Yes, as I may or may not have said in that long piece about Lovecraft last week, I had decided after those three novellas that I didn't need to read any more Lovecraft now, and perhaps not ever. But one day I needed something to read while eating lunch and the only reading matter I had with me was what was on the Kindle, so I started the next story in the collection. Because it was on the Kindle, I couldn't tell how long it was, and I probably wouldn't have started it if I'd realized that it was over 40,000 words long, at or past the upper limit that would generally be considered to define the novella. But of course once I'd gotten started I had to see how it turned out. It took me over a week to get through it, reading bits whenever I had the opportunity, and I got a little impatient when I realized it was going to take a lot more of my time than I'd planned. Also, I was getting a bit tired of the Lovecraft style, and the Lovecraft apparatus--the constant allusions to extremely dark secrets that will drive you mad if you learn them, etc.
But in the end I was rather glad I had stuck with it, because it shows a side of Lovecraft that I didn't know existed: what might even be called the Chestertonian side. I can't really explain that without giving away too much of the story, but it was a pleasant surprise. To speak generally, it seems that Chesterton had a period as a young man when he fell prey to very dark thoughts and speculations. I've never read anything very specific about those, but I wonder whether there was anything Lovecraftian about them. And I wonder if Lovecraft might have been anything like Chesterton if he had turned away from those unhealthy conceptions, because this story indicates that he was capable of seeing things differently.
Unlike the other Lovecraft stories I read, this one has a hero. Randolph Carter is a dreamer, literally: the story takes place in "dreamland." It opens thusly:
Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles....
At length, sick with longing for those glittering sunset streets and cryptical hill lanes among ancient tiled roofs, nor able sleeping or waking to drive them from his mind, Carter resolved to go with bold entreaty whither no man had gone before, and dare the icy deserts through the dark to where unknown Kadath, veiled in cloud and crowned with unimagined stars, holds secret and nocturnal the onyx castle of the Great Ones.
So off he goes on the quest that comprises the rest of the story, and a long and complex one it is.
Let it be noted, to his credit, that Lovecraft apparently liked cats. At any rate, Carter does, and his affection serves him well on his quest, where he is aided by the cats, and is able to aid them. Here is a little extract by way of illustration, and it also gives some suggestion of the Chestertonian thing I'm talking about. Carter has been taken prisoner by some typically nasty Lovecraft creatures, and is being taken to some unknown but dreadful place for an unknown but dreadful purpose:
Then through that star-specked darkness there did come a normal sound. It rolled from the higher hills, and from all the jagged peaks around it was caught up and echoed in a swelling pandaemoniac chorus. It was the midnight yell of the cat, and Carter knew at last that the old village folk were right when they made low guesses about the cryptical realms which are known only to cats, and to which the elders among cats repair by stealth nocturnally, springing from high housetops. Verily, it is to the moon's dark side that they go to leap and gambol on the hills and converse with ancient shadows, and here amidst that column of foetid things Carter heard their homely, friendly cry, and thought of the steep roofs and warm hearths and little lighted windows of home....
Carter now spoke with the leaders in the soft language of cats, and learned that his ancient friendship with the species was well known and often spoken of in the places where cats congregate. He had not been unmarked in Ulthar when he passed through, and the sleek old cats had remembered how he patted them after they had attended to the hungry Zoogs who looked evilly at a small black kitten. And they recalled, too, how he had welcomed the very little kitten who came to see him at the inn, and how he had given it a saucer of rich cream in the morning before he left. The grandfather of that very little kitten was the leader of the army now assembled, for he had seen the evil procession from a far hill and recognized the prisoner as a sworn friend of his kind on earth and in the land of dream.
I think Chesterton would agree that some of these sentiments might be enough to save a man's soul if he hangs on to them.