We’re back in the dream world today, and our protagonist dreams because there is nothing left for him in the waking world:
Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there were not many to speak to him and remind him who he had been. His money and lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of people about him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by those to whom he shewed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile to try to describe them on paper.
So I guess that’s the end of the story, then?
Turns out Lovecraft’s lying, though, because he goes on to describe the dreams on paper. Our protagonist comes to a dream of the broken village of his childhood, houses crumbling, lawns overgrown, and to a cliff that overlooks the sea. Plunging off the cliff, he arrives in the dream city of Celephais. The first time he arrives, he awakens immediately afterwards, but is able to properly explore on subsequent visits, and boards a galley to reach the point where the sea meets the sky. This turns out to be pretty easily accomplished. He pretty much literally just has to ask.
For several days they glided undulatingly over the water, till finally they came to the horizon, where the sea meets the sky. Here the galley paused not at all, but floated easily in the blue of the sky among fleecy clouds tinted with rose. And far beneath the keel Kuranes could see strange lands and rivers and cities of surpassing beauty, spread indolently in the sunshine which seemed never to lessen or disappear. At length Athib told him that their journey was near its end, and that they would soon enter the harbour of Serannian, the pink marble city of the clouds, which is built on that ethereal coast where the west wind flows into the sky; but as the highest of the city’s carven towers came into sight there was a sound somewhere in space, and Kuranes awaked in his London garret.
This is a really cool description of the dream world, though.
As easy as it was to get there initially, after waking from that particular dream, Kuranes finds himself unable to get back to Celephais or Serannian, though he visits many other places.
One night he went flying over dark mountains where there were faint, lone campfires at great distances apart, and strange, shaggy herds with tinkling bells on the leaders; and in the wildest part of this hilly country, so remote that few men could ever have seen it, he found a hideously ancient wall or causeway of stone zigzagging along the ridges and valleys; too gigantic ever to have risen by human hands, and of such a length that neither end of it could be seen. Beyond that wall in the grey dawn he came to a land of quaint gardens and cherry trees, and when the sun rose he beheld such beauty of red and white flowers, green foliage and lawns, white paths, diamond brooks, blue lakelets, carven bridges, and red-roofed pagodas, that he for a moment forgot Celephaïs in sheer delight. But he remembered it again when he walked down a white path toward a red-roofed pagoda, and would have questioned the people of that land about it, had he not found that there were no people there, but only birds and bees and butterflies.
On another night Kuranes walked up a damp stone spiral stairway endlessly, and came to a tower window overlooking a mighty plain and river lit by the full moon; and in the silent city that spread away from the river-bank he thought he beheld some feature or arrangement which he had known before. He would have descended and asked the way to Ooth-Nargai had not a fearsome aurora sputtered up from some remote place beyond the horizon, shewing the ruin and antiquity of the city, and the stagnation of the reedy river, and the death lying upon that land, as it had lain since King Kynaratholis came home from his conquests to find the vengeance of the gods.
So Kuranes sought fruitlessly for the marvellous city of Celephaïs and its galleys that sail to Serannian in the sky, meanwhile seeing many wonders and once barely escaping from the high-priest not to be described, which wears a yellow silken mask over its face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stone monastery on the cold desert plateau of Leng.
A yellow silken mask. I wonder if this is an intentional King in Yellow reference? I can’t remember when Lovecraft first read the King in Yellow. In any case, Kuranes seeks to dream more often, and ends up having trippy hasheesh dreams to accomplish this.
And a violet-coloured gas told him that this part of space was outside what he had called infinity. The gas had not heard of planets and organisms before, but identified Kuranes merely as one from the infinity where matter, energy, and gravitation exist.
Eventually he runs out of money, loses his tiny attic lodgings and drifts aimlessly through London until he arrives at a bridge. At this bridge, he finds knights of Celephais waiting to escort him permanently to the city to reign forever as its god. In doing so, they escort him to his childhood village, where he again descends off the cliffs, into the ocean, and into the dream world of Celephais.
Which, naturally, means that the guy stumbles through the countryside, to his childhood village, and then flings himself off the cliff.
Plot twist, though:
He reigns there still, and will reign happily forever, though below the cliffs at Innsmouth the channel tides played mockingly with the body of a tramp who had stumbled through the half-deserted village at dawn; played mockingly, and cast it upon the rocks by ivy-covered Trevor Towers, where a notably fat and especially offensive millionaire brewer enjoys the purchased atmosphere of extinct nobility.
Kuranes is supposed to have lived in London in the waking world, but here he apparently is able to walk to Innsmouth. We haven’t heard of Innsmouth before, but later on, when it gets all shadowy, it’s gonna be pretty firmly located in New England. I guess the retcon is that Kuranes actually lived in Boston? Or that he was already delusional in believing he lived in London in the first place?
