The Quest of Iranon: The Complete Lovecraft#25

Some tales are more interesting in the abstract than in the telling. Sad though that may be, ‘The Quest of Iranon‘ is one such tale. While it’s a pleasant enough read, it does not really have anything that grips you in the way you would wish a Lovecraft tale to grip you. It’s a meander, rolling along without much impetus, to a conclusion which is just a little too predictable. Which is one of the problems that you come across with Lovecraft, He has a habit of walking a crooked path through the forest to a destination you can see long before you arrive, yet insisting he follows the path all the way, rather than cut through the trees. Often though the journey is worth it. ‘The Tree‘ for example does much the same thing, but there is a tension in ‘The Tree‘ and a feel of the impending doom-laden ending to it that carries you along the journey which is lacking in ‘The Quest of Iranon‘. This is more a meander for the sake of it, rather than with any great purpose, and when you get to the end, you wonder why you made the journey at all…

Lovecraft himself may well have thought much the same when he wrote it in early 1921. Indeed I suspect it resided in the bottom drawer of his writing desk for some time, forgotten and uncared for. Certainly, it is far from his strongest work. Much in the way From Beyond‘ this feels like Lovecraft lite, and like ‘From Beyond‘ it did not find its way into print until a decade and a half later when he had achieved a modicum of fame and the appetite for his work in the pulp magazines caused him to delve into his earlier discarded manuscripts. There is, however, something about ‘The Quest of Iranon‘ that sets it apart from ‘From Beyond‘. Unlike the latter, Lovecraft was trying to do something different in this tale, indeed it was also the start of something which helps set Lovecraft apart from other pulp writers.

Through out the early works, which I have already covered, I have been making mention of the later works that refer back to them. It is a common theme, which helps link the stories with reoccurring characters and places, as well as events. Often it is the case that he mentions something in passing that later crops up in another tale or even becomes the seed for the whole of a new tale. In ‘The Quest of Iranon‘ however is the first occurrence of the reverse, with earlier tales being referred back to. For the first time here Lovecraft was mythos building, looking at the stories he has written before and referring back to them. Which may explain much about ‘The Quest of Iranon‘. It meanders around because it is a vehicle built to do so. He was making a deliberate effort to tell a story that was in aspect a travel-log of his own work. It was, in essence, an experimental piece, playing around with the idea of his tales becoming a greater whole. Turning them into a cycle of stories, rather than a series of one offs.

In some regard this is hardly surprising, Lovecraft wrote for pulp magazines with thrived on characters coming back in new stories. Lovecraft’s close friend and fellow writers Ron E Howards ‘Conan’ and ‘Kull’ stories, for example, built on worlds, histories and ideas that carried common threads. Characters that came back time and time again. Recurring stories and themes gave the characters ‘cover’ potential and drew in readers. If Lovecraft had a weakness in this regard before 1921 it was his stories were all one offs with little narrative thread to link them. His tales were unlikely to feature on the covers of the pulps and were regarded as filler by publishers. He might get his name on the cover writer’s list but it was not seen as a draw and usually, he wasn’t mentioned at all on the covers of early pulp magazines. Finding ways to tie his tales together, from a purely commercial point of view, made sense. Readers like to feel a story is part of something bigger. Which is as true today as it was then, which is the reason trilogies and long sprawling series novels like ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ (the Game of Thrones novels the predate the tv series) and ‘The Wheel of Time’ novels are so popular. Readers like to invest in characters and worlds, and Lovecraft did not give them such investment. Each tale was separate, unique, and had to sell itself on its own merits alone…

So with ‘The Quest of Iranon‘ Lovecraft was in all likelihood looking for ways to link stories together and give his readers something more. Which is what he found as he lay some easter eggs in the text, which is what makes ‘The Quest of Iranon‘ interesting in the abstract, as a writer reading his work in the order it was written, rather than the order of publication.

By the time it was first published Lovecraft’s fan base was not only used to these little references appearing in his work and the greater thread which moved through his stories, they expected it. The greater was more than the sum of its part. the oblique references to Lormar, the land in ‘Polaris and Iranon stating he had “…gazed on the marsh where Sarnath once stood,” a reference to ‘The Doom that Came to Sarnath‘, were the least of connections you would expect in his stories. But when he wrote ‘The Quest of Iranon‘  it was a new departure for Lovecraft as a writer. One that I find interesting as a fellow member of the craft, for all it is a prosaic read in of itself.

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The story itself is a simple one about a golden haired wanderer, telling tales about his past as a prince in the great city of Aira as he travels. Tales of a city no one else has heard of, but he claims is full of wonder, which is surely a case of Lovecraft writing Lovecraft… His obsessions with lost and mythical cities run as a thread through many tales after all. In this case, the tales of Aira are ones Iranon has told so often he can not separate truth from fiction. Longing always to return, but some how never doing a great deal about it until his life long friend passes from the world of the living. The ‘Quest’ for the dreaming spires of his lost city, on which he poetically waxes constantly, leads him finally to an old shepherd in a land long fallen to ruin, and the shepherd tells him a truth, one which if you do not suspect long before it is revealed you really have not been reading closely. It is Lovecraft, the style, the verbiage the use of ideas and the way it reads. But is it just Lovecraft by rote, and much like ‘From Beyond’ you would expect something more.

As I say, what is interesting about this tale is when it was written, more than how. That it took so long to be published says much about Lovecraft’s own opinion of it. The context of the experiment it represented in his writing is far more important than the tale itself. If anything it was Lovecraft becoming Lovecraft as we know him now. The weaving of threads between stories and the gossamer links that build the web of the greater whole are what make this tale stand out. But as a read in of itself, it is disappointingly a bit below average, and when it finally became ink in the pulps it is unlikely it even raised an eyebrow.

Putting that greater context on one side it rates a measly three tentacles, grasping to be part of the whole, and if I am honest I think I am generous to give it three… If however, I was rating on the tales importance it would probably be a quintet of the little suckers, this is the point Lovecraft began to craft a universe of his own making, rather than just give glimpses of the discontiguous without a greater whole. It is interesting to me that he wrote this just after Nyarlathotep. Perhaps the masks of the faceless one guided him to a take this broader view of his tales… It would be strangely discomforting to think so…

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Further Lovecraftian witterings 

This entry was posted in dreamlands, Lovecraft, mythos, retro book reviews, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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