Unknown Kadath

The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath“Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles. It was a fever of the gods, a fanfare of supernal trumpets and a clash of immortal cymbals. Mystery hung about it as clouds about a fabulous unvisited mountain; and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place. ”

Thus begins H.P. Lovecraft’s tale “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.” As a child my father would often bring home golden age science fiction novels he purchased in bulk at the library, and among them I discovered Asimov, Clarke, Niven, and lots and lots of other greats. And after that, all I would read was science fiction. Once my father handed me a copy of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and as soon as I saw that there were no space ships, no black holes, or starfaring races I wanted nothing to do with it. It sat on my shelf until it disappeared. Yet there was one book that also sat on my shelf with an odd looking cover (shown above) that caught my attention. The cats seemed normal enough, but what was with the odd squid from behind the tree? And that bird with evil looking teeth? I picked up the book one summer and read it cover to cover in two days, then went back to the beginning and read it again, preferring to sit on the couch and read the book than to hang out with friends. I had never been that engrossed in a book before, and the feeling it inspired in me is beyond words. And to this day, it’s the only book I have read more than three times (there are probably less than a half dozen I have read more than once). Something so fascinated me about Lovecraft’s vivid lands, the sense of utter loss and hopelessness that propelled his character across dangerous and evil dreamscapes in order to find not a person, but a city. At another point my father handed me The Fellowship of the Ring, but it didn’t hold a candle to Dream Quest. (Hobbits in holes? I wanted sea galleys that sailed to the Moon) For years, all I read was Lovecraft. If they didn’t have a Lovecraft anthology in the bookstore, I’d buy a book set in the Cthulhu mythos (Chaosium Press comes to mind). Many years later, while taking my first writing class at the New School I was talking with a classmate about Lovecraft. I told him that I’ve read nearly everything he’s written. And my classmate scoffed and said, “He’s written a lot. There’s no way you could have read him all!” Perhaps he’s right, but sometimes I wonder…

Dream Quest is not for everyone. In between flying on the back of blind, gibbering, and winged demons Randolph Carter pauses to feed stray cats some milk. There are no battling armies here, no warring houses and men of honor. There is only a man wishing to return home again and literally going to the end of the universe to accomplish it. It’s Lovecraft’s writings that inspired me to become a writer myself, roiling in my subconscious for a decade before I first put pen to page. The vivid worlds, the vistas on the edge of madness, the promise of salvation at the end of an impossible journey, terraces on the cusp of infinity. I’ve since moved on from his work, and I’m currently reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, a book without aliens or spacecraft or far-flung, star-faring worlds. But every now and then I look back to Lovecraft’s books sitting silent on my shelf and wonder, I look at my ceiling and wonder if the angles are just a little bit off, or if my cat knows something she’s not letting on. And sometimes, just for fun, I dream of a city blazing “in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens” so I can remember that feeling one more time.

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