The Dream Quest of Unkown Kadath is a short novel by H. P. Lovecraft, published in 1926, part of his dream cycle. Like most Lovecraft novels, it is a written in a "stream of consciousness" style, though "stream of unconsciousness" may be a better term. Lovecraft's dream/nightmare symbolism can be extremely evocative, but separated from logical order in a way similar to one's conscious recollection of dreams. It is the longest of the "Dream-stories", which feature Randolph Carter in an elaborate Dream-world. "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" combines elements of horrific fantasy into a full written tale; showing all of the greatness and splendor of Randolph's dreams.
The book was first published by Arkham House in 1939. Presently it's published by Ballantine Books, in a collaboration of other stories; "The Silver Key" and "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" being worthy of note.
Randolph Carter dreams three times of a majestic city, which he longs to see up close. He prays to the gods of the dreamlands (who live at Kadath), but they don't respond. Carter decides to undertake a quest to Kadath. However, no man had ever been to Kadath before, and none even knew how to get there. He was also warned of great danger by a pair of priests in the dreamlands.
Carter sets out through the Enchanted Wood, where the zoogs, predatory and sentient dreamland rodents, live. On the advice of the Zoogs, Carter begins his quest in the cat-laden city of Ulthar. There he meets the priest Atal, who mentions a carving at Ngranek that shows the features of the gods. Carter realizes that if he can find a place where some of the mortals share those features, and are thus part-god, he must be near Kadath.
Randolph Carter's quest is now interrupted as he is captured by nearly-human merchants in turbans who fly him to the moon, where he realizes that they are slaves to terrifying Moon Beasts. He is then returned to Earth's dreamlands, in the port of Dyath-Leen.
Carter then boards a ship sailing from Dyath-Leen to Oriab, the island on which Ngranek is located. On the way to Oriab and while he travels across the island, Carter hears dark whispers about the Nightgaunts, though they are never properly described. He is surprised to see that he recognizes the features in the carvings as matching those of sailors who trade at the port of Celephais, but before he can act on this knowledge he is snatched away by the nightgaunts, who fly him away and deposit him in the valley of Pnoth to die. He escapes with the help of the ghouls to the Enchanted Wood
Here Carter comes upon a gathering of Zoogs, and finds that they plan to make war on the cats which dwell in Ulthar. Carter warns the cats, enabling them to defeat the zoogs, and advances to the city of Thran, a port where he buys passage to Celephais. While en route, Carter asks the sailors about the men he's seen trading in Celephais who the Ngranek carvings prove to be kin to the gods. He learns that they are from the cold dark land of Inquanok, and that few people dare to travel there.
Carter travels to Inquanok, a nation built of onyx, under the pretense of wishing to work in its quarries, and travels by yak throughout the region visiting its onyx quarries. He then heads north to a desolate waste beyond it, where he believes he may find Kadath.
Carter ascends a steep ridge, beyond which nothing but sky is visible. At the summit, he looks out and gets a breathtaking view of a tremendous feature which appears to be a gargantuan quarry cut into the rock. Carter sets off toward this quarry, but his yak, spooked, abandons him. Carter rides a shantak-bird over the plateau of Leng, which is populated by pan-like beings. He finds that the dreaded valley of Pnath, where the night-gaunts live, is in fact located between Leng and Inquanok. After a terrifying experience at the Leng monastery of Sarkomand he learns that the high priest is a moon-beast, and that the Men of Leng are the same beings which disguise their horns with Turbans and trade in Dyath-Leen. He further learns that the Nightgaunts do not serve Nyarlathotep (one of the Other Gods who rule space, in contrast to the Great Ones, the gods of Earth) as is commonly supposed, but Nodens. Furthermore, he realizes, even the Great Ones are afraid of the Nightgaunts.
Soon he encounters the ghouls once more. The Men of Leng take a large group of ghouls hostage on their ship, and are to be taken to Sarkomand. Carter, however, teaches the ghouls to work the oars, and they take control of the galley. Carter and the ghouls take control of the port they arrive at from the moonbeasts, and are able to maintain it long enough for Carter to obtain the services of a flock of Nightgaunts to transport him to the gods' castle on Kadath.
After an exhilirating flight, Carter arrives at last at the abode of the gods, but finds it empty. Finally a great procession arives with much fanfare, led by a pharoh-like man who explains to Carter that the gods of earth have seen the city of Carter's dreams and decided to make it their home, and have thus abandoned Kadath. The gods have ceased to be gods, and have become instead mere denizens of the jewelled city Carter had glimpsed in his dreams. The pharoh commands Carter to find this city, so that the natural order might be restored. "It is not over unknown seas," he says, "but back over well-known years that your quest must go; back to the bright strange things of infancy and the quick sun-drenched glimpses of magic that old scenes brought to wide young eyes. For know you, that your gold and marble city of wonder is only the sum of what you have seen and loved in youth.... These things you saw, Randolph Carter, when your nurse first wheeled you out in the springtime, and they will be the last things you will ever see with eyes of memory and of love." This mysterious man then reveals his identity - he is Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, the most feared of the Other Gods who dwell in the blackness of space.
As Carter flies on a great Inquanok shantak-bird through space, turning his thoughts toward New England, he finds that he has found himself at last in his marvelous sunset city, no longer in the dreamlands but in the waking world wandering New England and seeing yet again its beauty.
Of course, this being Lovecraft, the story must end on a darker note: "And vast infinities away, past the Gate of Deeper Slumber and the enchanted wood and the garden lands and the Cerenarian Sea and the twilight reaches of Inquanok, the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep strode brooding into the onyx castle atop unknown Kadath in the cold waste, and taunted insolently the mild gods of earth whom he had snatched abruptly from their scented revels in the marvellous sunset city."