The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft
Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.
Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the eldritch horrors that lurk outside our universe, just waiting to be let in to devour us.
But his excessively descriptive language and his over-fondness of adjectives such as hideous, uncouth, unwholesome, furtive, inconceivable, grotesque, obscene, and blasphemous become irritating. The word “grotesque” is used 15 times in this 42,590 word novella, “hideous” is used 22 times, and “evil” is used 29 times, which is about once every two or three pages. Here are a couple of representative sentences:
Dying almost-humans screamed, and cats spit and yowled and roared, but the toad-things made never a sound as their stinking green ichor oozed fatally upon that porous earth with the obscene fungi.
Soon they were plunging hideously downward through inconceivable abysses in a whirling, giddying, sickening rush of dank, tomb-like air; and Carter felt they were shooting into the ultimate vortex of shrieking and daemonic madness.
I’m not Lovecraft’s greatest fan, but I’ve read quite a bit of his work and I enjoyed this story more than most, partly because it has a nice blend of horror and beauty, it contains fewer racist sentiments than usual, there is plenty of gorgeous scenery, there’s a pleasant moral to the story, and (best of all) it features an army of benevolent cats that can jump to the dark side of the moon and back.
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, which is up for a Retro Hugo Award this year, was originally published in Arkham House’s Beyond the Wall of Sleep in 1943, but it can be found in many Lovecraft collections that have been published more recently. I listened to Blackstone Audio’s version in the collection Dreams of Terror and Death: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s narrated by actor Bronson Pinchot, which is quite a treat. Since the story is in the public domain, you can find plenty of cheap Kindle versions or you can read it for free online.