The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath



Having recently completed a real-time review of Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ here, I somehow considered it appropriate to re-visit this HPL novella, having first read it during the 1960s.
The edition being used is that printed in the Victor Gollancz “At The Mountains of Madness and Other Novels” (1966) hardback book – pages 290 to 385.

“…but being old in the land of dream he counted on many useful memories and devices to aid him.”


11 thoughts on “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

  1. Pages 290-292
    “He knew that his journey would be strange and long, and that the Great Ones would be against it; but being old in the land of dream he counted on many useful memories and devices to aid him.

    As Randolph Carter, so the reviewer.

    But our journey is strangely eased by initial mention of Azathoth (“that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the centre of all infinity–“) who or which featured so significantly within my only nemonymous night…

  2. Pages 292-297
    Lord Dunsany may have done the groundwork, but there is a wild abandon about HPL here, haphazard creatures of imagination alternating between control and lack of control, not dissimilar to the equivalent to the Zoogs from contemporary, Jungian-connected James Joyce who had his own goal of climbing Kadath, I guess, and an interaction between gods and us whereby the gods espouse sexual flings with the ‘daughters’ and ‘maidens’ of our own kind leading to cross-dream inbreeding. Other days, other ways. And who are we, if not partly god, to do what we want, the text seems to pose. But there also seems to be something working here that is quite beyond HPL to understand even though he is compulsively channelling it nevertheless.
    HPL is xenophobic I sense about his own writing self when that self takes over (cf the separate Proustian selves), as if the dream journey he recounts is an uncomfortably strange foreign country beyond himself, despite some of that country’s Dunsany delights and old world pastoral that he tries to absorb into it to neutralise its demons.
    “…the Zoogs do not pause near that expansive slab with its huge ring; for they realise that all which is forgotten need not necessarily be dead,…”
    “…the great stone bridge across the Skai, into whose central piece the masons had sealed a living human sacrifice when they built it thirteen-hundred years before.”

    A previous dreamer like Carter is today? Or just another reader like me or you who got lost crossing over from word to word and inadvertently falling into the text and getting tangled by its meaning…?

  3. Page 298
    “With the night came song, and Carter nodded as the lutanists praised ancient days from beyond the filigreed balconies and tesselated courts of simple Ulthar. And there might have been sweetness even in the voices of Ulthar’s many cats, but that they were mostly heavy and silent from strange feasting. Some of them stole off to those cryptical realms which are known only to cats and which villagers say are on the moon’s dark side, whither the cats leap from tall housetops, but one small black kitten crept upstairs and sprang in Carter’s lap to purr and play, and curled up near his feet when he lay down at last on the little couch whose pillows were stuffed with fragrant, drowsy herbs.”

  4. –> Page 302
    “…and the way their turbans were humped up in two points above their foreheads was in especially bad taste.”
    I sense that HPL’s greatest fear is himself and his ability to write of distasteful things, not fear of the things themselves. Hence the ‘forgotten’ dreams, the-things-that-must-not-be-described or even mentioned, while he is captive to the dream, not Carter’s dream but the dream of writing about it. The fact that transport is often by ‘zebra-ride’ in Carter’s dream may reveal a secret yearning by HPL to ‘ride’ both main races, dark and white, not just one. This also reminds me of the textual captcha codes of his near exact contemporary Joyce in Finnegans Wake: the attempted insulation from whatever forces of self (with Joyce, incest) that are feared. So, not necessarily a catharsis from the writing of these things, but often a direct daredevilry with the self, a self of daredevilry that HPL and Joyce alike may share as they unconsciously write ‘together’ across the Atlantic, i.e. Ireland – New England being the nearest crossing-points, like their respective dreams of reaching for that ultimate, yet still undefinable, Kadath, across a waste-like ocean or a dry desert of a feared writer’s block, a block like unknown Kadath itself? Each of these writers a block or mountain or peak of literature. Their minds like those boats of which Carter is not allowed to even glimpse the crew?

