“If you say int he first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off…” – Anton Chekhov
“But oh God, under the weight of life, things seem brighter on the other side. No way out of here…” – Dave Matthews Band “Big Eyed Fish”
“Just as anyone who listens to the muse will hear, you can write out of your own intention or out of inspiration. There is such a thing. It comes up and talks. And those who have heard deeply the rhythms and hymns of the gods, can recite those hymns in such a way that the gods will be attracted.” – Joseph Campbell “The Hero’s Journey”
In literature when we go on a journey with a character, there is always a mental journey as well as a physical journey. Why is our hero, our hero? Why is it he/she that has been chosen to do this task? If they chose it, then why? These are the questions asked from any good protagonist on a hero’s journey, so what did Randolph Carter learn?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’ll be talking about the epic conclusion of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, and some theories that i have from reading it. Again these are all my own theories, but feel free to give me some of your own!
The last time we saw Carter her was at the gates of Sarkomand and the great abyss. He finds some Ghouls who are trapped by the same evil merchants and helps them escape. Then calls upon the remainder of the ghouls to fight against these horrible minions. With the help of Nodens he gains the help of the night-gaunts. With these night-gaunts (whom “even the Great Ones fear”) and the Ghouls, they have an epic battle against the Shantak birds and moon-beasts and the fish like creatures (of which one can only assume are off shoots of Dagon). Once they win the fight, mainly because of the vastly superior night-gaunts, they all go back to Sarkomand and the ghouls go back down to the abyss and Carter, again with the help of the night-gaunts, flies to Kadath.
Upon reaching Kadath he finds that the castle is empty, all except for a Pharaoh like man, who gives him directions to the sunset city, and tells Carter that he must get the Great Ones (Earth’s Gods) back to their homes on Kadath. He tells Carter that they got the glimpse of the Sunset City from him, for it is a recreation of New England, Boston and Providence specifically, and the earth gods loved it so much that they went there.
Carter leaves, flying out on a Shantak, but realizes that he has been tricked. The Pharaoh like man was actually Nyarlathotep and he is having the Shantak take Carter to the center of the universe and the seat of Azathoth to be devoured (I think this means both physical and mental). Carter realizes the ploy, and leaps from the Shantak, and creates a kick, to bring him out of the dream. He finds himself back in Boston, and revels in his sunset city.
In a brief epilogue, Nyarlathotep is bitter that Carter escaped, but he has been able to bring the Great Ones back to Kadath and mocks them as they brood.
This is without a doubt the most uplifting story that I’ve read by Lovecraft, and that has me wondering. I understand that this story was published posthumously by August Derleth, and where I’ve not seen information to state that Lovecraft didn’t finish this story, it does seem, from the battle scene on, like a different type of story. I wonder if Derleth took over this story and finished it, to have the dreamlands be a thing. But I digress.
I have three main points for the end of this story and they all revolve around the quote’s up at the top of the page. The first is Chekhov.
There are many call backs throughout this story. We have Pickman coming back at the end. We have the slant-eyed merchant continuing to re-emerge as a sinister being (no doubt spurned on by Nyarlathotep). Finally, we have the duplication of New England as the sunset city, in the same way that King Kuranes created Cornwall to be the place of his dreamland life. This was the foreshadowing of where Lovecraft was going to take the story. Kuranes goes to great lengths to describe how he created the land that he wanted, and that he had been chasing for all these years, while he’s speaking with Carter. Then when we go back to the beginning of the story:
“…and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory…”
Lovecraft is saying right here that what he is chasing after is a memory. it wasn’t until the end that I remembered that line, and the whole story was brought full circle. That cyclical journey.
If we continue in that line it brings me to my next point.
“…the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.”
He is both trying to remember what the sunset city was in his dreams, but he is also trying to reconcile the memory of New England with what it is now. His memories were what built the sunset city, and it’s wonderful and glorious vision.
The way that Carter views his current situation is that New England is run down, and the city of his dreams is so beautiful that he wants to go there. “Oh god, under the weight of life, things seem so much brighter on the other side.” He thinks that by going to the sunset city he will find heaven, or at least some version of it that he can live in, in the dreamlands. This is merely a projection however, because the reality is that the sunset city is his own creation, just like King Kuranes created Cornwall. He is searching for an idyllic memory, when what he is truly looking for is right outside of his bedroom when he wakes up.
That’s the major irony of the story, because things aren’t better on the other side. They are only better once you come to realize that the world is what you make of it, and when Carter wakes, he realizes that he is in his Sunset City finally, and the journey to Kadath, while spectacular, was unnecessary.
The last point is one that is very interesting to me, particularly when it comes to the cannon of Gods. The Great Old ones are the “Earth Gods” as Nyarlathotep calls them. Carter has nearly transcended the gods, and has completed his mythological journey (quest), by creating something that the Great Ones want to experience. At the end of the story, the Great Ones actually go to the Sunset City in the dreamlands. They see all the glory that it beholds.
The dreamlands are of neither time, nor of space. We see that because of the things that the dreamers can do, create cities and such. Stay with me now, because I’m going to get a little crazy.
So back to Carters journey for a second. The Great Ones are the Gods of Earth and everything on Earth has to do with them, not directly, but in the Lovecraftian world, we developed from these moon creatures. So when Carter created the Sunset City based upon New England, there was a link between the Great Ones and the vision of the city. They saw something in it that called back to the time that they were here, and that was the point of his journey. To bring solace to the Great Ones, to lure them back into complacency and slumber, because they could experience the world, without having to come to our world.
The tragedy of the journey is that he ultimately fails. That is where the menace and horror of the story come in. Nyarlathotep tricks Carter, and instead of making sure that the Great Ones know about the city, he is taken elsewhere, and Nyarlathotep can collect the Great Ones and take them back to Kadath, where they don’t want to be. Nyarlathotep wants the Great Ones to long for Earth, he wants them to come to earth a sew destruction (just because of their nature, not because of malice). So he brings them away from their reverie in experiencing what the Earth is like, just having a small taste, and then brings them back to the cold wastes of Kadath, and taunting them, on their loss…until they get frustrated enough to escape and head back to New England.
What do you think?