When I was in junior high, one of my favorite authors was Edgar Allen Poe. My parents’ copy of Poe’s collected works found a semi-permanent home in my already overstuffed backpack. (It wouldn’t have fit in my locker, which was generally filled from bottom to top with rubbish, articles of clothing, overdue library books, rotting food, and old newspapers.) I was at the time slowly becoming the morbid, hypersensitive insect I am today—junior high will do that to aspies—and Poe’s weirder stories were just my kind of thing.
Poe was my first introduction to poetry, and my favorite poem of his was "Dream-Land." It is full of sublime romantic imagery and has a simple, hypnotic rhythm. I read it over and over until I had it memorized.
Bottomless vales and boundless floods,And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,With forms that no man can discoverFor the tears that drip all over;Mountains toppling evermoreInto seas without a shore;Seas that restlessly aspire,Surging, unto skies of fire;Lakes that endlessly outspreadTheir lone waters—lone and dead,—Their still waters—still and chillyWith the snows of the lolling lily.
By the lakes that thus outspreadTheir lone waters, lone and dead,—Their sad waters, sad and chillyWith the snows of the lolling lily,—By the mountains—near the riverMurmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—By the grey woods,—by the swampWhere the toad and the newt encamp—By the dismal tarns and poolsWhere dwell the Ghouls,—
Later on, when I was fourteen, I discovered H. P. Lovecraft. I approached Lovecraft through his older weird tales and Dunsanian fantasy, and the first piece I read was "The Nameless City." It was in an anthology of old fantasy short stories together with Dunsany’s "The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth" and Howard’s "The Tower of the Elephant." All three stuck in my head for years like darkly glimmering gems. Lovecraft was the one I went back to first, but it wasn’t until college that I came across his Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, which recounts the adventures of a sleeper in the Dreamlands (a real, self-existent world entered through the portal of sleep). In it I found someone else who had been touched by Poe’s "Dream-Land."
Critics and fans have put forth various older works as possible inspirations for Dream-Quest, but I haven’t come across any discussion of "Dream-Land." (Not that I’ve looked too hard.) To me the connection seems obvious, though. Lovecraft admired Poe and emulated him in some of his stories. The poem in question opens in speaking of "an Eidolon, named NIGHT" who "on a black throne reigns upright," while Lovecraft’s atheistic pantheon (the connecting link between his Dunsanian stories and Cthulu stories) is ruled over by gods of Chaos. The settings and general tenor of the novelette reflect those of the poem. And, if that were not enough, they both involve ghouls.
“Dream-Land” is still one of my favorite poems, although my enjoyment of it is a little guilty, as I now perceive that it isn’t as good as I once thought it was. Its mood is an inspiration in my writing; I read it when I wish to hit a certain key. On the other hand, Dream-Quest is too insubstantial for my taste. It is all mood and affect, the sort of thing that gave Lin Carter shivers of delight. To me it’s like frosting, which is tasty and good, but tends to make you sick if you eat a lot of it without some solid cake underneath. The short story was definitely Lovecraft’s proper medium. Still, I like Dream-Quest better than much of what Dunsany wrote, and it reminds me a little of Phantastes, another "dream-quest" I happen to be fond of.