Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Mini-Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
I just completed reading Kij Johnson's The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. (disclaimer: Kij is a friend of mine, met through a mutual friend and rock climbing).
The book is a direct descendant of H.P. Lovecraft's Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and takes place within Lovecraft's Dreamlands. Vellitt Boe, a professor at the Ulthar Women's College (the town with the cats) is awoken one night with news that one of the college's star students has disappeared, running away with a 'dreamer' - a person from the 'waking world' - our Earth. The two have a head start, and through machinations of their own, appear to have escaped back to the dreamer's homeland.
Professor Boe is tasked with finding an alternate way to escape the Dreamlands, track down the truant student, and return her to her native land. Because, it appears, the young woman is more than simply a love-smitten student, and her disappearance could have catastrophic consequences for both Ulthar and the Dreamlands.
Johnson returns us to the terrain first laid out be Lovecraft in his Randolph Carter stories, among others. Boe, in her quest, makes stops at many of these locales, revisiting the places, people, creatures, and mad godlings created by the influential writer.
And, indeed, in her back-tracking, Boe (and Johnson) reacquaints us with Lovecraft's geography, not through the eyes of a dreamer, but via those of a resident of that dark and often-horrific land.
Boe travels across the Dreamlands, seeking counsel and access from a number of personages, including a couple from her own past. Her travels in pursuit of the lovers gives her moments to reflect on her own youthful travels and loves, before settling in as a staid professor of Mathematics at the college.
What the book does well, in its themes, is to return us to a point of inspiration and original discovery. Johnson, in the liner notes, recalls first encountering Lovecraft in adolescence, and her own inspiration to return to those macabre lands. Like many of us in writing, gaming, and other creative places - both taking inspiration, and wholesale re-tooling, from the artists who came before is part and parcel of the trade. And, like many of us, the middle-aged Boe ruminates on her own past and path, and recalls her own adventures, both productive and foolish, which brought her to her current occupation and place in the world. And, in spite of her dogged pursuit of the student, she has empathy for those passions of youth gone by.
All in all, a fun read, and a fine re-visitation of a geography and works that inspired many later writers and the genre.
Which reminds me, I need to re-read Kadath, myself...
And gugs never forget...