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13 Dream-Related Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

05/26/2015 09:38 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was a prolific American author of poems, short stories and novellas in the horror/fantasy genre. Although he died in poverty and obscurity, he has since been recognized as one of the most influential writers of "weird fiction" since Edgar Allen Poe. In 2005 an edition with several of Lovecraft's Tales was published by the eminent Library of America, in recognition of his enormous impact on contemporary fantasy literature.

One of the most powerful sources of his creativity came from his dreams and nightmares. The following is a list of 13 of Lovecraft's most dream-infused stories, with the dates he wrote them in parentheses. I will be giving a more detailed presentation on Lovecraft's dreams and writings at the upcoming conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.

1. The Tomb (1917), his first adult story, a tale of someone practicing dream incubation next to, and then inside of, a decrepit mausoleum.

2. Dagon (1917), a "captive at sea" story from World War I, with the narrator finding a strange oozing island with ancient stone carvings of a horrible fish-god, Dagon. HPL said the imagery of the island was partly inspired by a dream.

3. Polaris (1918), inspired by a personal dream of "floating over a strange city." The narrator in the story makes it his goal to go back to that city night after night in his dreams, and eventually he takes physical form there and becomes a trusted guard in the city's security forces. But then he falls asleep in that world and wakes up in this one; he feels acute guilt over abandoning his post in the city of dreams and leaving them vulnerable to attack, and wishes he could awaken out of the nightmare of this current reality, back in the strange city.

4. Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1919), set at a mental hospital where an uneducated, low-born murderer is plagued by alien entities attacking him in his nightmares, revealing spheres of reality far beyond his ordinary knowledge. Some hi-tech electrical gadgetry allows an intern to enter into the murder's dream world, contact those entities, and learn about what lies beyond the wall of sleep.

5. The Statement of Randolph Carter (1919) is an only slightly altered transcription of one of Lovecraft's personal dreams, which made him wonder, "have I the right to claim authorship of things I dream?"

6. Celephais (1920) tells of a magical city created by Kuranes, a man from London whose dreams enable him to create a more meaningful and vibrant reality than his current shabby urban existence.

7. Nyarlathotep (1920), another story that essentially transcribes an especially powerful dream Lovecraft experienced. Nyarlathotep, also known as "the Crawling Chaos," is a trickster magician who lures people into madness, and he is mentioned in several other HPL stories.

8. Hypnos (1922), about a sculptor who fears sleep and tries to fend it off for as long as possible, until he finally collapses and becomes swept away in the vividness of his imaginary creations.

9. The Call of Cthulhu (1926), one of his best known tales, about a secret cult devoted to an ancient race of monstrous aliens, the Old Ones, who ruled over earth long ago and now sleep in the depths of earth and sea, generating strange dreams in the minds of sensitive people, until the day they awaken to rise up and destroy humankind. Cthulhu is one of the Old Ones (Cthulhu fhtagn means "Cthulhu is dreaming"), and the story follows the apprehensive protagonist as he tracks down the clues of strange dreams and nightmares from people all over the world, pointing to the imminent return of these cosmic malignancies. This story is an early instance, albeit fictional, of systematic cross-cultural dream research.

10. The Silver Key (1926), is a quasi-autobiographical tale in which the narrator loses the key to dreaming, but then regains it and once again returns in sleep to the wonders of childhood memory. (As a biographical note, Lovecraft moved out of New York and back to Providence in 1926.)

11. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1927), with his alter-ego Randolph Carter as protagonist once again, is an elaborately detailed adventure in the land of dreams that brings together all the dream themes and images from his previous works: strange cities, dark tombs, flying Night-Gaunts, heroic cats, the kingdom of Celephais, the dreamer Kuranes, the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep, the power of lucid dreaming, and the saving grace of childhood reveries. It is one of Lovecraft's longest stories, and one of the few that has a happy ending.

12. The Evil Clergyman (1933), published after Lovecraft's death, a direct narrative from one of his dreams about finding himself in the book-lined attic of an old house where he encounters, and ultimately becomes possessed by, a malevolent supernatural man in clerical garb.

13. The Shadow Out of Time (1935), among the last stories he wrote, draws directly on his lifelong experiences of shifting identities and merging personalities in dreaming.

The best source of information on Lovecraft's dreams come in his letters, several of which have been helpfully excerpted and edited by S.T. Joshi, Will Murray, and David E. Schultz in The H.P. Lovecraft Dream Book (West Warwick: Necronomicon Press, 1994). More information about Lovecraft's writings can be found at the H.P. Lovecraft Archive.