The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is a novella of about 40,000 words written by Lovecraft in 1927. It’s one of his later stories, and it incorporates a lot of the monsters he created in earlier works. Even though it has the usual Lovecraftian horror suspects like Nyarlathotep, the night-gaunts, and the gibbering Outer Gods, Dream-Quest is more of an adventure story than a horror story. Most of the book is Randolf Carter (the protagonist from “The Statement of Randolf Carter”) travelling across the dreamlands and talking with its various peoples and species.
It’s interesting to see how the Lovecraftian monsters go about their normal lives and see where they fit into the mythos, but this novella is almost boring enough to make you want to beat your head against the wall. There are two battles/skirmishes, and Carter gets kidnapped twice and almost dies once, but there’s not a lot of real tension because the characters aren’t fleshed out enough to get invested in. The bulk of the book is descriptions of places and races, but there’s not a whole lot going on, so it can get very boring. For someone who’s familiar with Lovecraft, though, you get a little bit of excitement from recognizing characters or creatures from other stories.
Keep in mind when reading this that this is an unfinished draft. One of the tells of this is how often arcane words are repeated—usually they’re spaced out or varied enough to give the impression of a wide vocabulary, but here the words “porphyry” and “marmoreal” are used at least 3 times each. I have to say, I really like reading Lovecraft on a Kindle for the ability to look up his antique verbiage without having to pull out my cell phone.
Randolf’s goal is to find the dark mountain of Kadath to beseech the gods to tell him where the magical sunset city he has been dreaming about can be found. When he gets to Kadath, Nyarlathotep tells him that all he has to do to get to his sunset city is think of the various cities of his native New England. His dream city is a mixture of the cities he saw in childhood. Dream-Quest is one of Lovecraft’s most personal stories, because Randolf is so similar to Lovecraft and Dream-Quest really goes into Lovecraft’s nostalgia for childhood and fear of the other (there are a lot of spooky black slaves and turbaned traders at the ports). I wonder how Lovecraft’s fear of the other fits with his curiosity about the supernatural and occult. Is interest in elder gods a way to distract oneself from engaging with elements of the other in society, or is the search for the occult really a search for something that transcends human social barriers?