Randolph Carter is a recurring fictional character in H. P. Lovecraft's fiction and is, presumably, an alter ego of Lovecraft himself. The character first appears in "The Statement of Randolph Carter", a short story Lovecraft wrote in 1919 based on one of his dreams. An American magazine called The Vagrant published the story in May 1920.
Carter shares many of Lovecraft's personal traits: He is an uncelebrated author, whose writings are seldom noticed. A melancholy figure, Carter is a quiet contemplative dreamer with a sensitive disposition, prone to fainting during times of emotional stress. But he can also be courageous, with enough strength of mind and character to face and foil the horrific creatures of the Dreamlands (see also Lovecraft's Dream Cycle).
In Lovecraft's writings, Carter appears or is mentioned in the following tales (in timeline order):
- "The Statement of Randolph Carter" (1919)
- "The Unnamable" (1923)
- "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1926-1927)
- "The Silver Key" (1926)
- "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (1927)
- "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" (1933)
- "Out of the Aeons" (1933)
Randolph Carter is an antiquarian and one-time student of the fictional Miskatonic University. Based on clues from various stories, he was probably born around 1874 and grew up in and around Boston. At the age of nine, he underwent a mysterious experience at his great-uncle Christopher's farm and thereafter exhibited a gift of prophecy.
He is the descendant of Sir Randolph Carter, who had studied magic during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Sir Randolph had then emigrated to America and his son Edmund Carter later had to flee the Salem witch-trials. Carter also had an ancestor involved in one of the Crusades, who was captured by the Muslims and learned "wild secrets" from them.
Carter served in the French Foreign Legion during the First World War, and was badly wounded in fighting near Belloy-en-Santerre in 1916, presumably during the Battle of the Somme in which the Legion participated. Poet Alan Seeger perished there in the Foreign Legion on the first day of the Somme, and Lovecraft may well have had Seeger in mind as Lovecraft penned a poem to Seeger's memory in 1918.
In "The Statement of Randolph Carter," Carter joins his friend Harley Warren in the latter's investigations of a mysterious crypt in an ancient abandoned cemetery. Warren believes the crypt may contain evidence that could confirm some of his speculations. The details of these speculations are never revealed. We are told only that they come from a mysterious book written in an unknown language and are related to incorruptibility.
Upon reaching the cemetery, Carter and Warren uncover the crypt by lifting an immense granite slab, revealing a set of stone steps leading downward into the earth. Warren insists that Carter remain at the surface. He descends the steps alone, but remains in communication with Carter via a portable telephone set. Shortly thereafter he tells Carter that he has discovered a monstrous unbelievable secret and pleads with his companion to replace the stone and run for his life. When Carter asks what he has found, his queries are initially met with silence and then by the voice of an unknown entity who informs him that Warren is dead.
"The Unnamable" begins with Carter in conversation with his friend, Joel Manton – principal of a New England high school – discussing the supposedly mythical creature that bears the story's name. The tale is set in a seventeenth-century cemetery as evening falls. Initially, Manton is skeptical and ridicules Carter for thinking that such a being may be possible. However, as darkness encroaches – and as Carter's descriptions become more detailed and supported by facts – his flippant dismissal gradually gives way to fear. The two are attacked by the monster but survive the experience. "The Unnameable" is notable for containing extensive quoted dialog between the characters, something which Lovecraft scarcely used at all in the rest of his fiction.
There is some question as to whether "The Unnamable's" protagonist is in fact Randolph Carter. He is named only as "Carter" and described as an author of weird fiction.
"The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" – one of Lovecraft's longest tales – follows Carter for several months searching for the lost city of his dreams. The story reveals Carter's familiarity with much of Lovecraft's fictional universe. Carter is also shown to possess considerable knowledge of the politics and geography of the dream world and has allies there. After an elaborate odyssey, Carter awakes in his Boston apartment, with only a fleeting impression of the dream world he left behind.
"The Silver Key"—perhaps the most overtly philosophical of Lovecraft's fiction—finds Carter entering middle age and losing his "key to the gate of dreams." No longer is Carter able to escape the mundane realities of life and enter the Lovecraftian dreamworld that alone has given him happiness. Wonder is gone and he has forgotten the fact that life is nothing more than a set of mental images, where there is no fundamental distinction between dreams and reality and no reason to value one above the other. In an attempt to recover his lost innocence, Carter returns to his childhood home and finds a mysterious silver key, which allows him to enter a cave and magically emerge again in the year 1883 as a child, full of wonder, dreams, and happiness. He remains in this condition until 1928, when he again disappears, presumably having found a way to transcend space and time and travel in other dimensions.
"Through the Gates of the Silver Key," written in collaboration with Lovecraft admirer E. Hoffman Price, details Carter's adventures in another dimension where he encounters a more primordial version of himself (implied to be Yog-Sothoth) who explains that Carter - and indeed all beings - are ultimately nothing more than manifestations of a greater being. Carter's mind ends up trapped in the body of an alien, another facet of the higher being. The investigation into Carter's disappearance takes place four years later, in 1932.
"Out of the Aeons" by Lovecraft and Hazel Heald features a brief 1931 appearance by Carter, while trapped in the alien body. He visits a museum exhibiting an ancient mummy from a long-forgotten civilization and recognizes some of the writing on the scroll that accompanies it.
- In Thomas Lapperre's book The Uncertainty, Randolph Carter appears as a main character, following up after "Through the Gates of the Silver Key".
- Randolph Carter appears in The Clock of Dreams, a Cthulhu Mythos novel by Brian Lumley.
- In David Haden's Tales of Lovecraftian Cats, Carter's ancestor Sir Randolph Carter is the protagonist in "Beware the Cat". This story is followed by the linked "How the Grimmalkin Came", which also serves as a sequel to Lovecraft's "Through the Gates of the Silver Key".
