The Dream-Quest of Kadath (Completed in 1927, Published in 1943)
Though technically it wasn’t the first published story featuring Randolph Carter, chronologically-speaking this posthumously published work does contain the man’s first adventure as he rubs shoulders with the wonders of the Dreamlands. In any case, our protagonist is introduced to us as a man who keeps having dreams of a majestic city, taunted by the fact he can’t see it up close, nor does he know its location. His prayers to the Gods go unanswered, and as if cruelly mocked by fate, his dreams come to a stop. Nevertheless, Carter remains resolute to find his way to the wondrous city of Kadath, a place none have ever seen or been to, in hopes of beseeching the gods in person. Thus, Randolph Carter lies down to sleep one more time, and begins his long journey through the planes of the Dreamlands in hopes of finding the unattainable.
When it comes to Lovecraft, we are generally used to shorter stories with some form of dramatic twist at the end, a clear payoff which has been continuously set up from the very start. In this sense, The Dream-Quest of Kadath certainly distinguishes itself from the rest of the author’s works, resembling an adventure fantasy more than a short horror. While there are definitely a few twists along the way as well as horror elements peppered throughout the plot, they never feel prevalent to Randolph’s exploration of incredibly-described mythical lands.
Speaking of those mythical lands, I found one of the funnest parts of this story was the way in which various threads from the Lovecraft mythos intersected with each other. We get to see Richard Pickman from Pickman’s Model, the cities of Ulthar and Celephais, the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep, Azatoth, and that’s just to name a few. Even the city of Kadath is mentioned numerous times in other stories, such as The Other Gods and At the Mountains of Madness. This feels like an ambitious attempt by Lovecraft to bring together the sum of his universe in one journey, and I believe he succeeded in making it a worthwhile trip down memory lane, especially for those who are familiar with his other works. It also stands comfortably on its own as a fantasy horror story, so even if you aren’t knowledgeable of the author’s works, you can still find a good deal of enjoyment out of it.
The Statement of Randolph Carter (1920)
With the grandiose journeys of the Dreamlands now behind him, the time has come for Randolph Carter to experience some of the more Earthly horrors Lovecraft has to offer. In The Statement of Randolph Carter , we are brought together with our protagonist once again as he is found wandering in shock through a swampland and attempts to explain the disappearance of his occultist companion, Harley Warren. It seems Harley had recently come into possession of some strange book written in a different language, allegedly referring to various forbidden objects. The occultist ends up deducing the existence of stairways between our realm and the underworld, with one of them being in an ancient graveyard near Big Cypress Swamp. Thus, the pair ventures forth into what will ultimately prove to be the biggest mistake of their lives.
Much closer to a traditional Lovecraft horror style than Carter’s previous adventure, even presented as a sort of testimony given to the police after the fact, an approach the author loved with great passion. As Carter recounts the story, we become as enthralled by the events of their expedition as we are by Harley himself. We learn more and more about his dark and terrible ways, the research he has been conducting into the unknown, and the terrifying effect he had on Carter. He was actually remarkable enough to start existing on his own outside the Lovecraft universe, mentioned as a member of a Bostonian group of physics in Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow series.
Sometimes Lovecraft loves to describe horror in all of its gruesome and impossible details, in this story he takes a bit of a different approach, preferring to let the darkness and the reader’s imagination do the work. We learn very little of the actual danger the two men are facing, and yet the remote glimpses we are given are more than enough for us to paint a picture of terror we can relate to. It may not break any new grounds, but this short story remains an entertaining read even today.
The Unnamable (1925)
Randolph Carter has seen the wonders of the majestic dreamlands, as well as having peered into the abyss as his companion Harley ventured to face his own fate. The time has definitely come in Randolph Carter’s life to experience a more tangible and direct Lovecraftian horror, and so he does in The Unnamable . A very short story, it has Carter meeting with his close friend, Joel Manton, in an old cemetery near a weathered house. He proceeds to tell him about the indescribable entity which haunts this home and its surrounding area, an evil which cannot be located, quantified or described with the use of the senses. However, the lack of descriptions isn’t all that much of an issue, because the two men are about to experience the horror of the haunting first-hand.
There were many stories written by Lovecraft which seemed more akin to exercises where the author tried to experiment with different elements of horror. In this one, the focus is entirely placed on a paradoxical line of thinking, which was to present and describe an unpresentable and indescribable evil. It’s certainly an interesting challenge, and I feel as if overall Lovecraft rose up the challenge and managed to create a being which instills dread by its vague and indecipherable nature.
Though it doesn’t make its appearance until a later moment, the tension never stops building as the two men try to probe into the nature of the haunting with little results. We are made to constantly wonder what exactly it is they are facing, how it can manifest itself, when will it do it, how harmful it actually is, will anyone else see it, and so on and so forth. Even in this tiny interesting literary experiment, Lovecraft manages to retain the important elements of a good horror story, and for that alone I would say this is definitely worth a read, especially considering how short it is.