The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadeth  
Author(s) H. P. Lovecraft
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror, Fantasy
Publisher Arkham House
Publication date 1943

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is a novella by H. P. Lovecraft. It was completed in 1927 and was unpublished in his lifetime. It is both the longest of the stories that comprise his Dream Cycle and the longest to feature protagonist Randolph Carter, and can thus be considered a culminating achievement of that period of Lovecraft's writing. The Dream-Quest combines elements of horror and fantasy into an epic tale that illustrates the scope and wonder of humankind's ability to dream.

The story was published posthumously by Arkham House in 1943.[1] Currently, it is published by Ballantine Books in an anthology that also includes "The Silver Key" and "Through the Gates of the Silver Key." The definitive version, with corrected text by S. T. Joshi, is published by Arkham House in At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels and by Penguin Classics in The Dreams in the Witch-House and Other Weird Stories.



Like Lovecraft's novel fragment "Azathoth", The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath appears to have been influenced by Vathek, a 1786 novel by William Thomas Beckford that "is similarly an exotic fantasy written without chapter divisions".[2] Critics like Will Murray and David E. Schultz, in fact, have suggested that The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is in effect a second attempt at completing the abandoned novel Azathoth.[3]

While the influence of the fantasies of Lord Dunsany on Lovecraft's Dream Cycle is often noted, Robert M. Price argues that a more direct model for The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is provided by the Mars novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs:

In Lovecraft's novella, the traditional Dunsanianism of his Dreamlands fantasies serves only as background, mere landscape. The action and the plot are essentially Burroughs. In this book, what is Randolph Carter but an otherworldly interloper who arrives on the scene in an extramundane world not as a cowed outsider, but rather as a bold adventurer who loses no time in establishing himself at the head of a force of strange alien races whom he enlists in a crusade against evil forces threatening his own happiness.[4]

Price suggests that "Lovecraft's fighting ghouls correspond quite nicely to the Tharks of Barsoom, [and] the canine Richard Pickman to Tars Tarkas". In his view, the "villainous race of pirates who fly between the Dream-earth and the moon in aerial ships...are Lovecraft's analogues to Burroughs' race of airborne pirates, the First Born or Black Martians."[5]

Elsewhere, Price maintains that L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was also a significant influence on The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, pointing out parallels between the two works:

Carter tries to reach his thrice-glimpsed Sunset City, just as Dorothy tries to reach the Emerald City. Both make the acquaintance of various tribes of wondrous creatures along the way. The zoogs might even be viewed as Lovecraft's Munchkins. And in both cases there is a final scene of revelation in which the protagonist is informed that the ethereal object of his/her quest is in reality just the dream-version of the familiar and beloved homestead back in the waking world, to which the hero/ine at once returns. Glinda or Nyarlathotep, what's the difference? [6]

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia cites Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun and "The Great Stone Face" as influences.[7]


The Dream-Quest has evoked a broad range of reactions, "some HPL enthusiasts finding it almost unreadable and others...comparing it to the Alice books and the fantasies of George MacDonald."[2]

Lovecraft himself declared that "it isn't much good; but forms useful practice for later and more authentic attempts in the novel form." He expressed concern while writing it that "Randolph Carter's adventures may have reached the point of palling on the reader; or that the very plethora of weird imagery may have destroyed the power of any one image to produce the desired impression of strangeness."[8]

Plot summary

Randolph Carter dreams three times of a majestic sunset city, but each time he is abruptly snatched away before he can see it up close. When he prays to the gods of dream to reveal the whereabouts of the phantasmal city, they do not answer, and his dreams of the city stop altogether. Undaunted, Carter resolves to go to Kadath, where the gods live, to beseech them in person. However, no one has ever been to Kadath and none even knows how to get there. In dream, Randolph Carter descends "the seventy steps to the cavern of flame" and speaks of his plan to the priests Nasht and Kaman-Thah, whose temple borders the Dreamlands. The priests warn Carter of the great danger of his quest and suggest that the gods withdrew his vision of the city on purpose.

The quest begins

Carter enters the Enchanted Wood and meets the zoogs,[9] a race of predatory and sentient rodents. For a novice, such an encounter could prove calamitous, but Carter is an experienced dreamer and so is knowledgeable of their language and customs. When Carter asks the zoogs about Kadath, they don't know where it is; instead, they suggest that Carter go the town of Ulthar and find a wizened priest named Atal who is learned in the ways of the gods.

In the cat-laden city of Ulthar, Carter visits Atal, who mentions a huge carving wrought on Ngranek's hidden side that shows the features of the gods. Carter realizes that if he can go to Ngranek, examine the carving, and then find a place where mortals share those features and are thus related to the gods, he must be near Kadath.

Voyage to Oriab Isle

Carter goes to Dylath-Leen to secure passage to Oriab. Dylath-Leen is infamous for the black galleys that frequent its harbors. These galleys are steered by oarsmen who are never seen and crewed by turbaned men that trade curious-looking rubies for slaves and gold.

