Review: Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Review by Amy Harlib

Ballantine Books, NY, Reissue edition July 1996, $6.50, mass market paperback, ISBN#: 0-34533-779-4

Way back in the early 70s, when I was a college student (dates me doesn’t it), I was already a lifelong lover of all things fantastical. That I became an eager collector of the entire run of the late, lamented, Lin Carter-edited Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, which burst upon the genre literary scene at that time, almost goes without saying.

Among these venerable mass market paperback volumes were two devoted to the early works of H.P. Lovecraft: The Doom That Came to Sarnath, which collected short fiction, and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, which contained the previously very-rare titular short novel and five very-closely-related briefer tales. These first encounters with the imaginings of this master of weird fiction blew me away and compelled me to acquire every other bit of his writing I could reasonably afford, mainly the rest of Ballantine’s general line of paperback gatherings of Lovecraft stories and short novels, and soon, many additional books of Lovecraft-inspired fabulations by others in his orbit: August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Brian Lumley, Colin Wilson, Clarke Ashton Smith, et al.

Ever since then and right up until now, while I have enjoyed all my readings of things Lovecraftian, his early writing, inspired by the otherworldly, poetic style of another of my favorites, Lord Dunsany (also readily available back then in the Adult Fantasy Series and in some reprints now), appealed to my deepest, passionate cravings for the weirdly exotic, magical and the unearthly. The Doom That Came to Sarnath and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath fulfilled my needs to such an ecstatic extent that these books have remained two of my all-time re-read and best-loved with the lengthiest (the more, the merrier), Dream-Quest taking the #1 spot. I also admit great fondness for “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time”, these running close seconds and all the rest of the oeuvre following swiftly behind.

Why such enthusiasm? I am not alone, for Lovecraft’s fantastic conceptions have remained popular and in print for decades since his passing in 1937, while the efforts of other scribes of weird works have faded into (often undeserved) obscurity. For me personally, the appeal lies, with Dream-Quest being the exemplar, in Lovecraft’s ability to combine unabashedly purple prose with wildly imaginative, gorgeous imagery hinting at deeper darkness, to create emotionally intense feelings of awe and wonderment without ever descending to explicit gross-outs.

To follow The Dream-Quest’s protagonist, student of the occult Randolph Carter, through the Gates of Deeper Slumber into the vast gulfs of the celestial regions in search of Unknown Kadath – the mountain-peak dwelling of the godlike Great Old Ones – is to experience the epitome of strangeness, a hallucinogenic, phantasmagorical adventure seldom equaled. Carter’s journeys, packed with marvels described in deliciously dense and detailed prose, conjure up vivid sensory impressions involving multifarious realms and entities that can be benign or malign. Many of these later became recurring staples in what developed into the Cthulhu Mythos, which chronicled long-forgotten sinister and clandestine “Elder Gods” in age-old, cosmic conflict with the less threatening “The Great Old Ones”, with human pawns caught in the middle.

The  Dream-Quest’s intricately-imagined thrills include memorable, mystical encounters with (most notably): the inhabitants of none other than that hideous, haunted place of evil and mystery – the icy, high plateau of the forbidden monasteries of Leng!; the delightfully beneficent Cats of Ulthar; the once-human Pickman, now turned ghoul, and many of his ilk; enigmatic, sentient creatures called Zoogs and Gugs; the merchant galleys of Dylath-Leen; the magnificent city of Celephais in the kingdom of Ooth-Nargai ruled by the renowned Kuranes; eagerly-sought, esoteric Pnakotic manuscripts; and a climactic episode involving the crawling chaos Nyalarthotep!

Serious collectors should seek out the Adult Fantasy edition of  Dream-Quest from May 1970 with the exquisite Gervasio Gallardo cover painting that perfectly captures the ingenious blend of the beautiful and the creepy that pervades this splendidly eerie yarn. The current, readily available reprinting sports artwork with misleadingly horrific imagery.

Delirious, bizarre, chilling, exciting, unforgettable – the stuff of sheer wonder – no surprise the  Dream-Quest and its closely-related, Cthulhu-connected corpus inspired many others to play in such a vastly entertaining creation, endeavors which Lovecraft so generously permitted. Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath deserves to be read and savored not only for its own intrinsic value, but for its seminal, inspirational role in helping to spawn an entire sub-genre of weird fiction that attracts a large cadre of aficionados.

Interested in purchasing this book? Buy The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath from Amazon.com or purchase it from your local bookstore.

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