It’s cold outside, so let’s curl up under the covers and undertake “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”!
Randolph Carter, traveler of the dreamlands, decides he wants to find the unknown city of Kadath after dreaming about it, so he undertakes an interminable quest through the world of dreams to find the city. He meets some friendly cats, he sails to the moon, he goes to many places with dumb names and meets creatures and people with dumb names, all in his quest to find Kadath because…he feels like it.
Eventually, maybe he finds it. Or, then again, maybe he doesn’t. I gotta be honest—this defeated me, and there was no way in Kadath I was getting through all 48,000 words. I abandoned the dream quest about halfway through.
I like the way we’re just dropped into the story without a lot of exposition about how stuff works. We have to figure out the rules as we go along. I appreciated that. I guess it’s kind of cool also to see stuff that appears in other, better stories showing up here. I’m stretching.
Let’s just be honest here. Most masters of the short story are not that great at the long form. If they’re smart, like Raymond Carver, they don’t even attempt the long form. If they’re not, they write dreck like this. I’m trying to be kind here, so let me use some “I statements.” I don’t think you can sustain a story over 48,000 words on sense of wonder alone. I didn’t care about Randolph Carter’s dream quest at all because there’s not really any compelling reason for him to undertake it apart from curiosity.
And H.P.’s prose styling, somewhat difficult for me to navigate even when the story is exciting, becomes nearly unreadable here. Don’t believe me? Try this utterly typical sentence on for size:
Then one very ancient Zoog recalled a thing unheard-of by the others; and said that in Ulthar, beyond the River Skai, there still lingered the last copy of those inconceivably old Pnakotic Manuscripts made by waking men in forgotten boreal kingdoms and borne into the land of dreams when the hairy cannibal Gnophkehs overcame many-templed Olathoe and slew all the heroes of the land of Lomar.
Let me just restate that what you’ve just read is a single sentence. Yeesh. With all the goofy names, this resembles nothing so much as a Conan story with no maimings, beheadings, or full-bosomed warrior queens. In other words, completely pointless. I suppose we’re meant to thrill to the fruits of H.P.’s imagination, but the night gaunts gamboling through the dingly dell or whatever got old for me after about a paragraph.
Did I mention there is no dialogue at all? Everything is told, not shown, or, as H.P. would have it, shewn.
Rereading a bunch of his stories has, overall, given me additional respect for H.P.’s work. Many of his short stories are nothing short of brilliant. This, however, is, in my opinion, a great steaming turd of a novella.
I must apologize to Chris Meadows, who notes that “Dream Quest” is his favorite Lovecraft and who was also kind enough to send me a copy of Kadath Decoded, a rock opera based on the story by German prog-metal outfit Payne’s Gray.
Since I didn’t care for the story, I suppose it follows that I would not care for the rock opera based on it. I am more of a Ramones kind of guy: 3 chords, 2 and a half minutes, let’s call it a rock and roll song and move on.
I do admire the ambition and the musicianship behind this project, but it’s just fundamentally not for me. Here’s a little quiz to see if it might be for you:
1. What’s your opinion of Rush’s “2112”?:
a) *sings “We are the priests of the temples of Syrinx...”*
b) Neal Peart + Ayn Rand= 2 great philosophers who philosophize great together!
c) Boo! Play “Red Barchetta!”
d) Rush? Are you kidding?
2. What’s your opinion of the Yes album Relayer?
a) Love it. Wish “The Gates of Delirium” were both sides!
b) It’s okay.
c) Yes? Who the hell is that?
d) I can’t answer, as I have never actually listened to the entire thing despite at least 2 attempts.
3. What if the quiet parts of Metallica songs never really started rockin'?
a) I could live with that.
b) Cool! The rockin’ parts rock too hard for me anyway.
c) Not interested.
d) Isn’t that the band that did “Mr. Sandman”?
4. What’s your opinion of Emerson, Lake and Palmer?
a) Great band.
b) I like some of their stuff.
c) It’s a damn shame that a band called Atomic Rooster had to break up for this band to exist. Though I’ve never actually heard that band. But still.
d) Is that, like, a law firm or something?
If you answered a) or b) to any of the above questions, you should probably check out Kadath Decoded. If, like me, you answered 1. C, 2. D 3. C and 4. C, then you should probably skip it.
Seamus Cooper is the author of The Mall of Cthulhu (Night Shade Books, 2009). His dream quests usually look kinda like this and don’t involve any lost cities, but, hey, he was a boy in the 70s.