At The Mountains Of Madness (H P Lovecraft)

LovecraftThis author’s Achilles heel was dialogue, no doubt about that. However, At The Mountains of Madness has none, therefore it is simply page after page of what Lovecraft does best: narrate. He put together so many ideas, including a mythos that many writers today continue to use. As for this 110 page story – its  frightening, as the setting is so lonely.

An Antarctic expedition that discovers a madness-inducing mountain with horrifying creatures. This starts out rather sluggishly, with Dyer’s descriptions of what technology is being taken on their expedition and what the weather is like, and at what longitudes and latitudes they’re gauging. This does drag down the narrative. Not to say it’s badly written – because it isn’t – but for someone who doesn’t understand much about archaeological expeditions, it was difficult for me to get through. However, by the second chapter it finds its groove and from then on out it is brilliant.

The pacing, the horrors, everything. His descriptions of creatures are both helpful and misleading, leaving enough up to my imagination that it adds to the anxiety I felt as Dyer and Danforth dig further and further into the mysteries of the Mountains of Madness. Lovecraft repeatedly scoffs with shock and exasperation at trying to describe the indescribable. He name drops Einstein and Heisenberg and their early discoveries in relativity and physics, then plays fast and loose with their rules, about which he obviously didn’t know very much.

There are moments when exposition is tossed out by characters who apparently figure things out under circumstances in which working things out seems monumentally unlikely. He frequently lays out the pieces of his puzzle in such a way that they can all be fit together by an experienced reader in no time flat. The descriptions and reactions of the narrators do get hysterical and verbose, but that is to be expected of this author. The tone he sets with this tale is COLD and detached, which made me feel not as involved as I expected to be. This novella is not as powerful as The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward for instance, but HPL did manage to make even the penguins seem creepy!

But in spite of all this potential corny predictability to a modern reader, Lovecraft knew that to scare someone, you don’t show them what there is to be scared of. You hint at the things that might be there and let their imagination do all the work. He was very good at this, and because of that skill, the frozen wastes of Antarctica becomes a much scarier place. Even the snow seems a touch evil. The constant use of words like “antediluvian” “Cyclopean” “primal” and “eldritch” does tend to batter the reader into submission. Lovecraft is about the slow horror and the reader’s imagination, so it doesn’t always lend itself to light reading.

lovecraft mountains of madness

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