The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

November 29, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

dreamThe Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

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I picked up this novella when it went on sale a few months back. I didn’t know much about it save that it was getting some good buzz, and good buzz + low price = I’m going to read it. What I didn’t know until I started reading it was that it was Lovecraftian, which was a bonus.

Vellitt Boe is a teacher at Ulthar Women’s College in the Dreamlands, and when a student goes missing, having eloped with a man from the real world, she goes on a trek to find her and bring her back. After all, the student is the daughter of one of the administrators of the college, and neither she nor any of the other teachers want the college to close due to a wayward student. The novella is about Vellitt’s journey across and out of the Dreamlands.

I know enough about, and have read enough of, Lovecraft’s works to know when someone is writing about his mythos. I’m not, however, so familiar with it that I recognize all the names and references that populate his works. Such is the case with The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, a novella written in homage and response to “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”. Some of the references are obvious, and others I know are references, though I don’t know what they are.

Luckily, Johnson doesn’t limit her world-building by expecting readers to know the setting. She paints a vivid picture of the Dreamlands, above and below the surface, writing from a female perspective that, I understand, is lacking in Lovecraft’s work. She even makes Vellitt an old paramour of Randolph Carter, bringing in an aspect of the story that Lovecraft couldn’t.

Toward the end of the book, Johnson makes a particular scene a bit too coincidental to believe. Had she set it up a bit earlier, I would have accepted it more easily, but it was a case of “Oh, here’s how she got out of that situation, and here’s how that happened, since I didn’t talk about this earlier.” Beyond that, the story gets on track and concludes expectedly yet unexpectedly, ultimately satisfying.

Johnson’s prose is sharp, and her details vivid. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Lovecraft, but I remember his prose to be dense, requiring a lot more effort than this novella did. I see Johnson’s story as a sort of revisionist history of Lovecraft’s work, making it a necessary read for anyone who is a fan of his mythos. There are fewer unnameable, eldritch horrors, but the perspective and theme make up for them.

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