- Gene Wolfe's short story "Game in the Pope's Head" follows a man named Randolph Carter, though his introduction in the book in which the story is published states that it is about Jack the Ripper.
- Randolph Carter is the main character in two short stories, both included in the volume Los Espectros Conjuradosby Spanish author Alberto López Aroca: "El ojo que repta" ("The Crawling Eye") and "Randolph Carter y el Trono de Ópalo" ("Randolph Carter and the Opal Throne"), which features other of H.P. Lovecraft's characters, as Richard Upton Pickman. Carter also makes a cameo appearance in "Los Sabios en Salamanca" ("The Sages in Salamanca"), a short novel by the same author and included in the same volume, starring Professor Challenger and Abraham Van Helsing. Carter also appears (along with Richard Upton Pickman and many other Lovecraft's characters) in the novel Necronomicón Z (Dolmen, 2012), set in Arkham and the Dreamlands.
- Randolph Carter appears in "Allan and the Sundered Veil", a serialized prose backup in the first six issues of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book as well as in "The New Traveller's Almanac". In it, he is stated as being a faculty member of Miskatonic University as well as a relative of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter.
- Randolph Carter appears in Cosa Nosferatu, by E.J. Priz, as an old friend of Eliot Ness who involves Ness in an adventure that eventually entangles Ness, Capone, and the Undead. The novel references events in "The Statement of Randolph Carter" and also includes Harley Warren (from that Lovecraft story) as a character, along with references to aspects of the Lovecraft mythos.
- Randolph Carter is portrayed as a member of the Miskatonic Project in the graphic novel, The Miskatonic Project: Bride of Dagon. In the story, it is revealed that Carter is the anonymous narrator of Lovecraft's "The Festival".
- In Alan Moore's "The Courtyard", Randolph Carter is the name of a female singer who is the head of a band called the Ulthar Cats.
- In Hans Rodionoff's comic Lovecraft, Randolph Carter is the name Lovecraft uses while traveling in Arkham and battling the Old Ones. He tells his wife, "They can't know my Christian name here."
- In the fifth issue of the comic American Virgin, a gravestone in the Glade of Eden Cemetery in Miami is marked Randolph Carter.
- Randolph Carter is the protagonist in Charles Cutting's web comic for The Illustrated Ape magazine.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, Randolph Carter is said to be the great nephew of John Carter.
- Carter appears three times in the Lovecraft-themed musical parody A Shoggoth on the Roof, including in the opening number.
- In the parody RPG Pokéthulhu, the main protagonist is a young boy named Randy Carter.
- In Chaosium's collectible card game MYTHOS and its MYTHOS: Dreamlands expansion, Randolph Carter appears as an ally card.
- Randolph Carter is the name of a dog in the Black Cyc game Cthulhu.
- In Funcom's computer game (MMO) The Secret World (released 2012), there is an important female non-player character who appears to be the only surviving student at the "Innsmouth Academy" called simply "Carter". The developers of the game openly state the "Lovecraftian" basis for the game's back story.
- The character Randolph Carter is the protagonist in the 1988 film The Unnamable which was loosely based on the short story and then again in the film's 1993 sequel The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter. Randolph Carter was played by Mark Kinsey Stephenson. Stephenson portrayed Carter as an intellectual on a search for adventure, as he appeared in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", and "The Silver Key", rather than "a bag of nerves" as he was described in "The Statement of Randolph Carter".
- Carter is the main character in the movie adaptation of "Cool Air", taking the place of the unnamed narrator in the original story.
This list is based in the An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia.
- "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath": here Carter is, presumably, twenty years old. This is the "first" of Carter's stories (See The Silver Key section).
- "The Statement of Randolph Carter": here Carter's age is unspecified, but the events are set after The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
- "The Unnamable": This story occurs shortly thereafter The Statement of Randolph Carter.
- "The Silver Key": here Carter is thirty, but in the story he finds himself transformed into a nine-year-old boy. Then, at fifty-four, he finds the Silver Key.
- "Through the Gates of the Silver Key": sequel to The Silver Key.
An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia doesn't mention anything about the chronology of "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" or "Out of the Aeons". Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi used the chronology Lovecraft gives in "The Silver Key" in which the events in "The Statement of Randolph Carter" took place when Carter was in his late forties. Joshi says it would also explain why he was called a "bag of nerves" in that story, since it took place after his WWI service in which he was nearly killed and might still have post-traumatic stress.
Lovecraft's character may have been based on a real-life Randolph Carter, who was a Scholar at Christ's College, in the University of Cambridge, from 1892-1895. Carter took his Part I Tripos in Oriental Studies (Arabic), and his Part II in Egyptology. While at Cambridge, he was an acquaintance of Sir James George Frazer, author of The Golden Bough. Carter's whereabouts after Cambridge are unclear, but, like his fictional namesake, he may have used the French Foreign Legion as a route into exploring the North African deserts. College records do not indicate whether Carter was a US or British citizen.
- "The Statement of Randolph Carter" in H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels, S.T. Joshi, ed. (Arkham House: Sauk City, Wisconsin, 1964) p. 300.
- See "Unnamable, The," S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2001), pp. 283-84.
- "Los espectros conjurados". La Tercera Fundación (in Spanish). Retrieved 2014-07-17.
- "Cosa Nosferatu". Retrieved 2014-07-17.
- "Charles Cutting Oxford artist and illustrator". Retrieved 2014-07-17. "Based on H.P. Lovecraft's novella 'The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath' the first quarter of the graphic novel first appeared on the Illustrated Ape website..."
- H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness.
- H. P. Lovecraft, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales.