The Dreamlands is a vast, alternate dimension that can be entered through dreams, similar to astral projection or lucid dreaming. Experienced dreamers are among the most powerful inhabitants of the Dreamlands and may become its permanent residents after their physical deaths.
To reach the Dreamlands, a sleeper must find an unusual stairway in a conventional dream and walk down the Seventy Steps of Light Slumber to face the judgment of powerful gatekeepers named Nasht and Kaman-Tha. If judged worthy (that is, able to survive the dangers of the Dreamlands), the dreamer is allowed to descend the Seven Hundred Steps of Deeper Slumber and emerges in the Enchanted Wood. When entering the Dreamlands this way, the person leaves his or her physical body safely in the waking world. If the dreamer is killed during his or her travels, the person's corporeal body will suffer only a shock. Sometimes, however, this can be fatal — dream death of this kind makes return to the Dreamlands impossible. Waking up causes a person's dream self to disappear; thus the individual may have difficulty recalling anything learned or experienced while asleep (similar to conventional dreaming). A dreamer who dies in the real world while his dream self is still alive may have the option of retiring to the Dreamlands for the remainder of his dream self's "life."
The Dreamlands can be entered in other ways, including physically. This usually requires passing through very dangerous areas of both the waking world and the Dreamlands. Consequently, real death becomes a risk. However, the visitor does receive the prolonged lifespan of a native of the Dreamlands, so the traveller's time there is no longer limited to the duration of a night's sleep on earth.
Though the term Dreamlands typically refers to the dimension accessible by human dreamers, other inhabited planets may have their own dreamlands. Reaching these other realms from the terrestrial Dreamlands is possible but difficult.
Time flows at a different rate in the Dreamlands — each hour on earth represents a week or more there. Consequently, a traveller can spend months in the Dreamlands during a single night's sleep on earth. Fortunately for dreamers, inhabitants of the Dreamlands are either long-lived or immortal, provided they avoid injury or disease.
Despite its accelerated time, the Dreamlands rarely experiences change. Its geography, politics, and population remain fairly static. Dreamers, however, can exert great change over the topography, such as by creating entire cities with accompanying populations.
The Dreamlands has its own pantheon known as the Great Ones or the gods of Earth, which resemble gods of Greek or Roman mythology in that ordinary humans can wound, deceive, and seduce them. They are evidently presided over by some aspect of Nyarlathotep, the avatar of the Outer Gods. Otherwise, the rest of the deities of the mythos, who figure prominently in Lovecraft's other writings (such as the Great Old Ones and the Outer Gods), have little interest in or influence over the Dreamlands.
The Dreamlands is divided into four continental regions, each named for its cardinal direction.
- The West is the most well-known region of the Dreamlands and is probably the most inhabited as well. It is where dreamers emerge from the Steps of Deeper Slumber. The port of Dylath-Leen, the largest city of the Dreamlands, lies on its coast. The town of Ulthar, where no man may kill a cat, is also located here. Other important cities are Hlanith (a coastal jungle city) and Ilarnek (a desert trade capital). The land of Mnar and the ruins of Sarnath are found at the southern border. The Enchanted Wood of the zoogs is also found here. It joins the South.
- The South is the southern coastal region of the continent shared by the West along with the islands of the Southern Sea, including the isle of Oriab, the largest. The South's land-locked regions and its coastal areas are known as the Fantastic Realms, because they contain nightmarish and sometimes incomprehensible zones. Otherwise, the islands of the Southern Sea are fairly normal.
- The East is a continent that is largely uninhabited, except for Ooth-Nargai. The city of Celephaïs is the capital of Ooth-Nargai and was created from whole cloth by its monarch King Kuranes, the greatest of all recorded dreamers. Beyond Ooth-Nargai are The Forbidden Lands, dangerous realms into which travel is interdicted.
- The North is a cold, mountainous continent notorious for its Plateau of Leng, a violent region shared by man-eating spiders and satyr-like beings known as the "Men of Leng". The North also has a number of friendlier places, such as the city of Inganok, famous for its onyx quarries. The deepest reaches of the North are said to hold Unknown Kadath, the home of the Great Ones.
In addition to these regions, the Dreamlands has a few other locales that defy conventional description.
