Randolph ‘bloody’ Carter, where have I read that name before… Or more to the point where will I read it again..
Way back in the dim dark days of February 2017, when the Lovecraftian parts of this blog were still just blooming, the 14th post is this increasingly disparate series was ‘The Statement of Randolph Carter’ and I had quite a lot of good things to say about it. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t score high in the slithering tentacles stakes, a lowly two in fact, but it did have charm and it was (when written) groundbreaking in its own odd little way. Though that mostly positive little review was written by a less jaded reviewer of old tentacle huggers work, it has to be said.
Since then Randolph has popped back a few times, though only once by name, ironically that was in The Unnamable. Other works with unnamed narrators are often laid at Randolph’s door. Which is not surprising because old Randolph is often thought to be Lovecraft’s most autobiographical character.
But beyond that, he looms large on the horizon in the forthcoming (for me) The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Which I can’t claim to be looking forward to, as the stories I like the least in Lovecraft’s cannon tend to be the dreamlands tales, and Kadath is not just a short story, but a novella, which means it’s going to be a long wander through the wrong gates of horn and ivory when I get to it in a few blog posts time. This little prequel of that delight to come therefore has been sitting on my desk being roundly ignored for quite a while. Those who follow this series will probably have noticed this one year project of mine is fast approaching its third year and hit a traffic jam of sorts last spring…
There is a lot of Lovecraft I am looking forward to reading,, this and Kadath are not among them, however. But still, deep breath, onwards and upwards, I am doing these in order so in order they must be done…
Which would be better if they had been written is some kind of order, but that’s not entirely what happened. This little jaunt is set after the dream-quest. Indeed all the Randolf Carter take place after the dream-quest but unlike the others, this one directly alludes to that early tale, which Lovecraft hadn’t actually written when he scribbled down this one.
Confused… well you will be, here though, in an effort to be helpful, is the plot in full (borrowed from Wikipedia… because it was easier than explaining all this myself.)
Randolph Carter discovers, at the age of 30, that he has gradually “lost the key to the gate of dreams.” Randolph once believed life is made up of nothing but pictures in memory, whether they be from real life or dreams. He highly prefers his romantic nightly dreams of fantastic places and beings, as an antidote for the “prosiness of life”. He believes his dreams to reveal truths missing from man’s waking ideas, regarding the purpose of humans and the universe, primary among these being the truth of beauty as perceived and invented by humans in times past.
As he ages, though, he finds that his daily waking exposure to the more “practical”, scientific ideas of man, has eventually eroded his ability to dream as he once did, and has made him regretfully subscribe more and more to the mundane beliefs of everyday, waking “real life”. But still not certain which is truer, he sets out to determine whether the waking ideas of man are superior to his dreams, and in the process, he passes through several unsatisfying philosophical stances. Discouraged, he eventually withdraws from these lines of inquiry, and goes into seclusion.
After a time, a hint of the fantastic enters his dreams again, though he is still unable to dream of the strange cities of his youth, leaving him wanting more. During one of these dreams, his long-dead grandfather tells him of a silver key in his attic, inscribed with mysterious arabesque symbols, which he finds and takes with him on a visit to his boyhood home in the backwoods of northeastern Massachusetts (the setting for many of Lovecraft’s stories), where he enters a mysterious cave that he used to play in. The key somehow enables him to return to his childhood as a ten-year-old boy, and his adult self disappears from his normal time.
The story then relates how Randolph’s relatives had noted, beginning at the age of ten, that he had somehow gained the ability to glimpse events in his future. The narrator of the story then states that he expects to meet Randolph soon, in one of his own dreams, “in a certain dream-city we both used to haunt”, reigning there as a new king, where the narrator may look at Randolph’s key, whose symbols he hopes will tell him the mysteries of the cosmos.
And there you go, and there also is my problem with this whole story, and yes I know there will be people who find the idea behind this story interesting. Indeed I like the idea, a man returning to his youth and living his life again with the knowledge of his own future… So many possibilities and/or bad teen movies there. I like the idea that dream and reality are just two sides of the same coin, one no more real than the other. What is reality but perception after all… If you dream vividly enough, who is to say that the dream is not the real world? And the real world but a dream?
Oh, there are a great many great ideas here.
They just don’t work in this story, there is too much, too many layers hammered on top of each other, and it is dry as the empty quarter. So dry that lost cities could have been drowned in sand, forgotten to history and the dream world alike.
As a collection of ideas, this is astounding. As an execution, it is torrid.
I’m not saying don’t read it, really I’m not, but if you do read it, for the love of all thing scaley don’t blame me…
Which is a shame because the next Randolph Carter story chronologically is Through the gates of the silver key, and that one I actually like a lot, (though I have to go on a dream-quest first…)
Next up ‘The strange house in the mist’ which I sort of remember liking, so that’s something to look forward too, unless of course I only remember liking it from a dream…