Randolph Carter's quest is interrupted when he is captured by the turbaned men and flown to the moon on one of their notorious black galleys. Once there, he learns that the turbaned men are slaves to the terrifying moon-beasts. A procession of moon-beasts and their slaves escort Carter across the moon to deliver him to the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep (one of the Other Gods who rule space, in contrast to the Great Ones, the gods of earth). He is saved by the cats of Ulthar, who slay his captors and return Carter to earth's Dreamlands in the port of Dylath-Leen.

Carter boards a ship sailing to Baharna, a great seaport on the isle of Oriab. On the way to Oriab and while he travels across the island riding a zebra, Carter hears dark whispers about the night-gaunts, though they are never properly described. Carter makes a treacherous climb across Ngranek and discovers the gigantic carving of the gods on its far side. He is surprised to see that the features match those of sailors who trade at the port of Celephaïs, but before he can act on this knowledge, he is snatched away by the night-gaunts and left to die in the Vale of Pnath[10] in the underworld.

Carter is rescued by friendly ghouls, amongst them Richard Pickman, a friend of Carter's, the protagonist of another of Lovecraft's stories, Pickman's Model and who is now also a ghoul, who agree to return him to the upper Dreamlands. They make their way to the terrible city of the gugs to reach the Tower of Koth, wherein a winding stairway leads to the surface. Finding the city asleep, Carter and the ghouls attempt to sneak past the snoring gugs. The ghasts, the gugs' traditional enemies, begin an attack, but the group manages to ascend the stairway and open the great trapdoor to the Enchanted Wood.

Journey to Celephaïs

Here Carter comes upon a gathering of zoogs and finds that they plan to make war on the cats of Ulthar. Not wanting to see his friends harmed, Carter warns the cats, enabling them to launch a surprise attack on the zoogs. After a brief skirmish, the zoogs are defeated. To abate further hostilities, the zoogs agree to a new treaty with the cats of Ulthar.

Carter reaches the city of Thran and buys passage on a galleon to Celephaïs. While en route, Carter asks the sailors about the men who trade in Celephaïs—the ones he believes to be kin to the gods. He learns that they are from the cold, dark land of Inquanok or Inganok[11] and that few people dare to travel there. Even more ominous, there are no cats there. The plateau of Leng with its inhuman treacheries is too near.

In Celephaïs, Carter meets his old friend Kuranes, the king of the city. Kuranes is an old dreamer whom Carter knew in the waking world, but when he died, he became a permanent resident of the Dreamlands. Longing for home, he has dreamed parts of his kingdom to resemble his native Cornwall. Kuranes knows the pitfalls of the Dreamlands all too well and tries to dissuade Carter from his dangerous quest. Carter, however, will not be deterred.

Trek into the Cold Waste

Under the pretense of wishing to work in its quarries, Carter boards a ship bound for Inganok, a nation built of onyx. The trip to Inganok takes three weeks, but as they draw near, Carter spots a strange granite island. When he inquires about the mysterious isle, the captain explains that it is the nameless rock, and it is best to not speak of it. That night, Carter hears strange howls from the nameless island.

When Carter arrives at Inganok, he purchases a yak and heads northward, in the hope that past the onyx quarries he will find Kadath. Carter ascends a steep ridge beyond which nothing is visible but sky. At the summit, he looks out and gets a breathtaking view of a gargantuan quarry. Carter sets off toward this quarry, but his yak, spooked, abandons him.

Carter is captured by a slant-eyed man, whom he has met before among the merchants of Dylath-Leen. The slant-eyed man summons a shantak-bird, which both ride over the Plateau of Leng, a vast tableland populated by Pan-like beings. Arriving at a monastery wherein dwells the dreaded High Priest Not to Be Described, Carter now suspects that the slant-eyed man is yet another conspirator of the forces that seek to thwart his quest.

The slant-eyed man leads Carter through the monastery to a domed room with a circular well, which Carter speculates leads to the Vaults of Zin in the underworld. Herein, the high-priest, wearing a silken robe and a mask, is waiting. Carter learns that the Men of Leng are the same beings that conceal their horns under turbans and trade in Dylath-Leen. He also learns that the night-gaunts do not serve Nyarlathotep as is commonly supposed, but Nodens, and that even Earth's Gods are afraid of them. It is never revealed to the reader who the high-priest in the silken mask is, but Carter recoils from him in such horror that it is possible that he is Nyarlathotep. (The text suggests that the High-Priest is one of the Moon-Beasts.)

When the slant-eyed man is momentarily distracted, Carter pushes him into the well and escapes through the maze-like corridors. In pitch-black darkness, Carter wanders through the monastery, fearing he is being pursued by the High Priest Not to Be Described. At last reaching the outside, Carter realizes that he is in the ruins of ancient Sarkomand, which lies near the coast.