- The Underworld is a subterranean region that runs beneath the whole of the Dreamlands. Its principal inhabitants are ghouls, who can physically enter the waking world through crypts. The Underworld is also home to the gugs, monstrous giants banished from the surface for untold blasphemies. The Underworld's deepest realm is the Vale of Pnath, a dangerous lightless chasm inhabited by enormous unseen beasts called bholes. Bholes are likely the ancestors of the Dholes of Yaddith.
- The Moon has a parallel in the Dreamlands and is inhabited by the dreaded moon-beasts, amorphous frog-like creatures allied with Nyarlathotep. Interestingly, it is possible for a ship to sail off the edge of the Dreamlands and travel through space to the moon.
Kadath — or Unknown Kadath or Kadath in the Cold Waste — is the dwelling place of the Great Ones. It is a gigantic castle found atop an immense cosmic mountain in the Cold Waste.
Kadath is mentioned in other stories by Lovecraft, including "The Dunwich Horror" (1929) — appearing in a quote from the Necronomicon — and "The Other Gods" (1921). In the latter story, Kadath is cited as the place where the gods dwell, but it is inaccessible to mortals because the gods do not want to be bothered. In At the Mountains of Madness, a mural left by the Elder Things shows a giant mountain range. The protagonist theorizes this might be the location of Kadath.
The Great Ones are the "weak gods of earth" that reign in the Dreamlands. They are protected by Nyarlathotep.
Table of Great Ones
This table is organized as follows:
- Name. This is the commonly accepted name of the Great One.
- Description. This entry gives a brief description.
- References. This field lists the stories or other sources in which the Great One makes a significant appearance or otherwise receives important mention. A simple two-letter code is used (the key to the codes is found here). If a code appears in bold, this means that the reference introduces the Great One.
|Hagarg Ryonis, |
|Usually appears as a huge, reptilian monster.||DL, WH|
|Karakal||An elf-like humanoid.||DL, WH|
|Lobon||Appears as ivy-crowned youth bearing a spear.||DC, DL, WH|
|Nath-Horthath||Chief god of Celephaïs.||CE, DL, DQ, KA|
|Tamash||Appears as a short, silver-skinned, ebon-haired, and bearded man.||DC, DL, MG, WH|
|Zo-Kalar||God of birth and death.||DC, WH|
A slimy carrion eater which lives in the vale of Pnath. Although unseen in the darkness, they are known to be slippery and of great length. They are capable of climbing, but typically wriggle and burrow. (D-QoUK).
Little-known web-footed creature which sucks blood, likes shiny things, and lives in ruins near Baharna on the Isle of Oriab. (D-QoUK).
In the novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (D-QoUK) by H. P. Lovecraft, cats are intelligent and organized in a paramilitary tribal system. They communicate in a complex language that can be understood and spoken by dreamers. They are allies and protectors to those who treat them well.
Enormous two-headed creatures, thousands of feet tall, which guard the Cold Waste. They look like hyenas when squatting, but have swollen bodies and are capable of walking upright in an anthropoid manner. (D-QoUK).
The Folk of Leng
Almost-human creatures, originally inhabitants of the plateau of Leng and builders of the primordial city of Sarkomand. They are furry humanoids with wide mouths, horned heads, dwarfish tails, and cloven-hoofed feet. Allies and slaves of the moonbeasts. (D-QoUK).
Carnivorous creatures similar to kangaroos but a little larger than a pony. They live in the vaults of Zin, which adjoins the graveyard of the Gugs. Ghasts have yellowish-red eyes and a scabrous face that "is so curiously human despite the absence of a nose, a forehead, and other important particulars." (D-QoUK). They have hard pointed hooves and communicate in coughing gutturals. Ghasts die in the light but can endure the twilight of the abyss. They have a sharp sense of smell.
First mentioned and described by Lovecraft in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
Subterrene inhabitants of the waking world, ghouls travel into the dreamlands through underground graveyard tunnels. They have a somewhat human physiognomy but with rubbery skin, canine faces, and slumping forms. They may become greenish when elderly. They have a simple language of meeping and gibbering. It is noted in the "Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" that a human spending time with these creatures may in fact become one of them. (D-QoUK).
