Primary Sources: the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath 11, the Vale of Pnath
It gets dark quick up there where the air is thin, and Carter’s not equipped to climb down (or up) in the black of night. He stretches out on the ledge, in the cold, and waits for morning. Stars come out, but by the starlight he can’t see his hand in front of his face.
Lovecraft mentioned a few paragraphs back that Carter obtained a scimitar in Baharna, and that comes into play now, when he feels somebody slide the cutlass out of its belt-sheath. That’s trouble sign number one. Trouble sign number two is the sound of the cutlass landing where someone threw it, a long ways down along the cliffs. Trouble sign number three is a very terrible outline of something noxiously thin and horned and tailed and bat-winged blotting out some of the stars.
Around the time something grabs him at the neck while something else grabs him by the feet, and he’s carried up into the sky, that’s when Carter starts to worry, because he kn[ows] the night-gaunts had got him.
He struggles and screams, but the night-gaunts put a stop to that by, and I am not making this up, tickling him. They make no sound at all, as they carry him away first through the sky and then through a tunnel in a cliff, that leads into a vast subterranean labyrinth. He squirms, they squeeze him. He shouts, they tickle. Finally he begins to perceive light, and deduces that the night-gaunts have taken him to the Underdark.
Lovecraft doesn’t call it the Underdark, but that’s what it is, plainly: an inner world of subterrene horror of which dim legends tell, and which is litten only by the pale death-fire wherewith reeks the ghoulish air and the primal mists of the pits at Earth’s core.
The night-gaunts take him down, down, down, to the fabled Peaks of Thok, which Lovecraft feigns surprise you have not heard of. The peaks are ugly, and evil, and inhabited by terrible monsters, but they’re nicer to look at than the night-gaunts, which in the inexplicable gray light of the Underdark Carter can finally see. Big oily demons with batwings and scorpion tails and no faces, just a suggestive blankness where a face ought to be. Charming, I know!
The night-gaunts aren’t so bad, though, it turns out; they fly Carter below the Peaks of Thok, set him down gently on a bone-strewn ground, and depart. Through no clear explanation, Carter intuits he’s arrived at the vale of Pnath, where crawl and burrow the enormous Dholes. Lovecraft tries to scare us by observing that no one has ever seen a Dhole and lived to tell about it, but maybe he forgets that he just now played that exact same card with the night-gaunts, who tickle you and set you down gently before leaving.
Carter’s awesome, though, Lovecraft reminds us. Even in this fearsome place he had a plan and an objective. Apparently Carter once met a guy who had been to Pnath, and learned all about it. Funny story about this guy, Pickman: he was a painter who became friends with a race of immortal necrophages, the ghouls, and eventually he became a ghoul himself. Pnath is a place where the Dreamland and the waking world intersect; Pickman and the other ghouls throw the body parts they don’t eat into it, which is why it’s full of bones.
So Carter looks around for bonefall, as Lovecraft charmingly calls it, and when he finds evidence there are ghouls up above him he shouts Pickman’s name, and asks for a ladder. They lower one! It’s awesome, because while Carter scampers up the ladder as fast as he can, a Dhole (no description given) comes up under him to, and this is the word Lovecraft uses, nuzzle him. Unendurable nuzzling.
But apparently Dholes can’t climb ladders, jump, or fly, because once Carter’s ten feet up he’s out of the Dhole’s reach. He climbs and climbs until he gets blisters, and I’m really curious as to why and how the ghouls happen to have a couple of hundred feet of rope ladder so readily accessible.
Primary Sources: the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath 11, the Vale of Pnath — No Comments
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