  5. I note with some interest and surprise — just now when I googled James Joyce and Lovecraft, Kadath and Finnegans Wake etc — that I am perhaps not the first to tentatively explore these types of comparison…

  6. Pages 302-308
    KAdaTh is loveCrAfT’s only stream of consciousness fiction work, I feel — his circular Joycean riverrun to riverrun with ‘nonsense’ words that are really captcha codes for allowing entrance to loveCrAfT’s works and fighting alongside him against whatever he sees needs fighting against within the works’ words. The Crawling Chaos Theory. And it is as if the ‘chamber’ in which CArTer is now locked for a time is a variety of that aforementioned bubbling centre of infinity which equates with loveCrAfT’s own self-perceived soul as beset by things like toads and other detestabilities, obscene fungi, green ichor, impious flutes, obnoxious drays, all edged with ‘a leprous-looking coast’ etc., etc. but the Flashmob of daredevil ‘dark side moon’ jumping cats is loveCrAfT’s atomised Nemo* rather than his Ego or Id … a force for stroking, purring goodness that attempts to heal the dark side that loveCrAfT forces penitentially upon himself. It has always seemed ironic that loveCrAfT’s name is Lovecraft (a unique and unlikely name for a horror writer in spite of himself). He may be one of what this section of ‘Kadath’ calls “approximate human beings”.

    * “The nemo is an evolutionary force, as necessary as the ego. The ego is certainty, what I am; the nemo is potentiality, what I am not. But instead of utilizing the nemo as we would utilize any other force, we allow ourselves to be terrified by it, as primitive man was terrified by lightning. We run screaming from this mysterious shape in the middle of our town, even though the real terror is not in itself, but in our terror at it.”
    – John Fowles (from ‘The Necessity of Nemo’ in ‘The Aristos’ 1964)

  7. Pages 308-318
    “… and was told that very few had seen the carven face thereon; but that most travellers are content to learn its legends from old people and lava-gatherers and image-makers in Baharna and afterward say in their far homes that they have indeed beheld it.”
    …and with Carter himself being an oldster, I wonder if we are too led to believe that we actually follow him on his zebra mount and view with him, too, the awesome sight of Ngranek’s carven face … a god carved by gods? Or is this just fiction, after all? Or a fiction of a dream? Or a dream of a fiction? Or a once intrinsic reality, a once ancient hope.
    The sunken city that we view with him — as he sails above it toward this Ngranek and future hope of reaching Kadath — shows him a presumably drowned sailor tied head downward to ‘an old high monolith’ or, in my own terms, ‘a dead monument to once ancient hope’… A journey, then, like my own nemonymous night, to “that subterrene horror of which dim legends tell, and which is litten only by the pale death-fire wherewith reeks the ghoulish air and the primal mists of the pits at earth’s core.” I muse gently to myself because, when typing that quotation out, my iPad’s little typing helper automatically changed ‘litten’ to ‘kitten’… But I have now changed it back.

  8. Page 318
    “…which he knew must be the fabled Peaks of Throk. Awful and sinister they stand in the haunted disk of sunless and eternal depths; higher than man may reckon, and guarding terrible valleys where the dholes crawl and burrow nastily. But Carter preferred to look at them than at his captors, which were indeed shocking and uncouth black things with smooth, oily, whale-like surfaces, unpleasant horns that curved inward toward each other, bat wings whose beating made no sound, ugly prehensile paws, and barbed tails that lashed needlessly and disquietingly. And worst of all, they never spoke or laughed, and never smiled because they had no faces at all to smile with, but only a suggestive blankness where a face ought to be. All they ever did was clutch and fly and tickle; that was the way of night-gaunts.”

  9. –> Page 320
    There are some remarkable passages in this novella that equate with, even exceed, passages in much more commonly accepted great literature – from which so-called literature HPL’s surrounding outlandish pulpishness, as some people may deem it, can be argued by those people to detract.
    As CArTer now scales a ladder I am not only reminded of my own experience of a nemonymous night toward not necessarily our outer limits as opposed to earth’s core but also reminded of Keith’s scaling of a ladder in my favourite novel of 2013 – the second part of Valiant Razalia: a duology by Michael Wyndham Thomas – a novel that positively resonates with the feel of HPL’s ‘Kadath’. And readers should read both VR and Kadath if they read one of them.

  10. Pingback: JAMES JOYCE: An Encounter | Bowen KÔRner (The Circumflexing Elbow)

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