Herbert West–Reanimator

Herbert West–Reanimator

Infobox short story |
name = Herbert West–Reanimator
title_orig =
translator =
author = H. P. Lovecraft
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Horror short story
published_in = Home Brew
publication_type = Magazine
publisher =
media_type = Print (Periodical
pub_date = Feb-Jul, 1922
english_pub_date =
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Herbert West—Reanimator" is a short story by American horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was written between October 1921 and June 1922. It was first serialized in February through July 1922 in the amateur publication "Home Brew". [cite book | last = Straub | first = Peter | title = Lovecraft: Tales | publisher = The Library of America | date = 2005 | pages = p. 823 | isbn = 1-931082-72-3 ] The story was the basis of the 1985 horror film "Re-Animator" and its sequels, in addition to numerous other adaptations in various media.

The story is the first to mention Lovecraft's fictional Miskatonic University. It is also notable as ahead of its time [ [http://www.ugo.com/a/zombies-attack/?cur=favorite-zombies&content=reanimator Our Favorite Zombies | UGO.com ] ] in its depiction of zombies, featuring corpses arising, through scientific means, as animalistic, unspeaking and uncontrollably violent creatures. This depiction is uncannily similar to the famous Romero zombies and other latter-day zombie interpretations that would follow in later decades.


According to his letters, Lovecraft wrote the story as a parody of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". He drops in numerous "Frankenstein" references (even hinting at the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as Shelley did) and purposely makes scenes overly violent, gruesome, and clichéd.


Lovecraft himself, who penned the Herbert West stories when he was in need of money, hated them and called them drivel written for the masses. In correspondence with others, he claimed to be unhappy with the work, writing it only because he was being paid five dollars for each installment. Moreover, he disliked the requirement that each installment end with a cliffhanger, which was unlike his normal style. He also had to begin each installment with a recap of the previous episode.

Plot summary

Lovecraft originally serialised the story in "Home Brew" Vol. 1, No. 1–6, an amateur magazine published by his friend George Julian Houtain.

"From the Dark"-- The reader is introduced to the narrator, a doctor who went to medical school with the titular character. Informing the reader that West has recently disappeared, the narrator goes on to say that now West is gone from his life, he can truly appreciate West's insanity and can at last express the feelings of terror which West inspired in him.

The narrator goes on to explain how he met West when they were both young men in medical school, and the narrator became fascinated by West's theories about human life, which postulated that the human body is simply a complex, organic machine, and that with the proper combination of chemicals injected into the body upon death, the machine could be "restarted." West initially tries to prove this hypothesis on various types of vermin, but none of the results are successful. His ultimate goal being human reanimation, West realizes he must experiment on human subjects, as each serum differs from species to species. The two men spirit away numerous supplies from the medical school and set up shop in an abandoned farmhouse. At first, they pay a group of black men to rob graves for them, bringing them back corpses for experimentation, but none of the experiments are successful and West concludes that it is because of the "poor quality" of his specimens. West and the narrator go into grave robbing for themselves, scanning the obituaries for recent funerals so that they might have as fresh a corpse as possible. One night, West and the narrator slip into potter's field and steal the corpse of a workman who died just that morning in an accident. They take it back to the farmhouse and inject it with West's solution, but nothing happens. As West and the narrator prepare another solution for a second attempt there comes an inhuman scream from the room with the corpse as the two students instinctively flee into the night. In the ensuing chaos, a lantern is tipped over and the farmhouse catches fire. West and the narrator escape, assuming that the reanimated corpse burned to death in the fire. The next day, however, along with news of the fire, the newspaper reads that a grave in potter's field last night was molested violently, as with the claws of a beast and not the careful spade-work with which West and his assistant had dug originally.

"The Plague-Daemon" - Some time has elapsed since West and the narrator resurrected the corpse of the accident victim. Since the farmhouse burned down West has been unable to perform many experiments, and as college Dean Halsey refuses to allow him access to human cadavers and the university's dissection lab his research has been stunted. West has a stroke of luck, though, when a typhus epidemic breaks out and West and the narrator are called to help tend to the dying victims. West--now finding himself consistently surrounded by the dead and the dying-- begins injecting his patients with a new serum, which has no greater affect than causing some bodies' eyes to open. Eventually, Dean Halsey succumbs to typhoid, and as a final act of twisted respect for his former rival, West steals his corpse to reanimate. West and the narrator take Halsey's body back to West's room at a boarding house, where they inject it with West's new serum. Halsey does in fact reanimate, but is inexplicably less intelligent and more violent than their previous experiment. Halsey beats West and the narrator into unconsciousness and then embarks on a killing spree, beating and murdering over a dozen people before finally being apprehended by the police. The cannibal murderer is committed to a mental institution.

