Nebulous Thoughts on the Dreamlands

Studio Wondercabinet is creating our third annual Xmas card set inspired by the work of early weird writers.  In 2015 we created the C'thulhu Christmas Greeting Card set, an affectionate tribute to the C'thulhu Mythos stories of HP Lovecraft.  In 2016 we made the King in Yellow Xmas cards, a tribute to the King in Yellow story cycle of Robert W. Chambers.  Now, in 2017, we are creating a double set of Xmas cards inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories.

Visit us on Kickstarter for more information and to see our project grow!

I was able to be part of a discussion on the Dreamlands at the eccentric HPLovecraft Film Festival in Portland, talking with three Lovecraftian writers/small press publishers.  The Dreamlands stories seem to be a bit of a mystery to the Lovecraft community.  The major work of the cycle, "The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath," is often dismissed as a first draft of an unfinished work, unpublished at the time of Lovecraft's death, yet it's often mentioned as a favorite today by modern readers.  I've heard writers call it Lovecraft's (argueably failed) attempt to write a heroic fantasy in the style of his friend Robert E. Howard, and yet the story itself is complex and frequently breaks the tropes we associate with Lovecraft's writing today; the hero is proactive, the plentiful monsters are described in some detail, our hero ultimately evades the doom to which a powerful and cruel god would send him.  The inspirations for the world are books like the Arabian Nights and other orientalist Fantasies that the very young Lovecraft read in his Uncle's library, and yet the layered world of Dreams  - from the bucolic world of the Sky Valley and Inganok to the gray plains of the Ghouls down to the dark vail of Pnath (?) where the Dholes burrow through a landscape of bones in the dark, are reminiscent of western religious epics like Pikgrim's Progress or Dante's Inferno.  The one point on which we seemed to agree was that Randolf Carter, the protagonist of several of the stories including "The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath," was a thinly fictionalized version of Lovecraft himself. 

It is my personal opinion that "The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath," is written in such a way as to let the reader bring their own imagination into the story.  Places are described swiftly, with a fantastical name and one evocative sentence, and then Lovecraft moves on with his narrative, leaving the reader to fill in from their own dreams what the "Crystal-arched city of X" or the "red-roofed city of Y" was like in any greater detail.  I do not even know whether that useful technique was the result of a writer jotting down the bones of a rough draft that he intended to either edit or flesh out later, or if he was willfully incorporating the imagination of his audience into the work.  I will point out, though, that at several places in the text, mysterious phenomena - the standing stones in the forest, the fearful island from whence issue terrible noises - reappear and are explained in satisfying detail.  If it is unfinished, the plot is carefully worked out in enough detail to foreshadow and follow up on plot points.

The result of inviting the reader to bring their own details to the story is that my horror writer friend saw the Dreamlands world as equal in horror to Lovecraft's C'thulhu Mythos work, the historical revisionist-writer saw it as classical tropes and good intentions, and I, twee artist that I am, see it as a psychologically-revealing road trip through the archetypes of the author's own imagination.  The confusion seems appropriate.  It's the Dreamlands, and lack of clarity is not uncommon in dreams.