Tentacled Cthulu is not the only deity lurking in the dark nooks and crannies of Lovecraft’s classic mythos, as this graphic adaptation of four linked stories about the land of dreams reveals.
In “The White Ship,” a lighthouse keeper leaves his post to travel the dream world with the crew of a mysterious vessel. “Celephais” relates a destitute man’s attempts to return to the happy city he visited in his childhood dreams. In “The Strange High House in the Mist,” a town newcomer gives in to his curiosity about a tiny cliff-top cottage. And the title story, the longest in the volume, chronicles a man’s epic quest to leave the waking world behind and travel to the magnificent dream city he glimpsed before being unceremoniously shut out by the powers that be. Randolph Carter is convinced the earth gods are willfully keeping the lovely metropolis to themselves and seeks out their remote home in “unknown Kadath” in order to petition them for entrance, all the while trying to avoid the traps laid by the deviously scheming messenger of the other gods, the “crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.” In the process, Carter finds himself enlisting the aid of some surprising allies, including a clan of adorable cats and a host of carrion-loving ghouls.
I do enjoy a good epithet. Toss in a well-crafted mythology to go with it, and I’m in, at least for a toe-dip. Though I find some aspects of his creations intriguing, I’ve always been intimidated by Lovecraft. In my limited experience with his works, things generally don’t end well and there is a lot of psychological horror and madness along the way. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised to find this adaptation so approachable. This may be due in part to Thompson’s choice of stories, especially the unusually optimistic “…Kadath,” as well as to his art style and sense of humor.
Thompson’s attractive, densely detailed panels reflect the highly descriptive nature of Lovecraft’s original texts, depicting bustling markets, overgrown forests, forbidding mountains, and barren moonscapes filled with busy townspeople, hairy zoogs, faceless nightgaunts, and creepy moonbeasts. In comparison, the broad-faced, bandage-limbed, super-simplified “mockman” figure representing the in-dream incarnations of the protagonists takes a little getting used to. It quickly feels appropriate, though, helping to set them off from both their waking-world selves and the visually complex backgrounds. While the panel flow can be confusing in a few places, the layouts are generally intuitive and often creative, with pages of panel-spokes spiraling off a hub or frames following a meandering path against a panoramic backdrop.
Thompson pulls most of his text directly from the source, but he often lets the art tell the story, from background details to whole panel sequences. As a result, the words don’t overwhelm or duplicate the images and the observant reader enjoys a deeper understanding of what’s left unsaid. Thompson’s use of more modern language for his contributions to dialogue can be a little distracting, but it also makes the story more accessible. The latter is especially true when it comes to the humor, as he fleshes out passing comments in the original narrative and delivers them with a grinning perspective. (Who knew ghouls could be such comic fodder?)
Lovecraft purists may take issue with the tonal tweaks, but enthusiasts and newbies alike may appreciate the way Thompson opens up Lovecraft to a broader audience and so encourages readers to seek out the original canon. (Did you know there’s a whole story just about the Cats of Ulthar? I am so reading that!) While there is some limited violence and referenced drug use (opium naturally lends itself to extended dreaming), the complex, out-there mythology and flowery, old-school literary style may be more of a barrier to younger readers than anything else. With that in mind, this adaptation will most likely appeal to older teens and adults with an interest in mythology, horror, or the kind of world-building that comes with a helpful map for those who like to get their imaginary bearings. This edition also includes a design gallery with author commentary.
Currently, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and Other Stories can be purchased directly from the author’s press.