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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. Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 5:06

7 Answers 7

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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.

1
  • All the Merlins are too early to be identified with the mystery man, who is dated to the "eighth or ninth" century. Additionally, it is clearly implied that he does not resemble a British native: "Then he shuddered and screamed, crying out, "That beard . . . . those eyes . . . . God, who are you?" A very strange thing to say to a trim, blue-eyed, clean-shaven gentleman whom he had known from the latter's boyhood." I do not much like it, but the Abdul al Hazred answer fits the known facts much better, the only problem being that he was allegedly devoured (and imo it is kind of lame.)
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 23:58
12

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.

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  • I probably missed the part with Franklin implication, can you provide some reference to it? Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 10:14
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To me it's pretty obvious that it is "the mad Arab" Abdul Al Hazred.

I can't be the only one who notices the hint in the number of the sample...

And it seems like Lovecraft deliberately put in some gimmick in here.

"A" is the first letter of the alphabet and "H" is the eighth.

Translate 1-1-8 into the corresponding letters of the alphabet and it's A-A-H

-Abdul Al Hazred's initials...

Al Hazred has been brought up before. And even apart from the "number/letter"-code, it's quite plausible.

He tries to message to a non-arabic western person. He can't presuppose that this person will understand arabic language and characters. He himself is a well educated sorcerer, alchemist, philosopher and scientist, trained in different languages and scripture of his time

So, for him it would be logical to write in latin, an universal language most likely to be understood by an educated westerner. Being highly literate he would choose a font that he knew from contemporary western books. Which would be the

"Saxon minuscules of the eighth or ninth century"

Al Hazred is said to have lived in the early 8th century.

Merlin was around a few hundred years earlier...

At first glance, Merlin seems a more fitting character when it comes to fight against black magicians. And Al Hazred is surely not a philanthrope or altruist who is upset by the use of black arts.

So why does he want Curwen dead?

Well, he's surely not too happy beeing a bottled pet for upstart necromancers like Curwen and his friends, let alone being tortured by them. Revenge is a strong motive.

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  • Maybe AAH gets a bad rap. JC tells Willet that: "had you but known the words to bring up that which I had out in the cup, you had not been here to tell me this. [,,,] I conceive you would have shook had you looked it up in my list in t'other room." That is, 118 is someone JC expects Willett will know, and find terrifying. Willett responds that maybe 118 is not who JC thinks, due to mixed gravestones, but the odds seem low someone with such deep occult knowledge and apparent psychic powers was buried next to someone else of occult interest.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 0:08
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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
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 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.

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  • This is an interesting suggestion, but can you give any references that make this more likely than other possible answers, like Merlin above?
    – DavidW
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 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
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 22:09
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Since the fictionalised Merlin was brought up as an option, I'd reckon his historical progenitors Nennius and Ambrosius are viable candidates as well. They both lived in the ninth century, albeit a generation apart, and were both believed to have become wizards in their later years, Nennius even confirmedly so. The last person worthy of consideration from that time period is Abe no Seimei, though I can't imagine, how his remains would have made their way from isolationist Japan to the likes of Curwen. Then again, they could have simply discovered his grave and exhumed the remains in more recent years, after the island nation had already opened up to foreign trade.

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  • I would say the note from the wizard to Dr. WIillet in Latin rules out a ninth century Japanese wizard, who would be more likely to know (in addition to his native language) classical Chinese and perhaps an Indo-Iranian language such as Sanskrit. Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 16:18
  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Please limit this to a single answer and provide as much evidence for that as possible.
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 16:20
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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. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 18:23

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