Uncovering the Dreamquest Beast

(For fans and friends voting in the Critters Readers Poll, you can scroll down to instructions at the bottom of the post)

Discover the story behind the strange obsession of Camelot’s strangest knight.

Two volumes of “Camelot vs. Cthulhu?”
You know you want it.

As an author, the two things I hang my proverbial hat on are Arthurian mythology (via my Bel Nemeton series) and Mythos-infused historical fiction. So, when 18th Wall Productions put out a call for “Camelot vs. Cthulhu” stories for an upcoming anthology, I knew I had to be involved.

As it turns out, 18th Wall got so many quality submissions that the resulting anthology, Shadows Over Avalon, encompasses two volumes, both edited by the ever superb Nicole Petit. Volume I focus on tales of traditional Lovecraftian cosmic horror, and it’s filled with names who do not disappoint, such as Simon Bucher-Jones, Edward Erdelac, and Josh Reynolds. Volume II channels Lovecraft’s other side, stories of shifting perceptions and realities, fantastical journeys, and dreams. There, you will find my novella “The Dreamquest Beast” along with stories by worthy authors such as Georgia Cook, Kara Dennison, Lukasz Furmaniak, Sophie Iles, and C.L. Werner.

“The Dreamquest Beast” is a non-canonical story set in my Bel Nemeton universe (leading my beloved wife to observe “So, you’re writing your own fanfic now?”).

Taking place a generation before the start of Bel Nemeton, when Arthur is an infant and Merlin still known as “The Wanderer,” northern Britain bakes under an unending drought unlike any in memory. As brave warriors and shield maidens take up the quest to discover what afflicts the land and set matters to right, the would-be champions invariably fail and fall. After the quest claims his much loved older brother, Prince Pelinyr (or “Pellinore” in more contemporary renderings) of Damnonia becomes the unlucky 13th to take up the challenge.

“So, you’re writing your own fanfic now?”

My wife (who, and I say this not only because it’s true but also because she may be reading this, is my biggest fan)

On the surface an unlikely hero, Pelinyr has all his life been plagued by nightmares and strange occurrences surrounding his dreams. In this desperate endeavor, he is joined by his friends: the gregarious Prince Cynfarch of Gorre, the clever Prince Tuadel of Alclud, and Jana, Pelinyr’s childhood playmate, now a shunned sorcerer and seer haunting a cursed Roman amphitheater. Together, the four will cross the wild frontier into the kingdoms of the dreaded Saxons before descending through a black tower without name or builder into the land of dreams themselves.

Once in the Dreamlands, the challenges and dangers only grow. The company will meet gods, battle monsters, take caravans into deadly jungles and endless deserts, pour over tablets written in unearthly tongues, and solve riddles that are a matter of life of death for the companions and for millions back in the waking world.

The Questing Beast drinks from a river (perhaps the good, strong Adamandara) – illustration by Arthur Rackham (1917)

Pelinyr has always been one of my favorite members of the Round Table as well as, to me, one of the most fascinating. Along with Galahad and Percival, he is one of the knights that is “touched” in a way Arthuriana usually reserves for its Druids/Magicians/Whatever you want to call them. For Galahad and Percival, that mania is clearly religious in nature. With Pelinyr, however, its source is never clearly defined. Certainly, it seems to be connected with the “Questing Beast,” the strange creature which he is sworn to follow but which only he can see – but whether the beast is a cause or effect of Pelinyr’s madness is unknown.

This characterization of Pelinyr is surprisingly consistent throughout Arthuriana: from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, where it is implied he is afflicted by his relation to the Fisher King, to the eccentric and slightly senile figure of T.E. White’s Once and Future King.

This aspect of Pelinyr has been incorporated into my Bel Nemeton series. Pelinyr is a minor yet significant figure in the second book, Caledfwlch. The book opens with a friendly duel between Arthur and Pelinyr, as Merlin looks on and frets about Pelinyr’s instability manifesting during the combat. And Caledflwch ends with, in a fit of inspiration, Pelinyr being the one who finds the true name of Arthur’s new blade and becoming the first significant British noble to pledge fealty to Arthur.

So, the idea of “Dreamquest Beast” (a kind of titular portmanteau of Arthuriana’s “Questing Beast” and Lovecraft’s “Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”) as a thought-experiment exploring how Bel Nemeton’s Pelinyr “got that way” and the origins of the Questing Beast was extremely appealing. Like many previous authors, scholars, and artists, I connect the Questing Beast with the mythical creature known as the camelopardus or camelopardalis. Additionally, I thought it would fun to take two of the foils from Caledfwlch (both based on historical 6th century British rulers), make them Pelinyr’s boon companions in “Dreamquest,” and explore the roots of their own transitions from friend to foil.

