One of the things that has always bothered me about The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is how

The resurrected Joseph Curwen, who has murdered Charles Dexter Ward and assumed his identity

allows himself to be taken to the psychiatric hospital by Dr. Willett, several of his medical colleagues, and Charles's father. This seems almost "too easy" for our heroes, as it allows Dr. Willett unrestricted access to the character's facilities, writings, and materials, and ultimately allows Dr. Willett the opportunity to

Confront Curwen in a restricted environment (the psychiatric ward) where he is not able to fight back.

Why did this character surrender so easily when he could have called up an eldritch horror or worse, or even simply pulled out a gun, in his own defense? Clearly he has already demonstrated himself capable of killing many people up to this point.

My thoughts seem to indicate that the character was hoping to simply appear to be an innocent victim and charm his way back out, rather than risk a major confrontation in which reinforcements could be called in against him, but this seems like it would have been a huge risk

as it is the beginning of his downfall, giving Dr. Willett the opportunity to not only discover the truth but devise a way to defeat him.

2 Answers 2


Possible spoilers, so I'm blanking out all parts of the answer that would reveal what the question doesn't (which is the whole answer):

I'd think Curwen would not call up "somewhat" unless really pressed, considering what happened the last time he got a reputation for using unsavory magic. The final confrontation with Dr. Willett would be sufficiently dangerous that Curwen would pull out all the stops and do anything he could (which is why he tried using a spell).

If Dr. Willett and the elder Ward had enough authority to commit Curwen to an institution, resisting with a gun was not going to end well. At that point, Curwen would have been a dangerous lunatic, which would have reduced his chance of being freed and gotten him worse treatment. (This assumes that Curwen was ever practiced with a gun, let alone one that wasn't a matchlock or flintlock.)

It also wasn't a given that anyone would find out how to defeat him even while searching his lair. Dr. Willett could easily have died there, or failed to understand the significance of the incantations. It's likely that Curwen would have gotten his spell off if Dr. Willett hadn't known the proper incantation and had practiced saying it. What happened is that Dr. WIllett paid attention to them and was reciting them under his breath as he went through things, and while using one summoned up a powerful friendly wizard (not really a good bet in that universe). The wizard told him to kill the body and destroy it, so Dr. Willett had to use the put-down incantation on his own initiative.


Curwen's decision was perfectly rational, if you keep in mind the fact that the setting is essentially supposed to be real-world Providence in the 1920s. Curwen has been in the modern world long enough to have a solid understanding of how it works. His best bet is to pretend that he is Ward and that he suffered a temporary bout of (criminal) insanity. Most people, especially the people responsible for dealing with his case, are not going to take evil sorcery seriously as an explanation of everything that has happened. His (and Ward's) writings about necromancy will almost certainly be dismissed as the ravings of a madman, and any evidence of grave robbery that the authorities uncover will probably also be discounted, treated as further evidence of his lunacy.

In the long run, Curwen, who is quite sane, stands a pretty good chance of getting out of confinement. He can fake a recovery and a return to good mental health. Indeed, his plan would almost certainly have worked, had there not been among his antagonists someone who was willing to take the presence of magic in the case seriously.

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