Having read the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath all the way through for the first time, finally, I’ve got to say, it was about what I expected. Incredibly florid prose, very little characterization, lots of odd picaresque locales.
Lovecraft is notorious for his racism, whether explicit, such as the degenerate Tcho-Tcho East Asian tribesmen, or implicit, such as the miscegenation horror of “the Shadow Over Innsmouth.” In Kadath the only clear red flag I noticed was Carter’s reaction to the black-skinned men of Parg being sold as slaves in the markets of Dylath-Leen. Slave trade, no worries. Slave trade to the abhuman servants of the moonbeasts, who carry away the Pargites to be eaten, that’s worth crusading against. At least as a way to kill time until Carter’s ship comes in and he can move on with his quest.
Sexism doesn’t really enter into Kadath inasmuch as the Dreamlands are presented as an all-male affair. Can we be sure women even exist, in the Dreamlands? It seems like a reasonable question.
Women show up exactly three times, unless I missed something:
1) Reference is made to Carter’s boyhood, and his having a mother.
2) The captain of the ship that Carter takes to Baharna introduces Carter to his wife. She has no lines and does nothing and disappears after one sentence.
3) The Elder Ones who dwelled in Kadath presumably interbred with the “daughters” of the folk of Inquanok, resulting in the Inquanok ethnic features matching those carved into the face of Mount Ngranek.
The only other outstanding flaw I note is Lovecraft’s propensity to set up a big action setpiece, and then announce that Carter’s side (the cats versus the moonbeasts, the cats versus the zoogs, the ghouls and night-gaunts versus the moonbeasts) easily overwhelmed their opposition. The cat/zoog conflict was especially one-sided. Now, I’m on a record as a friend to dogs over cats, but also cats over zoogs. I don’t call out for the blood of cats, or demand Lovecraft provide me with high-tension action sequences. By nipping conflict in the bud as he does, he deflates all the drama.
I’m just saying.
You’ve also got a whole series of cities where Carter arrives, finds some hoary figure (often the priest in the temple at the center of the city), questions them about Kadath, gets warned away from his quest, and ignores the warning. Again, understandable that Carter would proceed in this way. Parallel structure is great. Repetition, not so much. Carter also displays a propensity for ancient taverns occupied by retired sailors. Dude can sit and listen to a retired sailor complain about his life for hours.
The climax almost works for me. Carter and his ghoul entourage (whose ultimate disposition is a loose end; did Nyarlathotep vaporize them or what?) enter the onyx castle expecting to spring upon the Elder Ones in their native habitat. When the vast halls are empty, save for a lone Nyarlathotep, that’s a twist! But then Nyarlathotep exposits and exposits and exposits, about how the Elder Ones have abandoned their undefined duties to slum it in Carter’s city, and would Carter be a dear and kick them out?
Then Nyarlathotep says he’s sending Carter to the city, but really he tosses Carter to Azathoth to get eaten. I guess that’s dramatic irony on some level, but it’s not like Carter had a lot of say in the situation either way. Somehow after Carter wakes the Elder Ones are back in their castle, with Nyarlathotep gloating like he accomplished something, but that’s entirely unexplained.
Next week we go back to Le Morte D’Arthur, Book X. Also I’m going to a M-W-F schedule for a while, try that out.