I was wide awake around 3am last night and looking for something to read on my phone that was short and GrimDarkTober appropriate. Hummm. Not that I don’t have an entire library on my phone, but I started thinking about Poe which eventually led me to At the Mountains of Madness via the Project Gutenberg website. Originally published in three parts in 1936 in Astounding Stories magazine, this is one of the first chronological stories featuring certain Lovecraftian entities. I guess it’s also in line with my sort of consistent sci-fi on Saturday posts too.
Here’s a little synopsis from GoodReads:
Long acknowledged as a master of nightmarish vision, H.P. Lovecraft established the genuineness and dignity of his own pioneering fiction in 1931 with his quintessential work of supernatural horror, At the Mountains of Madness. The deliberately told and increasingly chilling recollection of an Antarctic expedition’s uncanny discoveries –and their encounter with an untold menace in the ruins of a lost civilization–is a milestone of macabre literature
Can’t go wrong with a little cosmic horror, right? Well, this one was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I wish the novella had been a 15 page short story (it was somewhere around idk 130 pages)? On the other hand, the weird parts are SO blessedly weird that it’s oddly endearing.
The things I think are important to know about Lovecraft are that 1) he actually was afraid of the cold and didn’t react to it well, and 2) most of his stories are connected in some way. At the Mountains of Madness is the first of his stories in which The Old Ones are mentioned, plus he’s talking about the Cult of Cthulhu and The Necronomicon, as well as references to other stories. I’d maybe like to re read some of the stories in order but man, ugh.
So… Ok. It’s a great concept. One disastrous and terrible expedition to Antarctica prompts the survivor to try to dissuade another team from going. All things considered, the novella managed to put me to sleep because a girl can only take so much geology and archaeology in one story. It was so slow to get to anything even remotely interesting, which I considered the discovery of the aliens.
Oh, the aliens! They’ve got heads, respiratory systems, tentacles, but they’re obviously vegetables. They came about 100 million years ago when Antarctica was a jungle (book logic) and obviously couldn’t possibly be a threat. It was interesting to learn about them (through statues and art because they can draw with tentacles, obviously). Like I said, blessedly weird. The history of the Elder Ones vs the Shoggoth was probably the high point since to this day, it’s the most bizarre creation story I’ve ever read. What gives that someone so full of such wild ideas can be such a dull writer?
“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.”
Well…. Yeah obviously they should be left alone, but for the sake of the story not being three pages long, better dissect it immediately
Towards the end when we are trying to build suspense, what the actual heck was Lovecraft’s fixation on the stupid penguins? I’m trying to learn about bodies and terror and the big bad guy in the cave, not the stupid penguins. Also a little architecture is always cool but there was so. Much. Architecture. Yes I get it, there are arches and cartouches (I know what this means now) in quantity, moving on. More book logic was that since they took four hours to walk into the cave, photographing and drawing everything, it would obviously take them even longer to straight backtrack in a hurry……right? Right!? I’m sorry I just can’t with this.
Unfortunately (or fortunately)? the novella would have been only 20 pages long if Lovecraft didn’t describe every angle of the sun and keep the characters pushing forward despite cosmic horror and certain death. Oh hey, the cave is too dark and obviously something tore these men and dogs apart. Nope. Too short, have to send them forward.
Not going to lie I wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t find an audiobook, of which I listened to the last three hours today. I found a copy narrated by William Roberts by Naxos Audio, which was still honestly boring as hell but it sounded like a radio broadcast and fit the story well. I would recommend that style in case anyone wants to tune out the truly droll parts.
Overall … I’m like ok, I definitely would stay the hell away from Antarctica if I heard this account. That was the whole point of the story: the narrator was trying to scare off a future exploration expedition. He did succeed. I liked it and love weird things, plus certain parts were definitely suspenseful, but it was just too long and repetitive and mostly boring for me to love At the Mountains of Madness. I’m going with ⭐⭐⭐ but I do think sci-fi and classic fans should read this one!