First lines: Dreams of Terror and Death

In the Dream Cycle, HP Lovecraft explores the unknown vistas of the dreamlands and what unimaginable horrors unsuspecting dreamers may encounter there. Dreams of Terror and Death collects all those stories in a handsome tome.

Much of the criticism from my previous foray into Lovecraft’s vast body of work applies here as well. But since I haven’t read much from the same era, I can’t really compare if those broad, sprawling and meandering sentences and the plot’s slow pace are typical to early 20th century literature, or just to his style. Regardless, I feel free to say that it’s definitely an acquired taste.

This time around, I got more enjoyment out of the labor I punt into reading. I strongly believe that’s because of the thematic unity of this collection All stories deal with dreaming one way or another: whether it is Randolph Carter’s search for the fabled sunset city of his dreams, his quest to regain his ability to dream or the corrupting and forbidden knowledge gained from books better left unmentioned, everything points to unimaginable secrets that hide in the great nothingness beyond the wall of sleep. (This seems as good a point as any to remark that I can’t really stop myself from overusing those blasted adjectives. It’s contagious.)

Apart from the first line (which is a very fine example of Lovecraft’s ability to stretch a single sentence into a paragraph and a half), there’s one other passage I’d like to highlight. It’s from The Silver Key, a story where Randolph Carter has lost the ability to dream and tries to determine whether his waking thoughts are superior to those of his dreams or not.

He saw that most of them … could not escape from the delusion that life has a meaning apart from that which men dream into it; and could not lay aside the crude notion of ethics and obligations beyond those of beauty, even when all Nature shrieked of its unconsciousness and impersonal unmorality in the light of their scientific discoveries.

Why this appeals to me should be clear: in absence of some supernatural force or personal god, life has no meaning whatsoever, apart from what meaning we give it ourselves. You live, you die, and that’s it. The universe, or nature if you will, can’t give a damn about how you live your life. Ethics and moral obligations are entirely human devices, and what could be more beautiful than doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, instead of being bullied into doing it in fear of some unmentionable punishment from a dreadful loving god?

Book read
Dreams of Terror and Death: The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft
First line
When age fell upon the world, and wonder went out of the minds men; when grey cities reared to smoky skies tall towers grim and ugly, in whose shadow none might dream of the sun or of Spring’s flowering meads; when learning stripped Earth of her mantle of beauty, and poets sang no more save of twisted phantoms seen with bleared and inward-looking eyes; when these things had come to pass, and childish hopes had gone away for ever, there was a man who traveled out of live on a quest into the spaces whither the world’s dreams had fled. —from Azathoth