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The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P.…

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1970)

by H. P. Lovecraft

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I read this H. P. Lovecraft novella to prepare to read [The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe], one of this year's Hugo Award-nominated novellas. The new book is a sequel of sorts to the old story.

Lovecraft's "dreamlands" can be reached by sufficiently strong dreamers, and are populated by humans, and all manner of monsters and gods. A dreamer can awaken back into our world - but the dreamlands are nonetheless a real place, where a dreamer can die. The protagonist wishes to enter a city he has discovered there:

Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvellous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades, and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles. It was a fever of the gods; a fanfare of supernal trumpets and a clash of immortal cymbals. Mystery hung about it as clouds about a fabulous unvisited mountain; and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things, and the maddening need to place again what once had an awesome and momentous place.

The gods learn of his interest and forbid future ventures to this wondrous place. Carter decides to journey in dream to the great moutain Kadath, to plead with the gods dwelling there to allow him to enter the city.

This is the first Lovecraft story I've read that showcases him as a writer of weird fiction, not just horror. The quest leads though endless horrors, but where the narrator of, say, [At the Mountains of Madness] would curl into a whimpering ball, Carter is equal for the most part to what he encounters. We get a travelogue of eerie, fearsome, and strange places.

A travelogue written in vivid, baroque prose. Reading this story is like eating a meal made up entirely of rich desserts; the experience cloys quickly, and the story felt much longer than its 43,000 words. And the imagery is often much less convincing than the opening passage quoted above. For example:

The gugs, hairy and gigantic, once reared stone circles in that wood and made strange sacrifices to the Other Gods and the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep, until one night an abomination of theirs reached the ears of earth’s gods and they were banished to caverns below. Only a great trap-door of stone with an iron ring connects the abyss of the earth-ghouls with the enchanted wood, and this the gugs are afraid to open because of a curse. That a mortal dreamer could traverse their cavern realm and leave by that door is inconceivable; for mortal dreamers were their former food, and they have legends of the toothsomeness of such dreamers even though banishment has restricted their diet to the ghasts, those repulsive beings which die in the light, and which live in the vaults of Zin and leap on long hind legs like kangaroos.

I started giggling at "the vaults of Zin," but can certainly see laughing right at the beginning of the paragraph. The ear is paramount for this sort of prose.

Lovecraft's stories are foundational for modern weird fiction, but foundations are often best kept out of sight.

The story can be read free online. ( )
  dukedom_enough | May 28, 2017 |
Yes, but Kindle.
  Xleptodactylous | Apr 7, 2015 |
This story is rather uncharacteristic of Lovecraft. It reads more like a fairy tale, and is extremely optimistic. Far from proclaiming the futility of everything, it's main thesis is that our own very world and the memories we make of it is so beautiful that the gods themselves are jealous ( )
  Beholderess | Dec 18, 2013 |
One of the handful of imaginative fiction books I've EVER reread. ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
80% visual description, 20% action; ponderous, thoughtful, and detailed; deliberate misdirection of the reader; demons and ghouls and sentient cats; a range of vocabulary that will wear out the "dictionary" function on your Kindle.

If you read the above bullet-point descriptions and think, "Wow, that sounds amazing! I totally want to read that!" then you should read this story. If you read it and think, "Oh dear lord it's one of THOSE....." then... well, trust your instincts: this story will not be for you.

If you read this book waiting for "what happens next"... If you read this book expecting Tom Clancy... If you read this book because you think "quest" means "action-adventure"... Then you will be severely disappointed. However, if you savor each sentence because you are visualizing the scene that it describes in your head, and you appreciate the way that the cadence of the sentences and word-choices convey the weirdness and creepiness of the environment through which the main character moves, then you will love this story. If pure description and gothic imagery draw you in and let you really experience a scene, then you will not be able to put it down. If I were making a comparison to the visual arts, this story is a painting by Hieronymus Bosch: intricate, fascinating, full of details that stretch the imagination.... but if you are seeking a central message, action, purpose, or even a point, then you are likely to be left feeling that it is lacking.

This story was written in 1927, almost 100 years ago. This was a time when authors did not write their stories with 15-minute inter-advertisement intervals for the television adaptation in mind.

Personally, I loved it, even if it did seem to drag slightly at times. I enjoyed the fact that the dream-like quality grew very gradually, and very subtly: at first most elements seem real, with only a few fantasy elements; then over time there are more and more "what the...?" moments, as the setting and the characters become more and more strange, inhuman, and grotesque. It is an excellent flow and transition. The biggest lacking, when thought of from the standard notion of a "story", is the fact that we never get a sense of the main character's personality. He is more the transparent and invisible "eye" through which the surrounding world is experienced, so that when he finally is presented with his enlightened "revelation" and understanding, I don't really share in his pride of discovery. I never IDENTIFIED enough with him to do so.

However, again, think a painting by Bosch rather than a photo by Margaret Bourke-White. I'm not certain we were ever MEANT to get deep characterization from this story, any more than we were meant to get thrilling moment-by-moment action.

Taken for what (I believe) it was intended to be, I think this story was a complete success. ( )
1 vote GregStevens | Sep 10, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. P. Lovecraftprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carter, LinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gallardo, GervasioCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whelan, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it.
- The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.
- The Silver Key
No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.
- Through the Gates of the Silver Key
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The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Silver Key
Through the Gates of the Silver Key
The White Ship
The Strange High House in the Mist
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345337794, Mass Market Paperback)

Six bone-chilling tales of bizarre beauty and awesome horror lurk in the dark of the soul, waiting to be called upon by the demons of nightmares, and let loose in the frightened mind. Only H.P. Lovecraft could conjure up these testaments to evil that will live inside of you forever....

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:22 -0400)

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