Hours of chafing, blistering climbing later, Carter reaches the top of the ladder, at what Lovercraft calls a crag high over Pnath. I was under the impression that a crag was a climbable cliff surface, but what he describes is basically a huge overhang, so big Carter can’t even see whatever cliff face it sticks out from. He gets close to the ledge which is the upper surface of the overhang, and ghouls reach down and haul him up.
Carter finds himself on a stony field, presumably still deep underground, where ghouls congregate. Ghouls, Lovecraft tells us, possess canine faces and slumping forms and unmentionable idiosyncrasies. Carter knows how to handle them, though, because he’s Carter and therefore perfect. Also because his friend Pickman introduced him to a ghoul once, ages ago before Pickman ran off to become a ghoul.
Much like the zoogs of the Enchanted Wood, the ghouls on this boulder-strewn plain treat him apprehensively but politely, and again, one tries to eat him but is quickly restrained. Carter communicates in the tongue of the ghouls, patient gibbering, of course Carter can speak Ghoulish, and learns that not only do these ghouls know Pickman, Pickman’s burrow is nearby.
Nearby is a relative term, of course. One of the ghouls leads him crawling for hours through the dark to another dim cavern like the first, the only change being that instead of rocks, the floor is littered with broken tombstones and urns and monuments. Somehow these things were stolen from all the great cemeteries of the waking world, and brought here to the kingdom of the ghouls under the Dreamlands. Carter’s actually closer to the waking world than he has been at any point in his travels up to now.
He meets Pickman, on a tombstone of 1768 stolen from the Granary Burying Ground in Boston. It was naked and rubbery, and had acquired so much of the ghoulish physiognomy that its human origin was already obscure. But it still remembered a little English, and was able to converse with Carter in grunts and monosyllables, helped out now and then by the gibbering of ghouls. Carter explains how he’s bound for the city of Celephais far to the north of the zoogs’ forest, which Pickman (or, rather, a ghoul which was once the artist Richard Upton Pickman) thinks is a poor choice of destination. It’s a long, long way from the ghouls’ realm to the surface, says the ex-Pickman, and between Carter and his goal is the kingdom of the Gugs.
Gugs, Lovecraft explains, are big hairy monsters that used to live on the surface of the Dreamlands and worship the Other Gods, but then the gods got sick of their bullroar and exiled them to the underdark. They erected the stone circle deep in the zoogs’ wood, and the stone slab with an iron ring on it, the trapdoor that Carter was so eager to avoid, is the connection between their land and the surface. Gugs are man-eaters; they’d certainly consume Carter, especially as in their current diminished era they get the flesh of dreamers only rarely, and are obliged to eat ghasts (those repulsive beings which die in the light, and which live in the vaults of Zin and leap on long hind legs like kangaroos, says Lovecraft. He’s just full of helpful explanations today!)
Pickman’s advice to Carter is to either emerge from the underdark at the ruined city of Sarkomand, in the valley below Leng, or else wake up and start his quest over again, since the Enchanted Wood is right next to the Gate of Deeper Slumber. Carter rejects both these options, though; he has never been to Sarkomand and has no idea how to get from there to Celephais, and he fears if he wakes up he’ll forget the details of his trip, especially the appearance of the carved image atop Mount Ngranek. That image, and the knowledge that it resembles the seamen from the north who traded onyx in Celephais, are key to his quest.
Between the two of them, Pickman and Carter devise a new plan. Carter will chance the kingdom of the Gugs, disguised as a ghoul and with a ghoul escort. Gugs love to eat dreamers, but they fear ghouls for some reason; as part of a pack of ghouls Carter might safely reach the big Tower of Koth in the center of the Gug realm, which contains the spiral staircase that winds up to the zoogs’ forest.
Carter’s ghoul disguise:
1) Shaving, as ghouls do not have any hair.
2) Rolling around in the mud so he smells like a ghoul.
3) Stripping naked and carrying his clothing wrapped up in a tight bundle as if it were a choice morsel from a tomb.
4) Hunching over and faking a limp.