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Archive for June, 2018

Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Pt. 3

Dark tales told in a circle, with the only illumination coming from the campfire.  The master storyteller, eliciting the terror from their subjects as they tell their story.  Cadence and timing is paramount to the proper telling, and this story teller has it down to a science.

Welcome back to another Blind read!  This time we delve deeper into the Dream Quest of Randolph Carter, and we get some new illumination on the cannon of gods prevalent in the world.  But first, a recap…

We last left off when Carter got to Celephais, and we pick up this week with the introduction of King Kuranes.  He is the king of Celephais and has died in real life, thus becoming a permanent denizen of the Dreamlands.  King Kuranes has made Celephais look like Cornwall, because he had a longing for being in a land of his childhood.  They speak for a while about the dreamlands in general, and Kuranes tries to talk Carter out of going on his trek to Kadath, but Carter is set in his path and he joins another ship, to head out to the plateau of Leng to find Kadath.

On this ship they find their way to Inquanok, a city made out of Onyx.  The sailors tell Carter that the city was made from a number of quarries, where they mined the Onyx, but there is one Quarry farther on, that no one goes to any more, that quarry has larger and unknown quantities of Onyx.  It is here that Carter wants to go because he has heard that the great city of Kadath is built of Onyx, much like Inquanok.  There is  temple to the Elder Ones here in Inquanok, and it is overseen by a “High Priest, with inner secrets”.

Carter continues on and goes to an old sea tavern, where he finds, again, the slant-eyed merchant.  Who seems to have followed him on his journey.

The next day Carter purchases a yak to travel to the unknown quarry to find answers and hopefully get closer to Kadath.  He is sure that he is very close, because of the Onyx connection.

He travels through the quarries, and eventually the yak gets spooked and runs away, and finally the Slant Eyed Merchant finds him and captures him with aid of the horrible Shantaks.

I have to say, I love getting a little more knowledge about the gods of Lovecraft.  I know that this one was published after Lovecraft died and I wonder how much of the influence of this story comes from August Derleth.  But I digress.

The most interesting thing I have come to realize about Lovecraft is his style of writing.  I have always had a bit of trouble getting into his verbose style, but what i have come to realize is that Lovecraft is best read as though he were  storyteller around a campfire.  The tone and inflection are the same, and if you read anything, especially “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”, in this way, the story comes through so much more vividly and beautifully.  Every author has their own voice, and once you have come to realize that voice the experience of reading that author becomes that much greater, and though I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the Lovecraft I have, up to now, I know that with this understanding, I will absolutely love everything else!  I just wish I hadn’t gotten through more than half of his works before coming to this realization!

Ok, back to the story…The first notable mention is the delving in to dream.  King Kuranes is the ruler of Celephais, and he is dead in the waking world.  It is not made clear in the story as to whether he died in the dream world or in the waking world, but he still has the power to change the landscape and make it that of the Cornwall of his childhood.  There are a few interesting ti bits in this that we can examine.  The first is that King Kuranes is a friend of Carters, even back in the waking world.  Carter is an experienced dreamer, that we know from the description at the beginning of this story, and he has known Kuranes mainly through dream, but Carter has known him in the waking world.  In fact “who in Carter’s latter dreams had reigned alternatively in the rose-crystal Palace of Seventy Delights at Celephais and in the turreted cloud-castle of sky-floating Serannian.”  So the question is, how can Kuranes still be a living monarch in the dreamlands when his body is dead in the waking world.  Did he die while dreaming?  Is this why he can stay here?  Are the dreamlands some sort of afterlife that we come to when we die?  Or are only experienced dreamers able to come to the dreamlands after they die, their dreams tying them to the dreamlands?

I tend to cater more towards the latter, because the image of the “rose-crystal Palace of Seventy-Delights”, elicits an image of the 72 virgins from the Quran.  We as humans tend to think of the afterlife as a reward for a life well lived here on earth.  If the dreamlands are a vision of this afterlife, where you have alternative versions of heaven, hell and purgatory, then this could be an example.  Kuranes is able to actually change the landscape and create the Cornish fields of his childhood after all.  This seems as though this is his afterlife, based upon the life he lived in Cornwall as a child.  I hope to have a better sense of what the dreamlands actually are once we get a little farther into the story.

Next set of business is the clarification to the cannon of gods.  This is what I’ve been waiting for, for so long!  While Carter is speaking to Kuranes, they discuss the danger of his quest, and Kuranes tells him what little he knows, as a way of warning Carter away from the quest.  We find out that there are three different types of gods…Other Gods, Elder Ones and Great Ones.  The whole point of this quest is to find the Great Ones, to find more information about that sun kissed city, but Kuranes warns him because, he says, the Other Gods had ways of protecting the Great Ones from “impertinent curiosity”.  He made it sound as though the Other Gods would gather the Elder Ones, The truly malignant forces in the universe, to avert this curiosity.  These Elder Ones were such as Azathoth and Nyarlathotep.  We are as of yet unclear as to who the Great Ones are, and we know that the Other Gods (from both this story and the short story “The Other Gods) guard the outer Hells and barren space, “…especially where form does not exist…”.  In fact when reading the short story “The Other Gods”, when Barzai the (not so) wise climbs Hatheg-Kla to do the same thing that Carter is trying to do here, (seek out the Great Ones), the Other Gods, do something horrible and Barzai is seen no more.  The Other Gods guarded the Great Ones from “impertinent curiosity”.

The question is why is it so important for the Other Gods to protect the Great Ones, that they would pull in the malignant Elder Ones?

