THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH by H.P. Lovecraft
“He gave the seeker some passwords of great value…”
MY REVIEW (CONTINUED FROM HERE) WILL TAKE PLACE IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW AS AND WHEN I READ IT:-
–> Page 328
I listen to Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto as I read this section, sinuous as a dreamland riverrun or a gentle bleating of pipers as Gugs, ghasts and ghouls hop and machinate around them. I wonder about other contemporaries of HPL, wherein a dream-quest to unknown Kadath might figure, unknown because not overt, indeed hidden beneath their works. Evelyn Waugh. Patrick Hamilton. Lord Dunsany. James Joyce. WB Yeats. Howard Carter. LP Hartley. Richard Upton Pickman, the painter, himself a named ghoul in this HPL tract of travelling back to ‘upper dreamland’ – another ‘approximate human being’, “naked and rubbery, and had acquired so much of the ghoulish physiognomy that its human origin was already obscure.”
Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (the whole of which I real-time reviewed here) has levels of dreamland, some pecking order of reality close to the waking worlds, with characters changing as a result like Susannah-Detta, as they travel through the Todash doors. This Dark Tower series is also full of ostensible ‘nonsense’ words gradually assuming meaning like that of Todash, KA-teT etc etc: another close shave with Finnegans Wake.
HPL in this section of KAdaTh pages: “…in abysses nearer the waking world.” — “…for he knew nothing of the way from Leng to Ooth-Nargai, and was likewise reluctant to awake lest he forget all he had so far gained in this dream.”– “…grotesque fragments of monuments…” — “There was no living denizen about, for Zoogs shun the mysterious door in fear,…”
–> Page 330
The Flashmob of cats against the Zoogs – in this remarkable passage:
“But presently his progress was halted by a sound from a very large hollow tree. He had avoided the great circle of stones, since he did not care to speak with zoogs just now; but it appeared from the singular fluttering in that huge tree that important councils were in session elsewhere. Upon drawing nearer he made out the accents of a tense and heated discussion; and before long became conscious of matters which he viewed with the greatest concern. For a war on the cats was under debate in that sovereign assembly of zoogs. It all came from the loss of the party which had sneaked after Carter to Ulthar, and which the cats had justly punished for unsuitable intentions. The matter had long rankled; and now, or within at least a month, the marshalled zoogs were about to strike the whole feline tribe in a series of surprise attacks, taking individual cats or groups of cats unawares, and giving not even the myriad cats of Ulthar a proper chance to drill and mobilise. This was the plan of the zoogs, and Carter saw that he must foil it before leaving on his mighty quest.
Very quietly therefore did Randolph Carter steal to the edge of the wood and send the cry of the cat over the starlit fields. And a great grimalkin in a nearby cottage took up the burden and relayed it across leagues of rolling meadow to warriors large and small, black, grey, tiger, white, yellow, and mixed; and it echoed through Nir and beyond the Skai even into Ulthar, and Ulthar’s numerous cats called in chorus and fell into a line of march. It was fortunate that the moon was not up, so that all the cats were on earth. Swiftly and silently leaping, they sprang from every hearth and housetop and poured in a great furry sea across the plains to the edge of the wood. Carter was there to greet them, and the sight of shapely, wholesome cats was indeed good for his eyes after the things he had seen and walked with in the abyss. He was glad to see his venerable friend and one-time rescuer at the head of Ulthar’s detachment, a collar of rank around his sleek neck, and whiskers bristling at a martial angle. Better still, as a sub-lieutenant in that army was a brisk young fellow who proved to be none other than the very little kitten at the inn to whom Carter had given a saucer of rich cream on that long-vanished morning in Ulthar.”
CArTer is remarkably given passwords…or Joyce’s CApTcha codes?
“And the old cat said that he had heard much of unknown Kadath in the cold waste, but did not know where it was. As for the marvellous sunset city, he had not even heard of that, but would gladly relay to Carter anything he might later learn.
He gave the seeker some passwords of great value among the cats of dreamland, and commended him especially to the old chief of the cats in Celephaïs, whither he was bound.”
