Tag Archives: Dreamlands

Other times, other Expresses

We’re excited that Horror on the Orient Express has taken on a life of its own. People like it. They write about it. They create new stories and they ride the train in other times and other places. Here are a few of the brave souls who have recorded their experiences online.

Yog-Sothoth.com is a community created by Paul of Cthulhu for online discussion and friendship centered around Call of Cthulhu. It is a great place to discuss the game with fellow Keepers and frequently authors from all companies producing licensed Call of Cthulhu material. Almost all started as fans first, and writers second. Forums are clearly organized according to your Cthulhu-of-preference, Gaslight and Classic, Ancient, Modern, and all other theatres of horror.

The particular strength is the podcast recorded by Paul and friends, or Yog-radio as they style it. Years ago, the Bradford Players sat down to play through Horror on the Orient Express in its entirety, and they recorded the playthrough in surround-sound. It’s like a radio play with occasional dice. It was also collected as Lovecraftian Tales from the Table, which also includes their playthrough of Masks of Nyarlathotep as well as tons of nifty extras such as props, trailers, music and more, including interviews, one of which is with the nefarious trio of Richard Watts, Geoff Gillan and Mark.

The characters played by the Bradford Players during the audio playthrough will be included as NPCs or even replacement investigators in the Strangers on the Train section of the new edition of Horror on the Orient Express.

Lovecraftian Tales from the Table

Lovecraftian Tales from the Table (Yog-Sothoth.com)

 The radio play inspired Nick Marsh to create a novelization, The Express Diaries. This is a superb hardcover, illustrated by Eric M. Smith and a wonderful map by Steff Worthington. The format of the novelization is in diaries and letters.

The Express Diaries (Nick Marsh)

The Express Diaries (Nick Marsh)

When not recording bad things happening to good people on fine trains, Nick Marsh is a vet. He has a writing website which links to his amusing blog, Maybe It Should Happen To A Vet.

Finally, comic artist Jason Thompson was inspired by the podcast to do some marvelous illustrations of the characters. Jason has also illustrated Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath so he is all right by us.

Sketch of the Bradford Players characters by Jason Thompson

Sketch of the Bradford Players characters by Jason Thompson [Source: Mockman.com]

All of this activity started with our train but really is the triumph of Paul Maclean, and everybody who posts, blogs, discusses and occasionally rants at Yog-Sothoth.com.

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The Dreamlands Express II – The Bestiary of Dreams

When I was compiling the Dreamlands Express itinerary I thought about the fauna and flora of the Dreamlands and added it to the views from the train by way of local colour.

The fauna included Dreamlands fauna like magah birds, at least one animal of my own invention (from a dream in fact), and a smattering of real animals, mainly African. After all there are elephants and peacocks, yaks and zebras in the Dreamlands, so there must be a few other exotics tucked away. This had an unexpected side-effect. Just before Mark play-tested the Dreamlands Express scenario I found him leafing through the Dreamlands bestiary looking for quagga and okapi. I hadn’t realized it was possible to mistake these real world animals for dream beasts, but I guess their names do look kind of made up.

The okapi, a pleasingly defined “giraffid artiodactyl mammal”, is fortunately still with us:

What this okapi photograph doesn’t show you is that okapi tongues are so long  they can lick their own eyeballs  [Source: themagazine.ca August 2009]

The quagga, alas, is not.

A South African sub-species of zebra, it was hunted to extinction in the wild. The last quagga died in an Amsterdam zoo in 1883. I included the quagga in the Sona-Nyl description because one of the few things we now know about the quagga – the sound of its cry – was described in a poem. As Robert Silverberg notes dryly in The Dodo, The Auk and the Oryx, it is not a good poem, but it gives us today this one useful fact. I thought that any animal immortalized in poetry should have a chance to live on in Sona-Nyl, the Land of Fancy.

Quagga in the London Zoo, 1870 [Source: Wikipedia]

The other important Dreamlands animal is of course the cat. Lovecraft loved cats and the Dreamlands was one of the few areas of his fancy where he could give this affection full play. I had great fun with a cat sub-plot on the Dreamlands Express, where cats have their own compartment and are treated as full passengers. If the dreamers ask about this, they are given reasons taken straight from Lovecraft’s DreamQuest and The Cats of UltharFor the cat is cryptic and close to strange things that men cannot see; for the Sphinx is his cousin and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

So in closing, here are some cats of Istanbul. Remember, they are looking out for you in their dreams.

Cat of Istanbul enjoying a carpet

Cat of Istanbul, ready to take a nap on a carpet

Cat of Istanbul enjoying a windowsill

Cat of Istanbul enjoying a snooze on a windowsill

Cat of Istanbul enjoying a box of records outside Lale Plak music shop

Cat of Istanbul napping in a box of records outside Lale Plak music shop

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The Dreamlands Express I: The Geography of Dreams

Warning: Here be spoilers…

I cannot live up to the enchantment of Christian’s previous post about Poissy but this post is also concerned with coincidence and other odd ways in which a writer’s mind works.