I am Cameleopardus
From the Serpent, Master of Cunning, comes my Head.
From the Leopard, Lord of Fleetness, is taken my Body
From the Lion, King of Bravery, are drawn my Haunches
From the Hart, Emperor of Virtue, are given my Feet.
And from Sacrifice, I take Breath and Mind and Life

The Riddle of the Questing Beast, from “Dreamquest Beast”

As a writer, I’ve dropped elements of Lovecraft and the Mythos into my stories dozens of times. Doing it with “Dreamquest,” perhaps because I was cutting from the whole cloth of the Dreamlands rather than picking and choosing an element or two for what was essentially my own world, was different. I felt a tremendous sense of pressure, even obligation, to be “good enough” and “get it right.” For all that, it was enormously exciting, one of the most exciting things I’ve done as an author, both to be able to use my favorite elements of the Dreamlands and to add more than a few things of my own.

I also peppered “Dreamquest Beast” with Easter eggs, weaving in nods and shout-outs to stories, myths, and legends from Herodotus to Jim Henson, which also play with the dreamlike, the surreal, or the radically fantastic. Likewise, I endeavored to keep things fresh by occasionally using established Mythos creatures without naming them or renaming them in accordance with cultures involved in the stories (such as using the Saxon “barrow wights” for Lovecraft’s ghouls).

Play along at home! Use this card to track the Easter eggs, shout outs, and obscure references I’ve tucked into “Dreamquest Beast.”

As part of giving “Dreamquest Beast” a distinctive and appropriate atmosphere, I also played with the language of the story. For those of you familiar with my other work, no part of “Dreamquest” is quite in my usual authorial voice. In the first and third acts, taking place in the waking world of 6th century Britain, I have leaned hard into the conventions of epic poetry. For the second act, occuring in the Dreamlands, I have attempted to channel the distinctive language Lovecraft used in the Dream Cycle.

I am very gratified that “Dreamquest,” despite only being released in December, has already been nominated for “Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Short Story of 2022” in the Critters Readers Poll. For fans and friends interesting in supporting me, I’ve included directions for voting below:

  • Go here
  • Scroll down until you find “The Dreamquest Beast / Jon Black / 18th Wall Productions and then tick the circle
  • Scroll down again and enter your name and email address in the appropriate fields
  • Jump through their “I’m not a bot” hoop by looking at the random book cover they show you and entering the name of its author in the appropriate field 
  • Click “Submit Vote”
  • You’ll get a confirmation email sent to you, click the link in the email to confirm your vote.

“The Dreamquest Beast,” part of Shadows Over Avalon: Volume II from 18thWall Productions, is available in paperback and ebook formats.

Welcome to Junzt County, Texas, Population: Weird

Lovecraft has Arkham…

King has Castle Rock…

Campbell has his unique take on the Severn Valley…

Invariably, those who write horror seem to want their own creation they can revisit time and time again. I am no different. This August, my creation, Junzt County, comes out and takes a walk in “Totmann’s Curve,” a 35,000 word novella included as part of Sockhops & Séances, an anthology of horror set in the 1950s, from 18th Wall.

Texas Hill Country

If you ask me, the part of Texas best suited for rich, atmospheric horror is neither the broken deserts and vast plains of the lonely west nor the impenetrable pine forests and swamps of the “boy, you got a pretty mouth” east. Rather, it is the rolling hills, shadowy valleys, and dark-fairytale woodlands of the Hill Country. Stretching about 100 miles west from Austin and San Antonio, many groups, most notably Germans and Eastern Europeans, settled there … each bring their own traditions, folklore, and whispered fears about what haunts the dark. The place feels old, older than anywhere in Texas has any business feeling.

Spme of the Hill Country’s German settlers cut loose and clown for the camera.

So, that’s where I brought Juntz County to life, lovingly populating it with it everything needed for my macabre purposes. Brockenberg, the legend-shrouded vast granite dome rising over county’s center.  Goethe College, an ivy-covered institution established by scholars fleeing an academic schism at the University of Gottingen (and bringing the more, um, unusual parts of its library with them).  Koenigsburg State Hospital, mysteriously burned in the 1980s and many of its patients never accounted for. Thale, a tiny village deep in the hills, perpetually surrounded by ill-rumor and tragedy. And, of course, burger joints, honky-tonks, auto shops, local radio station KJZT, and all the other infrastructure of “normal” everyday life.

Here’s the kicker, originally I created Junzt County not for narrative fiction but table-top roleplaying. It came to life for a Call of Cthulhu campaign I ran the better part of a decade ago, pitting a party of college students all enrolled in the same local folklore class against a mysterious amulet, the supernal forces tied to it, and the (obligatory) cultists trying to recover it. It was a great campaign (thanks, especially, to some great players) and, even at the time, I grasped the location’s potential as a setting for fiction.

Western Swing, Hill Country Style

Before there was “Totmann’s Curve,” there was “So Lonesome I Could Die.” My first published Junzt Country story, in the anthology Descansos, was a musically-themed Texas Gothic ghost story set during the Great Depression. While “Totmann’s Curve” is an entirely self-contained, stand-alone narrative, anyone who has read “So Lonesome I Could Die” will discover several Easter Eggs revealing what has become of some of the earlier story’s characters … and hinting at the resolution to one of its biggest mysteries.

