Primary Sources: the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath 5, Dylath-Leen
Carter brought along some of the moon-tree-sap wine from the zoogs, and offers it to Atal, and gets him good and drunk. Robbed of his reserve, poor Atal babbled freely of forbidden things. A long ways to the south, he claims, on the island of Oriab, on the mountain Ngranek, travelers report a carved image which Atal suggests is a picture of the gods dancing in the moonlight. This image, says Atal, is an accurate pictorial representation of the gods.
This gives Carter an idea. He takes it for granted that the gods must lust after human women, and sneak off in disguise to seduce them. Therefore the people who live around Kadath, wherever it is, probably have traces of god in their lineage. Therefore all he needs to do is find this picture of the gods, then find the place where the native ethnicity resembles the gods. Simplicity itself!
Plus a whole ethnic group of god-bloods, even dilute god-bloods, would surely have all kinds of forbidden secret lore that Carter could use in his quest. Maybe Carter could abduct a half-god baby and use it as a bargaining chip with the gods, or find some god traveling incognito with a mortal bride, and mug him. So basically Carter thinks this is a great plan.
To get to the island of Oriab, he first needs to get to the Southern Sea, which means following the Skai river down to its mouth. There’s a city at the mouth of the Skai called Dylath-Leen, which is a big trade center, but the folk in Ulthar avoid the place because of the weird black ships that put in there. These ships bring rubies from unknown shores, but they’re propelled by rowers who are never permitted above decks while the ships are in port. Mysterious unseen rowers: just the kind of thing that puts the Ulthar people on their guard.
As he leaves the temple Carter realizes there aren’t any zoogs following him any more. Turns out the cats ate them, because one of the zoogs had tried to eat a black kitten. Carter reflects that in any cat/zoog conflict, he’s ultimately on the side of cats. He stays overnight in Ulthar in an old hotel, and watches the sun set from an upper balcony. Ulthar is a very nice place to visit, all mellow and magical in the slanted light. He falls asleep stroking a black kitten that came into his lap, listening to the Ulthar lutes playing night-songs.
After a week of travel south in the company of a merchant caravan, Carter comes to Dylath-Leen. It’s all tall thin towers, black angular basalt, dismal and dark, full of sailors and wharves. He asks around about the island of Oriab and Ngranek peak, and learns that the city of Baharna, on Oriab, is a regular trading partner of Dylath-Leen’s. Furthermore, Ngranek is but two days’ zebra-ride from that port. However Ngranek is a notorious haunted mountain. Apparently over on the opposite side of the mountain from Baharna, there once was a great city, but the gods talked the Other Gods into destroying it.
Generally the people in Dylath-Leen don’t want to talk about Oriab, though. Generally they don’t know what he’s talking about, even. One old slant-eyed merchant gets all shifty, a guy who trades with the horrible stone villages on the icy desert plateau of Leng, which no healthy folk visit and whose evil fires are seen at night from afar. He was even rumoured to have dealt with that High-Priest Not To Be Described, which wears a yellow silken mask over its face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stone monastery.
(Unironic appreciation for use of “which” and “its” in that last sentence.)
Generally people want to talk about the mysterious black ships. Everyone comes to Dylanth-Leen to talk about the black ships! The ships themselves aren’t so bad, but the sailors aboard them give everybody the creeps. They come in with rubies, and buy gold and slaves, specifically the fat black men of Parg whom they bought by the pound. Also, they wear robes and turbans which look exactly like how someone with big foreheard horns and cloven hooves for feet would dress. Also also, their ships stink, and everyone has to smoke thagweed to avoid gagging while they’re in port. Basically they’re really obviously evil, but hey, they’ve got nice rubies.
The conventional wisdom on Lovecraft is that he was racist even by the standards of the 1930s, much less today’s. His declaration that the folk of Parg are a) sold by the pound and b) black, is therefore not surprising. Still, it’s more than a little jarring, coming so abruptly. The devil-sailors are described in terms that include turbans and robes, but turbans are mentioned as standard headgear in other places (on Oriab, for instance; spoiler warning, Carter eventually makes it to Oriab) and my mind doesn’t immediately go to a real-world ethnicity with long history of dehumanizing treatment. Carter doesn’t seem to have any opinion on the morality of selling Parg men by the pound to probable cannibals, at this stage of his quest anyhow, which is better than his actively thinking of it as a good thing, but not much.
Primary Sources: the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath 5, Dylath-Leen — No Comments
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