Hopefully we will gain an answer at the conclusion of this story!

Ok, one last little anecdotal note, which shows how pervasive Lovecraft is in our culture.  The slant-eyed merchant is known to deal with a “High-priest, not to be described, which wears a yellow silken mask over it’s face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stone monastery.”  This seems to me to be the basis for the “King In Yellow”. which is a play in a book by Robert Chambers.  The play is said to induce madness and despair for all who read it.  Could it be that there is a correlation between worlds?  Is the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, connected to the slant-eyed merchant in some way?  Could that be where he got his information to write the Necronomicon?

What do you think?


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, pt 2

Worlds converge and lands that were once thought to be unique are connected by the dream.

Welcome back to another blind read!  It’s been a little while, and I apologize for the silence, but it’s been a really busy month! And that’s a good busy, because it’s been all surrounding writing.

Like I mentioned in the last edition of the Blind read, I’m taking a different tact for this story.  There is a bit of fluidity in the story, however there is far more to analyze than there has been in previous stories.  That being said lets get back into a little bit of a recap.  I’ve read nearly half of the story of Randolph Carter journeying through the Dreamlands in his search for Kadath.

The last we saw Carter, he was just escaping the turbaned men, who were trying to take him in the Abyss to Nyarlathotep.  The Cats of Ulthar helped him escape, and he boards another ship and sails away to Oriab.  He travels across the land and finds a carving of the gods he is trying to find, and is surprised that they look much like the sailors in Celephais.  He vows to head to Celephais, when he is captured by winged horrors called Night-Gaunts.  The Night-Gaunts take him to the underworld, supposedly to die.  There, in the underworld, he finds a former friend, Richard Pickman, who has become a Ghoul.  Pickman and his Ghoul friends help Carter avoid the Ghasts (horrible creatures of the underworld), and ascend the staircase to get back to the Enchanted Wood, a higher level of the dreamlands.  He then heads off to find Celephais.

There are a few concepts that I’d like to cover here that I find particularly prescient.

The first is completely meta, and touched upon a little in the last Blind Read ( https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/05/11/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-the-dream-quest-of-unknown-kadath-pt-1/ ), but this is a story (which was published posthumously, so it may have never been intended for publication) where Lovecraft brings together many different stories he previously created.  This is the story which establishes the dreamlands as we now know them.  Despite what I’ve heard that Lovecraft wasn’t looking for cohesion or a “mythos” (forgive me, I forget where I read this, but I’ll do a little research and edit in the link if I find it), this book seems to disavow that concept.  It seems as though Carter was to become his hero of dreams.  The interesting part of this is that the dreamlands and the mythos are considered to be two separate collections, but it seems as though they are irrevocably intertwined.  We have Nyarlathotep as a central being of insidiousness, and Azathoth as the ruler of all creation and destruction.  These Outer Gods have a direct link through the dreamlands, where despite Nyarlathotep heading to earth in the story of his own name, it seems like the easiest way to contact these gods is through the dreamlands.  On top of that We have the concept of the story itself.  Carter is striving to find the gods, specifically by travelling through the dreamlands.  This is a blind read, and I’m only about half way through the story, but that seems almost like incontrovertible evidence to me.

Speaking of gods, there is a mention of a new one, I had never heard from before, which I’m pretty sure comes from Celtic mythology.  Carter is taken by Night-Gaunts to the underworld to be left to die.  The way the text is written it seems as though the underworld is a deeper level of the dreamlands, but more on that presently.

This new god’s name is Nodens, who in Celtic mythology is known as a Pan (the Roman god of mischief, amongst other things), and Nodens controls the Night-Gaunts.  So here we have another god who is trying to stop Carter, or at least delay him from reaching Kadath to ask the gods about the golden city.  If Pan is truly the inspiration for Nodens, then we know that he has more fun in playing with emotions, than with dealing in absolutes, like death.  So Nodens has his servants the Night-Gaunts kidnap Carter and try to deliver him to the despair of the underworld and revel in his misery.

This now brings us to the final point.  This portion of the story is a metaphor for depression.

The Night-Gaunts are a black winged, slightly humanoid creature, who does no harm, but delivers Carter to the underworld.  Much like the demons and devils from medieval art are portrayed.  These devils that speak half-truths into the subjects ears and put them on a downward spiral.  In the dreamlands, the Night-Gaunts are much the same, but have a more active role in actually taking Carter to the underworld.  He is not hurt, in fact he is gently placed and left alone to wallow in his despair.  He is left to die, but he is in no way injured.  He is just in the underworld.

Carter just never let go of his hope and his drive to find the golden city of his dreams.  He then soon sees what happens when one does give up hope.  He meets Richard Pickman, a former friend from Boston, who was a very talented painter.  Pickman has become a Ghoul.  A horrible former joke of the person he once was.  Luckily Pickman retains enough of his former self to understand that Carter was once a friend and rallies the other Ghouls to help him escape the underworld.  To escape the depression of what the underworld represents.  It is already too late for Pickman, he cannot leave the underworld, and returns to his life of horrors once Carter is safely out.

This section is the first truly horrifying section of the story, because previously Carter is merely travelling.  Now he had made a descent.  He is taken deeper into the dreamlands, where he has trouble seeing the light, he has trouble seeing the point of his quest.  So the deeper into the dreamlands you get, the depression takes over your mind, and derails you.  Much like the afterlife dreams in Richard Matheson’s “What Dreams May Come”.  Were these Ghouls sent here because of what they did in their lives?  Is this their hell?

What do you think?