Twenty feet in height, Gugs are black-furred monsters whose yellow-fanged mouth runs from the top to the bottom of the head and opens vertically. Their paws are two feet and a half across and are equipped with formidable talons. Their eyes are pink and jut two inches from each side, shaded by bony protuberances overgrown with coarse hairs. Formerly inhabitants of the Enchanted Wood, they were cursed to live in an underground city-kingdom of cyclopean round towers. Mortal dreamers were their former food, but their diet is now restricted to ghasts. Gugs are voiceless and talk by means of facial expression. (D-QoUK).
As described in D-QoUK the human inhabitants of dreamland are mortal although long-lived (the patriarch Atal "was fully three centuries old.") People are preindustrial and occupations described include farmers, grocers, butchers, merchants, sailors, quarrymen, and priests. (D-QoUK). In Brian Lumley's novel Hero of Dreams it is implied that human inhabitants of Dreamland are dreamers.
These lovely prismatic-hued songbirds live in and around Oriab, mostly in the resin groves on the slopes of Mt. Ngranek.
Amorphous creatures, approximately 8 feet in height, eyeless, slippery in texture, and greyish-white in colour. They can expand and contract at will but have a principal shape that is toadlike with a vibrating mass of short pink tentacles at the end of a blunt snout. (D-QoUK).
Man-sized flying creatures. They are thin, horned, and have barbed tails and membranous wings. They also have black prehensile paws. They are faceless and silent, but communicate ably with ghouls through mime and sign language. Being faceless, the have no eyes as such, but are able to see in extreme darkness because the whole surface of their bodies is sensitive to light. They are tasked with carrying invaders of the inner earth down to the vale of Pnath. They are subjects of the subterrene god Nodens (D-QoUK).
In The Call Of Cthulhu creatures that fit the description of Nightgaunts are said to participate in the rituals of the cult worshipping the titular entity, implying they possess the ability to cross over into the material world.
A large, horse-headed, scaly flying creature that lives in the nether pits below the North of Dreamland. They communicate by tittering. They are subjects of the divine messenger Nyarlathotep (D-QoUK).
Carnivorous sea creatures found around the jagged rock island near Sarkomand. (D-QoUK).
Unknown beings living in the ancient sunken city between Dylath-Leen and Zar, they practice human sacrifice. (D-QoUK).
An amphibious monster that lives in hidden pools on the Isle of Oriab. They howl at night. (D-QoUK).
Small, brown, elfin creatures that live in the Enchanted Wood. Zoogs keep secrets well and have knowledge of many obscure and forgotten things. They sup on fungi but have a taste for human flesh; few who enter their forest ever leave. They may also try to eat cats. In their visits to earth, they have spawned many sub-races of creatures that vaguely resemble them but usually have much more benevolent habits.
In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, the Zoogs planned to go to war with the cats of Ulthar in revenge for the killing of one of their own -- a Zoog who had "looked hungrily at a small black kitten". Randolph Carter overheard them plotting a surprise attack. He was able to foil their plans by notifying the cat tribe, who then descended en masse upon the enchanted woods where the Zoogs live. The cats met no resistance, having surprised them totally. There was then a truce established: the Zoogs would procure for the cats annual quantities of quail and other game birds, and a number of Zoogs of noble descent were taken as hostages, to be kept in the temple of cats in Ulthar city. The Zoogs were informed that any attempt at retribution would have dire consequences.
Stories and references
The following stories either take place in or make reference to Dreamlands locations.
- "Polaris" (1918)
- "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" (1919)
- "The Doom That Came to Sarnath" (1919)
- "The White Ship" (1919)
- "The Cats of Ulthar" (1920)
- "Celephaïs" (1920)
- "The Quest of Iranon" (1921)
- "The Other Gods" (1921)
- "Hypnos" (1922)
- The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926)
- "The Silver Key" (1926)
- "The Strange High House in the Mist" (1926)
- "At the Mountains of Madness" (reference only) (1931)
- "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" (with E. Hoffmann Price) (1932)
- Script error
- A guide to Kadath appears in the library of the Dreaming in The Sandman: Brief Lives.
- In Move Under Ground, Jack Kerouac is attacked by a shoggoth in the Dreamlands, but is saved by the advice of bodhisattva Kilaya.