Okay, before we start, let me just reiterate once more, Randolph ‘bloody’ Carter…
I am, as astute readers of previous blogs in this series may remember, not the biggest fan of Lovecraft’s ‘dreamlands’ stories. Nor am I a huge fan of Randolph Carter in general. The only Randolph Carter story that has done well under my occasionally erratic spotlight is Lovecraft’s novella ‘The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath‘ and the reasons I like that story are all to do with the greater mythos rather than the story itself. My hopes for this story were not high therefore… Which is slightly odd.
‘The Silver Key’, a story I loathed, was unsurprisingly the central inspiration for Through The Gates Of The Silver Key. Indeed it is a sequel to that story written primarily because a fan of old tentacle hugger, Edgar Hoffmann Price, who was also a writer himself, asked Lovecraft to write it, go so far as to send a 7000 word original draft of the story to Lovecraft. Telling the tale of ‘what happened next…’ to dear old Randolph Carter, after he unlocked the gates at the end of ‘The Silver key’.
Lovecraft’s vanity, reasonably enough, was such that he was swayed by the idea, and took that 7000 word draft and rewrote it into something that ended up twice that length and, according to Hoffmann, left fewer that 50 words of his original draft in tact. Despite this many accredit this tale to both authors as a collaboration. Hoffmann was reportedly very pleased with the resulting tale and full of praise for Lovecraft’s reworking of what could be one of the first examples of fan fiction to surface in the zeitgeist.
Despite my trepidation about reading yet another story with Randolph in it, when I first came round to this one I was looking forward to it. I wrote in my review of the dreadful The Silver Key, that I remembered this story fondly… Remembered was clearly the wrong word, at some point however in the dim distant past around the late 1980’s when I was young and impressionable I did read this particular tale and there was something about it that spoke to me.
I don’t remember what it said, and I am fairly sure it lied…
That’s one of the problems with rereading things I read while still a teenager, a few decades, a whole lot of living, and more refined tastes can mean that stories I loved when I was effectively not much more than a kid, don’t really stack up any more. I suspect what I was drawn to back then was the strangeness of the tale. In part a psychedelic dream sequence where Randolph becomes just one fragment of a cosmic id, and shares the bodies of other nodes of existence, there are wild fascinating ideas here, idea’s I suspect I had never come across when I first read this story way back in the dim darkness of the past. A past which increasingly is indeed another country…
Fast forward to a more cynical and well read now, and everything I doubtless found fascinating when I first read this story is still there. But the writing, the description, the plot and everything about this story aside the original ideas (only about half of which were Lovecraft’s to start with) is awful. The wonder is sucked out of everything and replaced with bland, dull, over written, and frankly boring narrative.
Take for example this passage..
He provided a light-wave envelope of abnormal toughness, able to stand both the prodigious time-transition and the unexampled flight through space. He tested all his calculations, and sent forth his earthward dreams again and again, bringing them as close as possible to 1928. He practiced suspended animation with marvellous success. He discovered just the bacterial agent he needed, and worked out the varying gravity-stress to which he must become used. He artfully fashioned a waxen mask and loose costume enabling him to pass among men as a human being of a sort, and devised a doubly potent spell with which to hold back the bholes at the moment of his starting from the black, dead Yaddith of the inconceivable future. He took care, too, to assemble a large supply of the drugs—unobtainable on earth—which would keep his Zkauba-facet in abeyance till he might shed the Yaddith body, nor did he neglect a small store of gold for earthly use.
Maybe that sparks your interest, maybe you are not unlike me as a seventeen year old and all power to you if that’s the case. I’m not even sure I was like me as a seventeen year-old. Perhaps my memory confused this story with another when I remembered it fondly. Frankly however my summing up of the Silver key was:
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…
The same applies to this sequel, as does the score it recieved, its only saving grace is that’s the last of Randolph Bloody Carter… Well except for another collaboration, Out of the Aeons, which he wrote with Hazel Hearld, but that never appears in the ‘complete Lovecraft, collections so I’m going to forget it even exists… Because it may be a work of utter genius but I will happy take the risk of that unlikely truth rather than read the words Randolph Carter again.
Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here
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