–> Page 340
“All that afternoon the pilgrim wandered on through perfumed meadows and in the lee of gentle riverward hills bearing peaceful thatched cottages and the shrines of amiable gods carven from jasper or chrysoberyl.”
The ‘pastoral’ returns within this zebra-skinned dreamland, a Swiss Roll of darkness and idyll. Beautiful prose that is stylised with an indescribable code, but still a code that we gradually absorb and understand in a way that we cannot explain – whereby there are autonomous existences within CArTer’s dreamland as well as his head-lease existence, those others akin to existences in the waking world known and unknown by CArTer, and I sense HPL is solving our schizms as well as his own.
There are worthy dreamers, so-called – and ancient and grizzled cats with thoughts of ‘forgotten dreams’, too. The quest for the sunset city as part of the same quest for unpleasant Leng and unknown Kadath. There is no accident that Kadath is a blend of Cat and Death. And that darkness and light, in our quest of or for life, of or for death, is seen here as a (albeit difficult) synergy and not a battle – a synergy upon the unknown plateaux swaddled in the complex veils and piques, vales and ‘impassable peaks’ of HPL’s mind, of each of our minds, too, could we fathom ourselves.
“Certainly, men reached Leng from very different oceans.”
–> Page 351
“Then they turned and descended again the onyx alley of steps, for the palace itself no visitor may enter; and it is not well to look too long and steadily at the great central dome, since it is said to house the archaic father of all the rumoured shantak-birds, and to send out queer dreams to the curious.”
I don’t want to give the impression that ‘Kadath’ is a roman-à-clef or a deliberate means for personal catharsis. It may be or may be not. But what it definitely represents, for me, is l’art pour l’art, with a wink towards the abstruse humour of something like ‘Finnegans Wake’, comprising over-the-top material (“…nor is it unwhispered that deep flights of onyx steps go down to mysteries that are never told”) that many now recognise as Lovecraft-à-clef – as well as spot-on periods of sublimity with that amazing visual sight towards the end of this section, a sight that follows on from : “But now these hills were hills no more, for some hand greater than man’s had touched them.” and leads to what I can only call a scene of dead monuments to once ancient hope.
“…an old High Priest sad with inner secrets.”
As a passing aside, my simultaneous observation about HPL’s ‘illusion of significance’ as exemplified in ‘KADATH’: http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?p=100061#post100061
–> Page 362
“There could be no mistake, for the legends of dreamland are generous and profuse.”
But this section is also flaccid and thin (“…and there opened up ahead one of those flat sterile plains on which ghouls love to squat and gnaw.”), a bit like an adventure in the Temple of Doom, a section that prevents this novella becoming a masterpiece … with a swarming Spinradiana of moonbeast, gug, dhole, ghoul, shast (sic) and night-gaunt, but also a section of captivity and captcha.
“…and the ghoul which was Pickman had taught him to glibber (sic) a password they understood.”
–> Page 373
Much galley and sea business to follow the Temple of Doom fighting, as I begin to wonder if HPL is having his ‘Finnegans Wake’ moment comparatively early in his life compared to Joyce’s own late life creative craquelure in scrawling out his ‘crackajolking’. ‘Great Ones’ in this HPL time zone not ‘Great OLD Ones’. MEEPING and GLIBBERING are essential CApTcha words now as they continue to accrue more and more in HPL’s text … to mix with the creatures’ names in this section of KAdaTh as a form of the words’ Crawling Chaos… Of what is NYARLATHOTEP an anagram? I am sure it has one.
CARTER is a riverrun RETRACk perhaps toward his own beginning, sunset to sunrise, as ‘Finnegans Wake’ itself ended with words that wrapped round to its beginning. “…a daemon cacophony…” — “unseen bubblers…”
‘…doubtfully stained fonts’ as death baptisms? ‘…in the hideous monastery of Leng where broods alone the high-priest not to be described.’ Cf ‘a Carolla who is not’ as a name in itself from the Michael Wyndham Thomas duology I mentioned earlier in this review.
