“The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft was first published in Weird Tales (Apr 1929). It was not republished until a decade later, when Arkham House brought out the first collection of Lovecraft’s fiction, The Outsider and Others (1939). Despite wartime paper shortages, the story was reprinted in the omnibus Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1944). The following year, “The Dunwich Horror” lent its name to a paperback edition The Dunwich Horror (1945, Bath House), an armed services edition The Dunwich Horror and Other Weird Stories (1945). On Hallowe’en night (although many newspapers list it as playing on 1 November), a radio adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror,” written by Silvia Richards, was performed by Ronald Colman.
The show was called Suspense and began broadcasting in 1940, lasting until 1962. It did not originally feature stories involving science fiction or the supernatural, but increasingly featured more and more such adaptations during its run.
Silvia Richards’ screenplay makes many necessary adaptations for a radio drama. It begins like Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 broadcast of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, as a mock news-broadcast, but the asides for vividly audio-acted scenes and music make it much more of a dramatization. Dr. Henry Armitage narrates the entire story, as though reporting in live from Dunwich (here pronounced correctled as Dunnich). Richards retains all the essential plot points of Lovecraft’s story and several key passages, although much of his language is lost in abridgement and change in presentation. Notably, she retains most if not all of the audio cues—animal noises and suchlike—which the story contains, which translate well into the new medium.
As a production, the radioplay is interesting for the effort to reproduce the accents, the sounds of whipporwills, the pronounciation of the odd names. As a screenplay, there’s a rather admirable skill in boiling Lovecraft’s narrative (all ~17,500 words of it) down to something that could play in less than twenty-four minutes (a half-hour timeslot has to leave room for commercials); her abridgement was probably about 6,000 words (24 pages) total. An interesting addition was the source for an “alternate formula”: Falconer’s Mystical Formulae of the Middle Ages. Whether Silvia Richards was aware of it or not, this would be one of, if not the, first Mythos tome invented by a woman author.
Silvia Richards continued to work in Hollywood as a script writer for radio, film, and television; the article above from the Los Angeles Daily News for 1 Apr 1947 is the most I’ve found about her life in her own words. A former Communist, she was later called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and her collaboration (in part to protect her two young sons) included testifying against her ex-husband Robert L. Richards. She is not known to have done any further adaptations of Lovecraftian material, but her radioplay stands as an early, fairly faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s material to a new medium.
You can listen to Silvia Richards’ 1945 adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror” for Suspense for free online here.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.
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