"Six Shots by Moonlight" - Now licensed doctors, West and the narrator have gone into practice together as the physicians in the small (fictional) New England town of Bolton, purchasing a house near the town's cemetery so as to have consistent access to corpses. Still intent upon successfully reanimating a human being, West and the narrator claim the body of a black boxing champion who died of a head wound in an illegal back-alley street fight. The men gambling on the fight arrange for West to dispose of the body, as it clears them of any crime; West happily agrees and he and the narrator hurriedly take the body back to West's lab and inject it with another new serum. When nothing happens, West and the narrator take the corpse out to a meadow and bury it. Several days later, there are reports around town of a missing child. The mother dies during a fit of hysteria, and the father tries to kill West in a fit of rage that West could not save her. That night, West and the narrator are startled by an aggressive pounding on their back door. Opening the door, West and the narrator come face to face with the corpse of the boxer, covered in mildew and dirt, hunched over at the back entrance. Hanging from his mouth is the arm of a small child. Almost instantly West empties an entire revolver into the beast.

Modern critics point to the characterization of the boxer as one of the most disturbing instances of racism in Lovecraft's writing.

"The Scream of the Dead" - Some time after West killed the reanimated boxer, the narrator returns home from a vacation to discover the perfectly preserved corpse of a man in his and West's home. West explains that during the narrator's absence, he perfected a type of embalming fluid that perfectly preserves a corpse as it is the moment the chemical is injected into the bloodstream; injected at the precise moment of death, the chemical prevents decomposition from even beginning. West reveals to the narrator that the dead man in their home is a traveling salesman who had a heart attack during a physical examination; as the man died before West's eyes, he was able to preserve it with the embalming fluid and has been waiting for the narrator to return so that the two of them can reanimate the body together. West injects the man with his latest serum. Signs of life gradually begin to appear. When the narrator questions the man he mouths words with seeming rationality and intent. Just before the man returns to a final death he begins screaming and thrashing violently, revealing in a horrible scream that West was in fact his killer.

"The Horror From the Shadows" - Five years have passed since West temporarily reanimated the traveling salesman and West has joined the Great War as a means to procure more bodies. Now serving as a medic in Flanders during World War I, West has gone beyond the point of simply trying to reanimate corpses; his experiments now include isolating parts of the body and reanimating them independently in an attempt to prove the machine-like quality of the human body. On the battlefield, West befriends his commanding officer, Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, also a medic, and shares with him his theories and methods on reanimation. Shortly thereafter, Clapham is killed as his plane is shot down (along with the pilot, Lt. Ronald Hill). West immediately begins work on his body. Clapham was nearly decapitated in the crash and West finishes the job and injects the trunk with his serum, the head being placed in a vat (West could not use Hill's body as it was torn to pieces in the crash). The corpse comes to life and begins thrashing violently, reliving it's last moments of life. Clapham's decapitated head begins to speak from across the room, shrieking out, "Jump, Ronald, for God's sake, jump!". Just then the building is shelled. West and the narrator survive, but there is no sign left of their commanding officer. The two men assume that he was vaporized in the blast, although West is since known to speak fearfully of a headless doctor with the power of reanimation.

"The Tomb-Legions" - A year after returning from World War I, West, now described by the narrator as degenerating even further in his thinking, has moved into a house which is directly connected to an ancient system of catacombs which served as tombs for early settlers. One night reading the newspaper, West comes across an article detailing a series of strange, seemingly nonsensical events involving a man with a wax head and a riot at an insane asylum. A wax-headed man followed by a group of disturbing-looking followers carrying a box demand the "cannibal" killer who was locked up in the asylum 16 years prior be released to them. Witnesses claim his voice came not from himself, as his lips or wax face did not move, but he seemed to speak as if a ventriloquist. When the invaders are refused the killer they take him by force. West spends the remainder of the night in a near catatonic state until someone comes to the door. The narrator answers it to find a group of men. One of the figures presents the narrator with the large box, which the narrator then gives to West. West refuses to open the box and insists that they incinerate it. The two men carry it to the basement and burn it up; as the box burns, the zombies tear through the wall of West's home via the catacombs to which it is connected. Leaving the narrator alone, the zombies attack West; realizing that his own death is imminent, allowing the zombies to disembowel him. As a final insult, Major Clapham-Lee decapitates West's corpse before leading his army of zombies off into the night. The narrator does not reveal much to the police about the missing Herbert West, and the information he does reveal they refuse to believe. He is forever haunted, considered mad, by his knowledge of what transpired and the lack of resolution regarding the raised corpses.


