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The Call of Cthulhu ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Call of Cthulhu

The Call of Cthulhu ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), like Edgar Allan Poe, is one of those American writers who achieved little success or recognition during his lifetime but whose fame and worldwide reputation grew after his death. This “Belle Époque Original” contains Lovecraft’s novella The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and the short stories “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and “The Doom that Came to Sarnath.”

“The Call of Cthulhu” is one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories. A race of gigantic beings from beyond the stars once ruled earth before men existed. (They have dragon-like bodies, wings, and tentacles on their faces.) An earthquake or cataclysmic event caused the beings to become submerged in the ocean in a fabulous city. Though they are gone for the present, they are only sleeping and will one day return to their position of prominence on the earth. One of these beings, Cthulhu, controls the dreams of certain super-sensitive individuals (humans) who will keep the “Cult of Cthulhu” alive until the time that it (the beings) will rise again.

“The Statement of Randolph Carter” is a slight, though interesting, story of two friends who, while conducting unexplained “experiments” with the dead in a very old cemetery, encounter more than they bargained for.

“The Doom that Came to Sarnath” is a about a fabulous ancient city called Sarnath, the most glorious city on earth. For Sarnath to come into being and prosper, a race of undesirable beings from the moon (“in hue as green as the lake and the mists that rise above it; with bulging eyes, pouty, flabby lips, curious ears and without voice”) had to be conquered and eliminated. The moon beings never forget what happened to them, though, to make way for Sarnath and, after a thousand years, return to wreak their vengeance.

The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath is too long to be a short story, so it must be a novella. It is a fantastic dreamscape that takes place entirely in the mind (dreams) of one Randolph Carter (the same name as in one of the short stories). In his wild and very imaginative dreams, Randolph Carter is on a quest to find the gods atop unknown Kadath and the “marvelous sunset city they so strangely withhold from his slumbers.” In his dreams he encounters many dangers and many hideous, unearthly creatures such as shantaks, night-gaunts, zoogs, moon-beasts, gugs, ghouls, etc. As repulsive as the ghouls are, they aid Carter in his quest because he facilitates the rescue of some of them who are being tortured by the moon-beasts. The quest to find what he is looking for is so difficult and dangerous that we have to wonder if it’s worth it or not, but apparently to Carter it is, possibly because he knows he is only dreaming and is never in any real physical danger.

The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath is one continuous narrative with no chapter or section breaks. As usual with Lovecraft, the writing is dense and wordy, with long and effusive description, sometimes almost entirely description. I’m not a big fan of fantasy writing in this style, but Lovecraft is the grand master of the genre. He is such a good writer that he elevates genre writing to another level.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp  

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