This story opens up with the narrator recounting the distressing and relatively rapid transformation of his good friend into a mad scientist:
It is not pleasant to see a stout man suddenly grown thin, and it is even worse when the baggy skin becomes yellowed or greyed, the eyes sunken, circled, and uncannily glowing, the forehead veined and corrugated, and the hands tremulous and twitching. And if added to this there be a repellent unkemptness; a wild disorder of dress, a bushiness of dark hair white at the roots, and an unchecked growth of pure white beard on a face once clean-shaven, the cumulative effect is quite shocking. But such was the aspect of Crawford Tillinghast on the night his half-coherent message brought me to his door after my weeks of exile;
Wait, his name is “Crawford Tillinghast?” If it wasn’t mad science, it would’ve been necromancy. This guy was nominatively determined into some kind of super villainy. His parents can be blamed for not mitigating the effect, but the bulk of the damage was done by that family name. “Tillinghast.” Jesus.
That Crawford Tillinghast should ever have studied science and philosophy was a mistake. These things should be left to the frigid and impersonal investigator, for they offer two equally tragic alternatives to the man of feeling and action; despair if he fail in his quest, and terrors unutterable and unimaginable if he succeed. Tillinghast had once been the prey of failure, solitary and melancholy; but now I knew, with nauseating fears of my own, that he was the prey of success.
We now have the means, the understanding, the technology to allow spiders to talk to CATS!
[“]We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight. We shall see these things, and other things which no breathing creature has yet seen. We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation.[“]
My Always Sunny joke was closer to accuracy than I would’ve expected.
We entered the laboratory in the attic, and I observed that detestable electrical machine, glowing with a sickly, sinister, violet luminosity. It was connected with a powerful chemical battery, but seemed to be receiving no current; for I recalled that in its experimental stage it had sputtered and purred when in action. In reply to my question Tillinghast mumbled that this permanent glow was not electrical in any sense that I could understand.
Tillinghast has invented nuclear energy and is using it to tear asunder the boundaries between space and time. I don’t think Lovecraft knew much about radiation, writing as he was from 1920, but this whole setup wouldn’t be out of place in the 50s.
The machine is activated, and the two are able to see and hear things that are normally invisible. The first is the color of ultraviolet, but things naturally get much weirder from there.
“Don’t move,” he cautioned, “for in these rays we are able to be seen as well as to see. I told you the servants left, but I didn’t tell you how. It was that thick-witted housekeeper—she turned on the lights downstairs after I had warned her not to, and the wires picked up sympathetic vibrations. It must have been frightful—I could hear the screams up here in spite of all I was seeing and hearing from another direction, and later it was rather awful to find those empty heaps of clothes around the house. Mrs. Updike’s clothes were close to the front hall switch—that’s how I know she did it. It got them all. But so long as we don’t move we’re fairly safe. Remember we’re dealing with a hideous world in which we are practically helpless. . . . Keep still!”
Is that…is Tallinghast legally liable for this? I’m pretty sure that’s like five counts of manslaughter at the very least.
Indescribable shapes both alive and otherwise were mixed in disgusting disarray, and close to every known thing were whole worlds of alien, unknown entities. It likewise seemed that all the known things entered into the composition of other unknown things, and vice versa. Foremost among the living objects were great inky, jellyish monstrosities which flabbily quivered in harmony with the vibrations from the machine. They were present in loathsome profusion, and I saw to my horror that they overlapped; that they were semi-fluid and capable of passing through one another and through what we know as solids. These things were never still, but seemed ever floating about with some malignant purpose. Sometimes they appeared to devour one another, the attacker launching itself at its victim and instantaneously obliterating the latter from sight. Shudderingly I felt that I knew what had obliterated the unfortunate servants, and could not exclude the things from my mind as I strove to observe other properties of the newly visible world that lies unseen around us.
So, the horror here is that these things are always around us and have always been around us, that even now these strange jellyfish monsters are absolutely covering the Earth (or at least, whatever part of New England this story takes place in). But, I dunno, I find it hard to care. If they’ve always been here, then we know their impact on human life is negligible. Even if it turns out that they’re secretly feeding on our life force or something, all that means is that we’ve discovered a potential avenue for dramatic life extension.
It’s been established that our hero has drawn his revolver, but Tillinghast just mocks him, claiming that he’ll be disintegrated if he moves, thus making him prisoner to Tillinghast’s ongoing and increasingly spiteful lecture on how brilliant he is and how terrible the universe he beholds. So the narrator shoots the machine, the visions cease, and Tillinghast dies immediately of apoplexy.
I have mixed feelings on the idea behind this story. I like the basic concept that strange alien vistas are accessible by slipping betwixt and between, and the idea that strange alien monsters can come crawling out of those vistas through the same method is potentially compelling. This, however, is the idea that creatures exist all around us which are invisible, inaudible, and intangible to our senses. This has the aforementioned problem that they are necessarily a part of our regular human existence and must either be harmful or else causing some kind of harm so omnipresent to the human experience up ’till now that it’s less like being victimized by an alien force and more like discovering that aging can be shot in the face if we could only find out how to do so without being disintegrated. As it is, these jellyfish monsters seem to fall firmly in the category of “have no effect on humans whatsoever because they are as unable to detect us as we are to detect them.” So as long as we don’t go around turning these violet radiating machines on in populated areas, we’re fine.