Herbert West

Herbert West is the inventor of a special solution, or "reagent", that can resurrect the dead. He is portrayed as a brilliant, narcissistic and intensely driven young man of an amoral nature; traits carried over nearly verbatim into the 1985 film. His arrogance and lack of respect for life (and death) prove to be his undoing.

The narrator

West's only friend, the narrator initially attaches himself to West in college out of a kind of hero worship mentality, awed at the daring of West's experiments. Over time, though, as West's experiments become more morally reprehensible, and West seems to lose interest in science and instead indulge in sheer perversity, the narrator comes to fear West and becomes a kind of slave to him, too afraid of West's capacity for evil to outright abandon him.

Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee

West and the narrator's commanding officer during WWI. As the narrator does not know him terribly well, little information is given about him, other than he shares West's perverse fascination with cheating death. After Maj. Clapham-Lee dies when his plane is shot down, West decides to "honor" Clapham by chopping off his head and trying to bring his body back to life. The experiment backfires, as somehow the body is able to send signals to its decapitated head, which regains consciousness. The zombie spends the next year finding the "survivors" of West's experiments, leading them in an assault on West in revenge for his attempts to use them to play God.


The story first saw adaptation in EC's "Weird Science" in 1950, [ [http://www.yankeeclassic.com/miskatonic/library/stacks/periodicals/comics/lovecraft/comics1.htm Miskatonic University library - H.P. Lovecraft in the Comics ] ] . In issue #14 of the magazine From the Tomb, released in June 2004, edited by Peter Normanton, various other 1950s horror comics homages to Herbert West are discussed, including Atlas' Adventures into Weird Worlds #24, where Dr. Karl Veblen created a "life generator" serum. He had a co-conspirator arranged to revive himself after death with it, but the co-conspirator returned Cleopatra instead.

It was Stuart Gordon's 1985 film "Re-Animator" that would prove the most famous adaptation. Updated to a contemporary setting, "Re-Animator" takes its plot and characters from the first two episodes of the serial, depicting West as a medical student at Miskatonic University, while "Bride of Re-Animator" uses material from the last two episodes.

"Bride" was followed by 2003's "Beyond Re-Animator" which moved the surviving characters to a prison, and had very little to do with Lovecraft's story. Director Stuart Gordon has been quoted on several occasions as expressing a desire to make a fourth installment in the series, titled "House of Re-Animator"; this film would, he claims, be a political satire wherein West moves into the White House and re-animates a deceased vice president.

More recently, Dynamite Entertainment has produced a comic, "Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator", inspired equally by the film "Re-Animator" and the Lovecraftian roots of the story, with West as a villain in league with Yog-Sothoth, amongst other Lovecraft references, battling Ash Williams from the "Evil Dead" film series.

The audiobook version of the story is performed by Jeffrey Combs, who played Herbert West in the 1985 film version. Combs reprised the role in "Beyond Re-Animator." [ [http://www.sffaudio.com/2007/03/review-of-jeffrey-combs-reads-hp.html SFFAudio - The future never sounded so good ] ]

Other appearances

*The Splatterhouse games, taking place in a zombie-infested mansion owned by "Dr. West", seem to take their cue from the story.

*The Lovecraft-based anime series Demonbane reimagines Herbert West as a guitar-playing lunatic mad scientist.

*The character makes appearances in several of Kim Newman's vampire novels.

*The flash game "De-animator" is based on the story.



*cite book|first=Howard P.|last=Lovecraft|chapter=Herbert West—Reanimator|origyear=1922|year=1986|title=Dagon and Other Macabre Tales|editor=S. T. Joshi (ed.)|edition=9th corrected printing|publisher=Arkham House|location=Sauk City, WI|id=ISBN 0-87054-039-4 Definitive version.

*cite book|first=Howard P.|last=Lovecraft|year=1999|title=More Annotated Lovecraft|chapter=Herbert West—Reanimator|origyear=1922|editor=S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon (eds.)|edition=1st|publisher=Dell|location=New York City, NY|id=ISBN 0-440-50875-4 With explanatory footnotes.

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