert West—Reanimator". In S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon (eds.). More Annotated Lovecraft (1st ed.). New York City, NY: Dell. ISBN 0-440-50875-4.  With explanatory footnotes.
  • Taniguchi, G. (Director), Daitoku, T. (Producer), & Terakawa, H. (Producer) (2008). "Mystery of the zombies! hogback's nightmarish research laboratory" [Television series episode]. In Taniguchi, G. (Executive Producer), One Piece. Fuji TV.

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