Koenigsburg hot-rodders park on the town square before going for a burger and a malt (actually, Kerrville, Texas)

What of “Totmann’s Curve,” then? It’s a faced-paced 1950s tale of ghosts, teenage hot-rodding, and evil sorcerers serving dark entities. After the tragic deaths of two teens during an illegal road race, increased police attention forces the local hot-rodders to move their activities farther into rural parts of the county. At first, the new race route seems perfect. But the roads have a history of their own … and fender-benders caused by a pretty blonde ghost wearing a white wedding dress are only the beginning of the racers’ troubles. Something in the deep hills is very unhappy about the kids being there.

Oldsmobile “Rocket 88” belonging to Hot-Rodder Jack “Jockey” Groce, Junzt County Historical Society Museum

Can good-natured all-American hot-rodder Sam Granger, his gearhead friend Joe Tegeler, egg-headed cousin Eleanor, the ghostly dreamboat Helene, and the rest of their gang figure out what’s going on in time to save the Saturday races … and their own skins? That is the question.

Are there other Junzt County tales? Yes. A half-dozen, scattered across a variety of time periods, are in various stages on completion. But three others, one set in the ‘40s, another in the ‘80s, and a third in the present are already finalized and resting in my computer, awaiting only a sympathetic publisher.

Sockhops and Seances, from 18th Wall, is available here.

Diving into The Green Muse

This month sees the release of my first Mythos story, “The Green Muse” part of the innovative anthology The Chromatc Courtedited by Peter Rawlik and published by 18th Wall Productions.

The Chromatic Court by [Rawlik, Peter, Morgan, Christine, Pulver Sr., Joseph S., Mackintosh, Paul StJohn, Lai, Rick, Black, Jon, Grant, John Linwood, Barrass, Glynn Owen, Harris, Micah S.]The Chromatic Court is anthology of horror/dark fantasy anthology exploring the connection between color, art, and the powerful entities of the Cthulhu Mythos, drawing especially heavily on the feel flavor, and weird meanace of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow.

As someone who has been a fan of the  Mythos since college, I’m very excited about this story, and very excited to talk about it. So, I thought I’d play Q & A with myself by sharing the author interview compiled by my publisher.

… also, I may be the first person in the history of the universe to quote Ralph Wiggum while discussing the Cthulhu Mythos.

Q) Tell us about your story?

Johannes Chazot’s Illustration for “The Green Muse.”

A) Set in the fertile artistic and literary scene of 1910s Montmartre, The Green Muse chronicles the journey of Drieu Gaudin, a novice reporter at Paris’ top arts and culture newspaper. His editor, a man of very traditional artistic sensibilities, assigns Drieu to report on the murders of several Cubist painters. Seeking to unravel the mystery behind the artists’ bizarre deaths, Drieu is challenged not only by one of Frank Belknap Long’s most celebrated creations but by encounters with the Parisian avant-gardes’ leading lights: Picasso, Modigliani, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Max Jacob.


Max Jacob waits to encoutner readers in “The Green Muse.”

Q) What is your favorite part of your story and why?
A) This project was a labor of love for me. For a very long time, Paris’ artistic scene in the early part of the 20 th century has captivated me and inspired voracious reading on the topic. The greatest joy of The Green Muse was breathing life into the enchanting world of 1910s Montmartre. Within that broader answer, it was especially gratifying to shine some light on poet Max Jacob, a figure unfortunately and undeservedly less well known than the other historical artists who appear in the story. Spoiler Alert: it was also exciting to expand on the fascinating yet under-explored mythology of the Hounds of Tindalos.


Q) Every story in The Chromatic Court details a noble,  a powerful Mythos entity, and the art form they hold sway over. What is your entity’s art and what drew you to it? 
A) As anyone familiar with my work is likely aware, music is my greatest passion among the arts. Painting, however, runs a close second. This is especially true of painting from this particular time and this particular place; as artists began grappling with the question of what the invention of photography meant for painting. Movements such as Cubism and Fauvism arose from attempts to answer that critical and vexing question. As Picasso observes in “The Green Muse…”

“Painting is dead. At least painting as you know it. Photography killed it. But, in death, painting is free. Our quest is figuring out where it goes from here.”


“Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!”

Q) In The Chromatic Court, every Mythos entity and their art is also tied into a specific color. What is your noble’s color, and why?
A) As revealed in the title, green. I could point out the relevance of green to the absinthe which features so prominently in the era and in the story, but as Ralph Wiggum says, “The rat symbolizes obviousness.” Less explicitly but more importantly is that color’s connection with envy, specifically the jealousy Montmartre’s artist feel for each other’s success, talent, and romantic prowess. In various forms, jealousy is a driving force for the main characters of “The Green Muse,” Drieu and Cara, as well as some of its historcial figures,  like Picasso.

Q) How do you approach writing Mythos fiction, particularly when it’s a mix of the Cthulhu Mythos and Chambers’ Yellow Mythos?
A) For me, the most important element of successful Mythos fiction is believably but compellingly conveying the protagonist’s mental journey from the comforting illusion of everyday life to the sub-rosa Mythos reality beneath. When blending Lovecraft and Chambers, the challenge is balancing the Outer Gods’ concrete if alien terrors with the latent and more diffuse menace of The King in Yellow.

Read Chapter One from “The Green Muse.”