When the Dreamlands are better

I really need to account for Lovecraft’s treatment of dreams for this larger project about latter-day dream visions. Since there’s quite a lot of Lovecraft, in addition to looking at the particular Gaiman-introduced volume of Lovecraft’s dream stories, I’ve been asking around for recommendations.

In particular, for this project, I need texts that either

  • follow a Waking – Dreaming – Waking structure explicitly, in which the main thrust of the story is in the Dreaming section, or
  • somewhere in the course of the story hint at the idea that this might all have been a dream.

I was pretty confident that whatever stories settled out of my inquiries, they would be creepy. My job is to figure out how.

One such inquiry netted me

  • Polaris
  • Beyond the Wall of Sleep
  • From Beyond
  • The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath

It’s not entirely clear that these all fit my paradigm, but it’s a good place to start, anyhow.

So far I’ve spent some careful time reading “Polaris” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” and they both fit, in their way, into my project.

In both of these stories, Lovecraft undermines the idea that waking is real and dreaming is fake by presenting a dreamland that is preferable to wakefulness and explicitly questioning which state is real. In “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” he even associates the dissonance with madness – the dreamer can’t endure being restrained by the waking world, and he ends up in an institution where the narrator, an intern, comes to experience a similar dream life.

In “Polaris” the dreamer dreams of his responsibility to defend a perfect nation and considers his wakeful life to be an abrogation of that responsibility.

These two stories also demonstrate the two poles of Lovecraft’s racism spectrum: He fears invasion and infiltration by outsiders, by foreigners, which is typical of his fear of miscegenation; but he also looks down on inbred hillfolk, so he fears the logical consequences of his xenophobia.

Next I need to reread “From Beyond” and “Dream Quest.” If I remember correctly, these are both stories in which figures from the Dreamlands influence the waking world?


2 thoughts on “When the Dreamlands are better

  1. Hey Bill, this sounds like a great project. The racial (racist) paradox in those two stories is especially crisp & well said. DQUK is my favorite Lovecraft of everything he did — a masterful interweaving of Cthulhu-mythos nihilism and the strangely contrary celebration of humanity in the dream narratives. “Celephaïs” and “The White Ship” fit well into your paradigm as well, both are about the interplay between dreaming and waking, especially losing the ability to enter the Dreamlands or get lost there forever. “From Beyond” is really a standard pulp-type horror story (one of my least favorite, though the Stuart Gordon movie version is a scream), not much to do with with the dream-cycle IIRC.

    There are a bunch of stories which occur solely in the Dreamworld (“The Doom that Came to Sarnath,” “The Quest of Iranon,” ‘The Outsider” [maybe], and “The Cats of Ulthar” [an awesome one!!]). Also “Pickman’s Model” has a nice interface with the Dream-cycle, since its menacing ghouls become Carter’s necrophagic allies and saviors.

    I’m a huge Lovecraft fan, and don’t think there are many other stories that I know so well (I mean in terms of details, characters, etc.), so if you ever want to chat about them, hit me up on FB or send an email. I’m always down to Lovecraft!


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