And think of THIS in terms of what we think we know about HPL: “…for Pickman always discouraged the old ghoulish custom of killing and eating one’s own wounded,…”
This section ends with an amazing pan-optical vision of mad mountains or carving-blocks as we approach the end of this quest for a book’s textual blocks, if not Carter’s for Kadath’s unknown ones: “Then suddenly the clouds thinned and the stars shone spectrally above. All below was still black, but those pallid beacons in the sky seemed alive with a meaning and directiveness they had never possessed elsewhere. It was not that the figures of the constellations were different, but that the same familiar shapes now revealed a significance they had formerly failed to make plain. Everything focussed toward the north; every curve and asterism of the glittering sky became part of a vast design whose function was to hurry first the eye and then the whole observer onward to some secret and terrible goal of convergence beyond the frozen waste that stretched endlessly ahead. Carter looked toward the east where the great ridge of barrier peaks had towered along all the length of Inquanok, and saw against the stars a jagged silhouette which told of its continued presence. It was more broken now, with yawning clefts and fantastically erratic pinnacles; and Carter studied closely the suggestive turns and inclinations of that grotesque outline, which seemed to share with the stars some subtle northward urge.” Cf Joyce’s recurrent iritis (and mine!).
–> Page 385
I should quote the whole text from the last 12 pages or none of it. It surely needs to be read for the first time in your own eyes, not mine. These closing scenes – make no mistake – and in the context of the previous parts of the novella – represent the height of Literature in English, or as English as such textual craquelure can be, with all its mad rivers of strange words. The height of literature in its tentacularly limpid as well as clotted prose style, in its creative nonsenses and competing fullnesses of sense. Finnegan had a Wake, both a death and an awakening, a cyclic worm ouroboros of a novel. So, too, does Carter, but even more meaningfully as well as meaninglessly. Here we are uncertain whether he reaches the idyll of his youthful birthplace, his sunset city beyond dreamland, and you must compare that ‘illusion of significance’ passage to which I linked earlier in this review quoted by me today serendipitously on the TLO site without then realising how important it would become in the context of this novella’s end scenes, the seemingly noble speech of Nyarlathotep and the ambivalent result of that speech – a work that either ends with Azathoth (as my nemonymous night ends) or an ending of a youthful idyll in that sunset city.
I am literally aching to quote some short passages from these last 12 pages, passages that will startle you, please you, substantiate for you much of what I foreshadowed, and they would stay in your mind forever. But I resist. As I have resisted for nearly fifty years my re-reading of this work, for fear of renewing its end and finding it as nightmarish as I remembered it. A return to that youthful reading I once made. In all innocence. Now with guilty pleasure, like an old grizzled cat, I still wonder if I should have gone there. Not a Great One grown Old. But become Old reading a Great One.
“What’s it about?” the same boy asked me, not long after the omnipresent bird had first alighted on the paternal tricorne. This was, distantly, the second-most-frequent question I got when somebody saw or heard that I was reading Finnegans Wake, after Why? The latter question was often, I noticed, accompanied by a look of mild contempt or even disgust, a wrinkling of the nose. A reader steeped in the work of H.P. Lovecraft could not help observing that, to many educated people, there was something unmistakably loathsome about the Wake, a touch of Necronomicon, as though it had been bound in human hide.
My own real-time review of FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce, that also features HP Lovecraft:
My relevant review of HPL's 'The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath':
I have heard a rumour that Norman R Gayford wrote an article entitled 'Lovecraft and James Joyce' that appeared in 'Lovecraft Studies 18'.
Re: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
…nor a direct influence of Lovecraft on Joyce, for that matter!
bfitzworth 10:34 AM#79219
Re: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
I have not claimed a direct influence by Joyce on Lovecraft (as I did with Mann on Aickman) but rather an instinctive or, dare I say, a Jungian connection
Discussion on ALL HALLOWS Yahoogroup.
Rhys Hughes’s controversial view of HPL: http://rhysaurus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/lovecrafts-something.html
my review of the AGE OF LOVECRAFT academic book – https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/the-age-of-lovecraft/
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