A fragment found folded between the seat and the wall on the Orient Express:

Last night in my compartment of the Orient Express I dreamed of a train so marvelous that in the morning my pillow was wet with tears of joy. It was no creation of iron and steam but of airy palaces borne aloft on the backs of vast beasts. Yet when I woke my heart was sore, for someone on this marvelous train did kill a cat, and in that land this of all things was forbidden.

Istanbul Cat 1

This cat has just read the last paragraph and is not impressed.

So somehow a Dreamlands Express has shunted itself onto the back of the Orient Express, no mean feat for a dream world where technology has to be ‘fixed’ for at least 500 years in the waking world before it can exist.

This Express was born out of a discussion with Mark about a key issue with the plot of the Horror on the Orient Express. One particular enemy is simply too strong and can reduce unprepared parties to “one insane investigator, a 12-year old, and an NPC whose player has left to go to College”. Don’t laugh. That’s a near-direct quote.

Was there a way to provide  a weapon against this enemy for weaker parties while allowing stronger parties to tackle it on their own?  That was how the Dreamlands Express evolved, first with a fragment of an idea for the weapon, then an idea for a murder, then an idea for a mystery. Finally the train itself lumbered into view.

I don’t want to talk further about the scenario. I do want to talk about itineraries though. I compiled the train’s route  using the descriptions from an old copy of the H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands supplement and the haunting visions of Lovecraft’s stories. We then had to make some pretty strange decisions about some of these dream cities.

The city of Aira, for instance. It was the dream of the shepherd boy Iranon, in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Quest of Iranon. It was listed in both the text and the map of the early editions of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, but has vanished from the latest edition (something we did not actually know until informed by Steff Worthington, resolute map artist). Did Aira actually ever exist, and if it did exist could it be visited?

The city of Zar in country of Zak posed a textual problem: was it the city of Zar in the Country of Zak, or the City of Zak in the country of Zar. Or was it just Zar. Or Zak. Lovecraft is no help as he contents himself with obscure hints; “no dreamer should set foot upon the sloping meadows of Zar, for it is told that he who treads them may nevermore return to his native shore.”

Finally, who or what is the eidolon Lathi that rules over the city of Thalarion? A definition I found spoke of Helen of Troy’s starring role in the Illiad, when ancient historians of Classical Greek world agreed that Helen was never in the city during the Trojan war. By placing her there Homer created an eidolon, a ghost of a woman who never existed in that time or place. How does that help us evoke Thalarion, whose ‘streets are white with the unburied bones of those that have looked upon the eidolon Lathi’? If they’re unlucky, your investigators will find out…

‘The Quest of Iranon’ by H.P. Lovecraft originally appeared in Weird Tales March 1939. [Source: FineBooks Magazine]

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The Dream Cities of Istanbul and Providence

A seat is now empty, but the train moves on. Let us follow Randolph Carter, and journey in search of cities lost in time and dreams.

As part of my research for the Traveler’s Companion, I’m reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. This isn’t the place to talk about Pamuk’s stature as a writer. It is Pamuk’s Istanbul that I am concerned with here, the city of his childhood in the 1950 and 60s, and how this can be related back to a Lovecraftian experience of Istanbul in the 1920s.

Pamuk evokes a city of winter, of darkness, of shadow, of twilight, of gloom and poverty. He lingers lovingly over every detail of the slow ruin of the grand old mansions lining the Bosporus. Pamuk’s city is permeated with an aching consciousness of loss, huzun,  a Turkish word he re-interprets as a communal melancholy suffered by Istanbul residents, arising from a deep awareness of their city’s fall from greatness.

Lovecraft’s twilight city, his dream Providence, is a fleeting glimpse filled with ‘the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things, and the maddening need to place again what had once had an awesome and momentous place.’

These are two very different writers confronting the same vision, and both writers assert the primacy of their dream city over the reality, to the point where reality shadows the dream. At the time of writing Istanbul, Pamuk had never left the city, and indeed had returned to live in the same apartment building that he lived in as a child. He felt the city fed his imagination and he would lose too much if he left. Lovecraft stayed in Providence and on College Hill, apart from a short unhappy stint in New York. He could not abandon the city that stood at the center of his craft. His tombstone reads, simply, ‘I am Providence.’

Pamuk also collected newspaper columnist jottings, some of which he shares in a chapter of Istanbul. Here is an admonition from our period, 1929, a final word on lost places and lost times:

“Like all the clocks that adorn our city’s public spaces, the two great clocks on either side of the bridge at Karaköy don’t tell the time so much as guess it; by suggesting that a ferry still tied to the pier has long since departed, and at other times suggesting that a long-departed ferry is still tied to the pier; they torture the residents of Istanbul with hope.”

H.P. Lovecraft's grave, Providence

H.P. Lovecraft’s grave with the dedication “I am Providence”. Photo taken on HPL’s 100th birthday; note the brain-shaped fungus, lovingly laid. (Providence, 1990)

 

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