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In H. P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Dr. Willett

Enters Joseph Curwen's dungeon and resurrects a dead person identified as No. 118 by reciting the incantation of the Ascending Node over his salts.

Dr. Willett is told by

The resurrected Joseph Curwen, impersonating Charles Dexter Ward, who he secretly murdered,

that

" 'twas Number 118, and I conceive you would have shook had you looked it up in my list in t'other room."

No. 118 himself gives Dr. Willett a note asking the doctor to

kill Joseph Curwen.

It soon becomes clear that No. 118 is opposed to the nefarious dealings that have been transpiring and desirous of being an ally of Dr. Willett.

Who is No. 118?

Earlier in the story,

The grave of Ezra Weeden, a primary instigator in Joseph Curwen's initial downfall and the romantic rival of Curwen, is robbed. There doesn't seem to be any other mention of Weeden in the 20th century occurrences, so without a further connection the passage seems superfluous.

The shared goals of these two people seem to indicate that No. 118 may, in fact, have been that person, but the

Note given by No. 118 to Dr. Willett in eighth century Latin seems to indicate someone much older than Ezra Weeden.

It also occurred to me that No. 118 could be

The recently murdered Charles Dexter Ward himself. Ward's reference to killing Dr. Allen (who is actually an alias of Curwen) and dissolving his body with acid and No. 118's mention of doing the same to Curwen seem to support the idea, but that still doesn't explain the archaic note. Ward is described as writing in a somewhat modern style, at least as opposed to Curwen. It also doesn't explain why Curwen would want to murder Ward if he was going to resurrect him later anyway.

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    The 8th century was from AD 701 to 800,or 700 to 799 if one is less precise. It was possibly non western European who thought that Dr. Willett looked like a northwestern European and so addressed him in Latin. But it was much more probably someone from western Europe educated enough to speak Latin and wearing a beard. I think that most Frankish men shaved their chins in the 8th century. Would an educated Irish or Welsh clergyman or layman wear a beard? This is a job for a medieval expert. Feb 7 '18 at 5:06
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I think HPL did leave a clue that he intended Merlin. Our modern view of the character Merlin comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136. He based Merlin on an amalgamation of stories about two previous historical and legendary figures, the main one being a North Brythonic prophet and madman with no connection to King Arthur. This prophet's name was Myrddin Wyllt (or Merlinus Caledonensis in Latin). If you combine the first name in Latin and the second name in Welsh, you get Merlinus Wyllt - remarkably similar to Marinus Willet.

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It is completely unknown. There are no clues in the story that suggest a particular individual. Based on his use of Dark Ages Latin, the skilled wizard whose salts were number 118 would seem to be somebody who was not otherwise alluded to in the story. None of the possibilities raised in the original narrative or the current question (Ezra Weeden, Charles Dexter Ward, or Benjamin Franklin, whose remains are implied to have been taken by Curwen) would have any reason to communicate that way.

Moreover, from Willet's words upon being woken after the incident: "That beard... those eyes.... God, who are you?" we may infer that the spirit he saw was one he found very surprising. That does not seem like the response Willet would have made to seeing either Ward (or the beardless Franklin, despite S. T. Joshi tentatively identifying 118 with Franklin in his notes on the story). So the identity of the friendly 118 remains a mystery.

1
  • I probably missed the part with Franklin implication, can you provide some reference to it? Dec 28 '18 at 10:14
4

We're talking about a very powerful wizard from the Dark Ages. Most of the wizards in Lovecraft's work would have wanted to get on the Curwen bandwagon. The display of power in attacking Curwen's partners would seem to rule out Weeden or Ward. It also appears that Dr. Willett would have recognized the name.

So, we're dealing with a well-known European Dark Ages wizard of great power not associated with any Mythos plot. I'm going with Merlin, but I'm open to other suggestions.

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  • Although he seems to fit this role good enough, Merlin seems to have lived earlier, might have even died in fifth century. Still sources are vague about his time of living, so could be true.
    – sukhmel
    Mar 26 '20 at 22:36
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The best answer is that it is Abdul Alhazred, communicating in Latin, the only language he would know that Wilett might understand. Curwen and his circle of Necromancers would have been terrified to know he was resurrected and out of their power.

2
  • This is an interesting suggestion, but can you give any references that make this more likely than other possible answers, like Merlin above?
    – DavidW
    Aug 6 '19 at 2:07
  • This answer seems to fit timeframe, but it doesn't occur to me, that Abdul Alhazred should've been able to write in Latin, not does it seem likely that Willett would've recognized his name in the list.
    – sukhmel
    Mar 26 '20 at 22:09
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I’m convinced it’s Noden. The writing style fits his era, and he is the only one of the Lovecraftian “gods” that were ever benevolent.

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    I doubt any of the "gods" could be reduced to their essential salts. Aug 30 '18 at 18:23
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I always wondered if it might be the body of Jesus they brought up. Wouldn't explain the 8'th century Latin, but everything else makes sense. "That beard... those eyes... God, who are you?" fits, He could have sealed up the entrance and made the whole system of caverns vanish, and He very kindly helped Willet escape. Also, I think it's safe to say that Christ certainly would have opened up a major can of whoop-ass if he'd been resurrected by an evil necromancer.

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    The problem with this is that Jesus, according to the Gospels, was resurrected sometime around 30 CE, leaving an empty tomb. Also, if Lovecraft had wanted to imply that it was Jesus, the note would probably have been in Hebrew or Aramaic, not Latin. Jan 18 '19 at 6:25

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