Soon he encounters the ghouls that helped him earlier once more. The Men of Leng have taken them hostage on their ship, and they are to be taken to the nameless rock, revealed to be a moon-beast outpost. Carter summons the rest of the ghouls from the underworld and they take control of the galley. After releasing their kin, they sail on to the nameless rock and fight a pitched battle against the moon-beasts. Emerging victorious, and fearing the arrival of reinforcements, Carter and the ghouls return to Sarkomand. Once there, Carter obtains the services of a flock of night-gaunts to transport himself and the ghouls to the gods' castle on Kadath.


After an exhilarating flight, Carter arrives at last at the abode of the gods, but finds it empty. Finally a great procession arrives with much fanfare, led by a pharaoh-like man who explains to Carter that the gods of earth have seen the city of Carter's dreams and decided to make it their home, and have thus abandoned Kadath. The gods walk no more in the ways of gods, and have become instead mere denizens of the jewelled city Carter had glimpsed in his dreams. The pharaoh commands Carter to find this city, so that the natural order might be restored. "It is not over unknown seas," he says, "but back over well-known years that your quest must go; back to the bright strange things of infancy and the quick sun-drenched glimpses of magic that old scenes brought to wide young eyes. For know you, that your gold and marble city of wonder is only the sum of what you have seen and loved in youth.... These things you saw, Randolph Carter, when your nurse first wheeled you out in the springtime, and they will be the last things you will ever see with eyes of memory and of love." This mysterious man then reveals his identity—he is Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, the emissary of the Other Gods who dwell in the blackness of space.

Nyarlathotep sends Carter on a great Inganok shantak-bird through space to the sunset city. Unfortunately, Carter realizes too late that the mocking Nyarlathotep has tricked him, and that instead he is being taken to the court of Azathoth at the center of the universe. At first believing he is doomed, Carter suddenly remembers that he is in a dream and saves himself by leaping from the great bird. As he falls, his thoughts turn toward New England, and he wakes to find that he is at last in his marvelous sunset city; no longer in the Dreamlands but in his own room in the waking world of Boston, looking out upon its architectural graces, suffused in a splendid sunrise.

The final lines of the story find Nyarlathotep brooding over his defeat within the halls of Kadath, mocking in anger the "mild gods of earth" whom he has snatched back from the sunset city.

Connections to other Lovecraft tales


Cyoakha Grace O'Manion, San Francisco avant-garde composer, released in 2004 a concept album/original soundtrack to the feature film, including extended tracks and additional music from the film, called Unknown Music from Dream Quest of Kadath. [1] Read a review at The Thunder Child. Another concept album was created by XCross. Read a review at: XCross.

The German prog rock band Payne's Gray released a concept CD based on Dream-Quest, Kadath Decoded, in 1995.[2]

A five-issue comic book adaptation drawn by Jason Thompson was released from 1997 to 1999. [3]

An animated feature adaptation of the novel was released on October 11, 2003 at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival by Guerrilla Productions. The film was an effort by volunteers and Lovecraft fans from around the world and is currently available on DVD. The film uses artwork from Jason Thompson's comic series, as well as original artwork by Thompson.[4]

In 1970, after the success of The Dunwich Horror, American International Pictures announced they would make a version of the novel, as well as another version of The Color Out of Space which they had previously filmed in 1965 as Die, Monster, Die!.

In the sixth season of Northern Exposure, the main character of Joel Fleischman goes on a quest to find Alaska's "Lost Jewel City of the North", only to realize that it is his beloved hometown of New York.

There is a videogame for ZX-Spectrum Spectrum (computer) entitled The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath [5].

Oxford artist Charles Cutting uses the plot of Lovecraft's novel as a basis for his web comic "The Dream Quest of Randolph Carter" which appears on The Illustrated Ape's website.


  • Harms, Daniel (1998). The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed. ed.). Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 1-56882-119-0. 
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926) in At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels (7th corrected printing), S.T. Joshi (ed.), Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1985. ISBN 0-87054-038-6.


  1. ^ Lovecraft, H.P. and Joshi, S.T. (editor): Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, page 433. Penguin Classics, 2004.
  2. ^ a b Joshi and Schultz, p. 74.
  3. ^ Price, The Azathoth Cycle, p. vii.
  4. ^ Robert M. Price, "Randolph Carter, Warlord of Mars", Black Forbidden Things, p. 66.
  5. ^ Price, "Randolph Carter, Warlord of Mars", pp. 66-67.
  6. ^ Robert M. Price, "The Dream Quest of Brian Lumley", Nightscapes No. 5.
  7. ^ Joshi and Schultz, p. 107.
  8. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. 2, pp. 94-95; cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 74.
  9. ^ A textual analysis of Lovecraft's handwritten manuscripts for The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath show that species names (like "zoog") appear in lowercase. (S.T. Joshi, "Textual problems in Lovecraft", Discovering H.P. Lovecraft, pp. 95.)
  10. ^ Uncorrected versions of the text use the spelling "Pnoth".
  11. ^ Some versions of the text use "Inquanok", which came from August Derleth's misreading of Lovecraft's manuscript when he originally published the story. (Harms, "Inganok", The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, p. 149).

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