Return to Dunwich (1991)

Return to Dunwich, the second volume in Keith Herber’s Lovecraft Country series, appeared in 1991 and significantly ups the ante from Arkham Unveiled.

Return to Dunwich brings us through the rambling hills north of Arkham, to the decaying village of Dunwich (pronounced “dunnich” FYI), a few months after the events of Lovecraft’s story “The Dunwich Horror.” In that story, perhaps Lovecraft’s pulpiest, a group of professors from Miskatonic University uncover a terrible secret – that Wizard Whateley mated his daughter with an extradimensional entity, producing two sons: a vaguely human one named Wilbur and another who…takes more after his father. After Wilbur’s demise, his monstrous, invisible brother runs rampage through the desolate hamlet, until banished by a heroic librarian.

This book oozes a specific sort of rural horror, soaked with poverty, degeneracy, black magic and ancient secrets. Herber deepens the mysteries of Dunwich considerably, revealing it as twice being the site of ancient settlements, once of Hyberboreans and later, of renegade Druids. They vanished after running afoul of something that lurks beneath Dunwich, that promises paradise, but is also the cause of the region’s decay. Ruins and relics from both cultures are strewn across the countryside. Like with the Arkham volume, Return to Dunwich details a vast area and all its noteworthy inhabitants, giving Keepers enough material for countless games. The sheer amount of material is only half as impressive as Herber’s ceaseless creativity and his control of the atmosphere: this is likely his masterpiece.

As with Arkham Unveiled, Return to Dunwich saw a revision and republication as Dunwich in 2002, complete with a new cover – a portrait of the infamous Wilbur Whateley. Unlike the Arkham reprint, Dunwich retains its original art and, aside from the insertion of D20 rules, is largely the same.

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