The protagonist, Randolph Carter isn't someone the reader would care about; he's not someone I felt I was able to admire, love, or even pity, nor could I hate this character, because virtually no information was given about him and we never really see what kind of a person Carter really is. The reader is told that he likes cats and that he prefers the dreamworld to the real world (though it isn't discussed WHY he feels this way about either cats or the dreamworld), but no other information was given about Carter, thus rendering him little more than a name without a face throughout the novel. Perhaps the intent here was to make him enigmatic somehow, but that doesn't work either, because usually when a character is an enigma, the reader is interested in finding out what makes him tick, though learning about him or her may diminish the mystery and intrigue at times. We are given no such clues about Carter nor is there the slightest bit of character development, however, who can't even be considered a cliche' or one-dimensional stereotype because we don't even know that much about him and through the course of the story, the very protagonist, the one we are supposed to identify with and care about, becomes little more than a name without a face, causing the reader (me) to cease caring about what happens to him.
This barely one-dimensional protagonist might have been forgiven had the story been compelling, creative, or the slightest bit interesting, but sadly, this is not the case. I will give it up to HP Lovecraft for being able to describe the scenery and implant the images of this strange land into my mind, but such imagery does not make up for a lacking story. Throughout the book, Carter simply walks around in the woods, or in caves, or sails on ships, but overall that is all that happens. Sometimes he is with people, while other times he is alone. While a few interesting things happened along the way, such as the war between the cats and the Zoogs as well as the first couple of times Carter was captured by some weird creature or tribe, these events are not vividly described in any compelling manner, but are instead summarized, like much of the story overall, and it seems the only thing that is described adequately at least part of the time would be the scenery, but as I said before, good scenery and imagery alone won't make for a good story, especially when nothing else is given adequate details. Even the conversations Carter has with people are rushed in summary, instead of using dialogue to convey what people are saying; such conversations are done along these lines:
"Carter was talking to some guy, and he said that he was going on his quest, and the guy said that he should not go on there for some reason, and that the quest wasn't worth it, and then Carter insisted that he wanted to continue on his quest and would complete his quest no matter what, and they argue about it for a while, until the guy agrees to give Carter whatever he needs."
Those aren't the exact words used, of course, but you get the idea.
I had heard about HP Lovecraft and how he had influenced Stephen King, among other horror and science fiction writers, and being a Stephen King fan, I thought I would check HP Lovecraft out, but not knowing much about him, I chose to start with the Dream-Quest of the Unknown Kadath. Perhaps I picked the wrong book to start with, and maybe Lovecraft's other stories are better or different or maybe I would've gotten more out of this one had I previously read some of his other works; I'm not sure, but his first impression with me was not very good.
Lovecraft is famous for his creation of the Cthulhu mythos, an alternate universe (or series of universes) populated by strange beings of infinite evil. These are the Elder Gods, beings who enjoy tormenting the human race. Time and time again, Lovecraft takes his characters into unfortunate encounters with the Elder Gods, almost always to the detriment of these hapless souls. In "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," DelRey collects yet another batch of Lovecraft gems.
The main course of this collection is "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," a story about Randolph Carter, a mystic who has the ability to enter a fabulous world through his dreams. Carter isn't content with merely shuffling about a dream world; he wants to track down Kadath, a fortress where the gods live and play. Carter's quest takes him through endless adventures where he faces both good and evil realms. Carter goes to the moon, talks to cats, sails on the seas, and encounters weird creatures both helpful and harmful. All of this brings him steadily closer to his goal. This story is a synthesis of many of Lovecraft's other stories, such as "The Cats of Ulthar."
"Celephais" is a short story about one of Carter's friends who became a king in the dream world. It is a short story that serves to give some background on both the dream world and one of the characters Carter encounters in his quest for Kadath.
"The Silver Key," a story that again incorporates the Carter character, finds Carter discovering a key engraved with strange hieroglyphics. With the key, Carter attempts to reconnect to the dream world. His subsequent disappearance raises more questions than it answers. Fortunately, these questions are answered in the next story.
"Through the Gates of the Silver Key" picks up where the previous story left off. Carter uses the key to move through a portal into a universe beyond any human comprehension. Carter learns that through advanced mathematics he is capable of changing the very barriers of time and space. Some barriers shouldn't be messed with, as Carter quickly discovers. While his estate is being hashed out on Earth, Carter is working diligently to return to his world. Lovecraft co-wrote this story with another author, named E. Hoffman Price.
The book ends with two very short stories, "The White Ship," and "The Strange High House in the Mist." In "The White Ship," a man who watches over a lighthouse embarks on a strange journey into lands only dreamed about by mankind. When the lighthouse keeper becomes bored with the paradise he discovers, his wish to move on leads to tragedy for the white ship. In "The Strange High House in the Mist," a weird house on a cliff overlooking a fishing village serves as a meeting place for creatures of the sea both wicked and wise. When a curious clergyman explores the house, he comes back with knowledge some people in the village would rather not hear about.
All of these stories employ Lovecraft's usual trademarks: elegant prose, descriptions of horror beyond the knowledge of man, and imaginative plots that make the reader shake their head in wonder. There are Lovecraftian stories that are better than the ones in this collection, such as "At the Mountains of Madness," but this is still an excellent collection of chillers from a master who, even on his off days, produced work vastly superior to many writers in the genre. Lovecraft richly deserves the consideration he receives to this day.
The other stories in the collection also take us to the dream world created by Lovecraft. "The Silver Key" and "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" (written in collaboration with E. Hoffman Price) reveal much of the history of Randolph Carter and offer glimpses of other dream quests he embarked on in life. "Celephais" tells of the dream world town ruled by King Kuranes, a former earthly acquaintance of Randolph Carter, and "The Strange High House in the Mist" contains references to the dream world Carter explored. Only "The White Ship" does not relate in some way to Carter's travels.
One simply should not read "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" without first reading a number of other related stories, several of which are unfortunately not contained in this volume (such as "The Other Gods," "The Cats of Ulthar," "Pickman's Model," and most especially "The Statement of Randolph Carter"). This book requires work on the part of the reader due to its unique complexity. Lovecraft's horror stories are much more appealing to me than the fantasy stories collected here, yet Lovecraft's true genius and talent are most easily discerned by a reading of "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath."