Wednesday, February 25, 2009

At the Mountains of Madness By H. P. Lovecraft

As previously mentioned here's another of several brand new reviews of classic science fiction novels that are either up on the always-great Dark Roasted Blend:

Talking about an H. P. Lovecraft book is -- to paraphrase that old chestnut -- like singing about food, or writing about music. What makes it doubly difficult is that so many others have tried: Lovecraft’s probably been analyzed and dissected more than any other fantasy author. So much so that a comprehensive review has also to mention every other review, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

But putting aside the difficulty of a review, and every other review, At the Mountains of Madness is still a brilliantly told horror story. Best of all, it’s almost a "perfect" Lovecraft story, combining everything that makes Lovecraft … well, ‘Lovecraftian:’ constant impending dread, mysteries beyond time and space, characters driven to the brink of -- and then beyond -- insanity, science knocking at the doors of the nightmarish unknown, and tantalizing clues to a star-and-time-spanning mythology.

Told by William Dyer, of Lovecraft’s ubiquitous Miskatonic U (“Go Pods!”), At the Mountains of Madness is about an expedition to Antarctica, which, in 1936, might as well have been the dark side of the moon. While there, Dyer and the other members of the expedition encounter various dreads and haunting mysteries (this is Lovecraft after all: specifics isn’t what he’s all about) until they discover an ancient city and with it, the horrifying secret of the Elder Things, the once-great-but-now-extinct terrifying rulers of time and space.

For a book written more than 70 years ago, At the Mountains of Madness still has a dreadful power. Like the tomes so often mentioned by Lovecraft, the novel crawls under the skin before twisting around the knots of the spine before working its way to the brain and then straight into the mind. Hallucinatory and haunting, the book reads more like a narrative nightmare than what most people think of when they think of a novel.

What’s particularly interesting about At the Mountains of Madness is how it forms a ‘bridge’ between Lovecraft’s mythology. Before it, his "horrors from beyond" were more mythological, but with At the Mountains of Madness he instead moves in a more science fictionlike direction -- a change many other reviewers have called extremely significant for his very long-lasting popularity.

Dream, nightmare, hallucination -- Lovecraft and especially At the Mountains of Madness might be hard to pin down, hard to quantify, but the work, and especially its author, remain truly great legends of horror, and not to be missed … if you want to lose sleep.


Janine Ashbless said...

I first read HPL when I was, oh, 18 - and fell in LOVE. You do at that age. I think "Mountains" was the second story in the anthology, after "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward." I just thought it was like finding a whole new world - he manages to induce a kind of vertigo at the very concept of time. Amazing. And several decades later I have a bookcase full of mythos stories, collectable cards and CoC scenarios ... cough *geek* cough.

And this week I was delighted to read in the paper that they've discovered that a range of ice-covered mountains in the Antarctic, previously assumed to be a flat plateau, is in fact full of ravines and peaks "as tall and jagged as the Alps". The Mountains of Madness reappear, bwa ha ha!

M.Christian said...

So glad you liked it! I totally agree: Lovecraft was so WONDERFULLY imaginative ...

polly said...

AND, like a great story should, it made me THINK! I was slightly confused at the strength of Dyer's and Danforth's reactions to what they found in the city. Lovecraft continually uses the word "blasphemous" when talking about the sculptures and when the characters transcribe the inscriptions.

Then I thought; these men are Darwinians. What they are seeing is a blasphemy to them. It's turning everything they knew as solid, upsidedown. Where is evolution if there was a race of beings before man?

So then I thought, I suppose there's a parallel here with how people reacted to Darwin when he finally dared to publish his theory. Folk then thought it was blasphemy. Where does evolution leave us if there is no god? Alone --and that's a scary thing to face. Just like the characters in Lovecraft's novel, people had to rethink their whole philosophy.

But it's a damn good story --and I thought it was quite a touching moment when Dyer realises the tragedy that happened to the Old Ones. And I do so want to know what it was that Danforth saw,when he looked back --or do I? Scary stuff!