The Dream Cycle is a collection of stories by Philips Lovecraft of an alternate dimension
|Book Review of "The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft"
The Dream Cycle is a collection of stories written by Philips Lovecraft concerning a vast alternate dimension that can be accessed through dreams (Harms; Joshi). Lovecraft was a master of imagination who recreated a dreamland divided into four regions. These regions form the backbone of his work and promote the stories he has written. His writings are also a reflection of insanity and horror, written with the pure imagination of a world external to the common perceptions of mankind and comprehended only by the wisdom of our dreams (Harms). While Lovecraft was an insignificant person in his days, his collections, particularly “the dreams in the Witch house”, “From beyond”, and “the hound”, have had a resounding impact on the genre of horror (Joshi).
The thesis of this review is to analyze the power of imagination presented in Lovecraft’s Compendium of the Dream Cycle. In order to undertake such an analysis, the paper shall provide a summary of the Dream Cycle, analyze his power of imagination and investigate some of the theories related to his imagination and the criticisms behind such theories. In addition, the paper shall present a brief outlook of Lovecraft’s past and how it inspired his power of imagination as well as the genre that he was to specialize in during his time.
Summary of the Dream Cycle
The Dream Cycle is a collection of writings about a dreamland (Harms). The dreamland has a distinct geography that is specifically outlined to anchor many of Lovecraft’s stories, hence making an understanding of the Dream Cycle synonymous with understanding his creation of the dreamland. The dreamland is divided into four regions namely the west, east, south, and north. The west includes a number of locations such as Ulthar, Hlanith, Mnar, Dylath-Leen, and the ruins of Sarnath. “Steps of Deeper Slumber” is located in Dylath-Leen, a port city in dreamlands (Harms; Joshi). This is also the largest city conceived by Lovecraft. Secondly, he describes a town where nobody is allowed to kill cats. He develops the story, a fable in real sense, as to why killing the cats of Ulthar became a capital offence. Thirdly, Lovecraft constructs a coastal jungle city and a desert of capital famous for trading activities. These two regions are Hlanith and Ilarnek. The fourth location in the west is the Mnar, where there are grey stones from which the older people get protection (Lovecraft). Finally, the ruins of Sarnath which are found on the shores of a lake are dedicated to the Enchanted Wood and Bokrug. The East part of dreamland has the city of Celephais and the forbidden Lands. Lovecraft’s greatest of all dreamers recorded in his writings, King Kuranes, is found here (Joshi). The most interesting aspect of the city is that it was built from cloth. The south contains the Fantastic Realms and the isle of Oriab, while the north contains the feared plateau of Leng. The “Men of Leng”, or the vicious man-eating spiders and satyr like beings are known to live in this plateau (Lovecraft).
The geography of dreamland is a spectacular demonstration of the immense power of imagination and fictional thinking. Lovecraft makes his vision of a completely horrific tale by adding the locations of “the Underworld”, “the Moon”, and Kadath (Harms). The underworld is inhabited by monsters while the moon is inhabited by moon-beasts allied with Nyarlathotep. Finally, Kadath represents a huge castle located at the top of a mountain and only inhabited by what he calls the “Great Ones” (Lovecraft).
It is important to understand that the power of imagination in the compendium called “Dream Cycle” is made complete only by the vivid description of this geography (Harms). Additionally, the geography represents a distinct level of imagination which is unique to Lovecraft.
Analysis of Lovecraft’s Power of Imagination
Whenever the senses fail to perceive a reality that perhaps deserves representation in a fictional work, the power of imagination more often than not would take over (Sasson). This ability to form a mental image of something alien to the sense is in no doubt a characteristic of Lovecraft’s short stories. This enables many people to experience a whole world inside the mind of Lovecraft without necessarily having to become a part of his life or listen to him on a daily basis. Lovecraft dedicated his time to paste a clear picture of his environment and as a result managed to grasp the horrific moments that his readers have definitely not found in many writings of a similar kind (Daigle). His power of imagination is also reminiscent in his presentation of his native home of Rhode Island. “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, written in 1927 demonstrates his meticulous use of accumulation of documents and a strong sense of application of setting (Joshi). While the story moves slowly, it is indeed a demonstration of convincing wit as he pulls a sudden stop at the end. With its tale of dark Doings in Rhode Island, the supernatural horror is among other works a strong imaginative charm that captivates his audience. The use of his own native birth place indicates the power of imagination and the probability that the level of imagination stems from his childhood experiences (Sasson; Joshi). In addition, the world events during his long period of existence in the twentieth century promote a view that Lovecraft’s portrayal of genocide underscores the evil that prevailed in the world at the time. He demonstrates that the fictional story could best summarize how evil descended on twentieth century human existence. Nevertheless, while reading his works, one still gets the feeling that the early pieces contains writings of a period when he was imitating rather than presenting his original voice in the stories. Despite this, Lovecraft’s main talent that sells him is his ability to retreat into his dream world and create wonderful themes in his dream world (Joshi).
Finally, Cliff Daigle (2010) argues that in order to write the best fiction stories, a writer must know his themes. In order to do that, the write at times needs to take a stand, or start a story with an idea, a setting, or a character. A writer then needs to lead an interesting life if they hope to impress the world with their writing. Lovecraft’s environment provided him with that. However, critics argue that he missed the point in a number of his arguments.
Criticisms and Shortcomings of Lovecraft’s Power of Imagination
For every renowned writer there are always reviewers who believe they begun by shaking of the not so impressive thoughts from themselves (Daigle). Lovecraft’s writings are of the kind. The Dream Cycle contains four stories that are mood pieces or prose poems. Some reviewers consider them amateur materials that he wrote for journals and have uneven quality. In addition to these early writings is an inclusion of a short story that presents not the power of imagination but a combination of a less dunsanian story of the case of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” (Harms; Joshi). Indeed, it is a representation of some historical reality. Secondly, the introduction to the collection as presented by Neil Gaiman is also limited in terms of presenting the content of the short stories or the full import of the story and as such leaves the reader with a feeling of limited presentation of the collection’s importance. Thirdly, the picture painted in this collection is not complete as Lovecraft’s writings in some cases fail to capture the attention of readers. Particularly, in his work, the Cats of Ulthar lacks a plot. In real sense, it can be described as lacking a unifying dream-logic (Sasson). Furthermore, it seriously suffers from unevenness of style. Finally, the collection of Lovecraft ties together and there is a repeat in locations as well as the multiplication of character appearances especially the monsters. Consequently, the writer complicates his plots with many scenes running in the same pattern and thus. A reading of the book would therefore indicate that when one starts to read the book, they get lost in its multiple expressions and feel like they started from the middle.
The power of imagination presented by the master of horror is indeed astounding (Harms). However, its shortcomings in terms focusing on the setting and presenting a clearly defined boundary between the characters in each story, as well as the promotion of a sufficiently thrilling geography of the entire collection provides the reader with a confused and somewhat mixed perceptions of his feelings towards the short story approach. Was it a full story with sections? Or is the dreamland a collection of probable events that somewhat links to a greater purpose. In essence, regardless of the difficulties that one may encounter in comprehending the whole purpose behind the collection, it is nevertheless easier to appreciate the extent of his imaginative power and skill in writing. Furthermore, it is a concise presentation of a mixture of perfect approaches and styles to a weird tale, earthy gothic horrors, and squalid horror which is a distinct portrayal of the master of tales of atmospheric weirdness that is unrivaled by any of the masters of horror stories (Harms; Joshi; Sasson).
Daigle, Cliff. Know Your Theme: Better Writing by Taking a Stand. 2010. 15 May 2012 <http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/startingtowrite/a/Know-Your-Theme.htm>.
Harms, Daniel . "Dreamlands". The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana. 2nd. Oakland: Chaosium, 1998.
Joshi, S T. Howard Phillips Lovecraft:The Life of a Gentleman of Providence. 28 March 2006. 15 May 2012 <http://hplovecraft.com/life/biograph.asp>.
Lovecraft, Howard Philips. Dreams of Terror and Death: The Dream Cycle. London: Del Rey Books, 1985.