At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft

Posted on 11th January 2011 in Reviews

moutains-of-madnessThis novella, originally published in serial form in February through to April 1936, has been featured in many different books over the decades since its debut.  I first read it in a Lovecraft omnibus I picked up many years ago, before subsequently collecting a more definitive version, and it has been happily burned into my memory ever since.

Lovecraft was a master of horror, dread and lurking sense of doom, and At the Mountains of Madness is a chilling reminder of why that is.  This tale is of an Antarctic expedition which soon discovers eerie ruins beyond a huge mountain range, and within finds numerous, highly-evolved life forms not clearly categorised as animal or vegetable matter.

The location of the bodies’ place of rest creates a problem regarding classification, as their features cannot have evolved naturally in accord with humans as such evolution had not occurred on the geological time scale.  Their biology reminds the narrator William Dyer of monsters of primal myth ‘especially fabled Elder Things in (the) Necronomicon’.   Such is the scene set for collecting of information, but better still a cataloguing of terrors, as the party continues their journey.

It doesn’t take long before severe problems arise.  Soon a split party are shaken by traumas and a descent into chaos under the malign influence of a corrupt scene.  The text is Lovecraft at his purest, and importantly, goes some way into describing some of the Cthulhu mythos laid down in his other  works.   Another great story to someone not readily familiar with this would be The Call of Cthulhu, written five years previously, whilst The Shadow over Innsmouth, which was published the same year that At the Mountains of Madness was written, offers further insight into the dark, rich, furtive world of Lovecraft’s literary prowess.

I was thinking about what it is that makes this such a great tale.  For me personally any ‘Lost World’ story has always been of appeal, a la H. Rider Hagard.  The added mystery of this place being filled with beings not of this world, or certainly not of the safe, homo-sapiens-filled, contiguous humankind existence definitely brings a bonus.

The idea of the unexplored, genuinely something that was still possible in the days of the story’s conception, is something that strengthens the yarn.  I wonder whether the fact that any one of us can now simply use Google maps to verify locations and places of anywhere on the planet in a number of seconds, that required similar military technology to do similar just a decade ago – and verify safely that there is no such hidden and vast horror city beyond any mountain range – might inhibit the levels of horror such a tale will bring to future generations?

I doubt so, but to think for the reader at the time, when there were still certain corners of our planet above ground still undiscovered from human exploration, it is interesting to think of added chills to be gotten from such an idea.  And a good reason why, possibly, in one related Cthulhu tale from Lovecraft’s pen it is the sea itself – that vast undiscovered body of water comprising a huge percentage of the Earth’s surface – that he writes about as holding some terrible mysteries.

This is a must read for anyone who hasn’t yet done so.  Actually, if you have read it already do yourself a favour and re-read it; I seem to appreciate Lovecraft’s stuff more and more upon further reading.  He laid a new foundation for the horror genre, and this tale in particular is one that I think rewards fans with the devil in the details of the lofty Cthulhu mythos.

The word is that James Cameron is set to direct a 3D-movie adaptation of the tale, after Guillermo Del Toro originally penned a script and then had issues selling it to the studio.  Fingers crossed Cameron doesn’t fumble such a great property in translating such vision to the big screen.  For this is a novel of great vision indeed.

9/10

Buy this book: UK/US

2 Responses to “At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft”

  1. Will Hart says:

    I had read and enjoyed “At the Mountains of Madness” many times over the years, but it was only after I did the reading mentioned below (as well as “Fungi from Yuggoth” and “The Hound”) that I truly began to believe that you need to hear Lovecraft’s words to truly appreciate them.

    We don’t look at sheet music, which is the documentation of a song, and appreciate the music until we hear it; and the written word is the documentation of a story that needs to be told, performed, or at least read out-loud with feeling.

    I don’t care how many, or how few times someone has read Lovecraft’s stories, but I encourage them to try reading aloud for the experience of feeling and hearing the words that are released from the page.

    I hope anyone who listens to my readings, which I have tried to make 100% true to Lovecraft’s texts, will find some of the audio revelation I have had while reading them too.

    “At the Mountains of Madness” the complete, unabridged William Hart reading of the original 1931 H. P. Lovecraft novella that Guillermo del Toro and James Cameron are about to base their 3D Universal Studios movie upon, is now freely available in MP3 format for downloading from several online sites.

    The novella is twelve chapters long, and runs about 4-1/2 hours.

    Find it, and more Lovecraftian readings at:

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  2. Paris Michael says:

    Yes, one needs to hear the work to appreciate it. There is a brand new professionally directed and narrated audio book available from the directors/producers of the new At The Mountains Of Madness movie…

    But Del Toro and Cameron are not doing the movie – having been removed or remove themselves from the Universal project – who really knows which?

    Through the last couple years of struggle with Universal, anger over potential R ratings, 150 million dollar proposed budgets and A-list actors “attached” who never even heard of the deal… Obviously, Del Toro and Cameron were faking us all out and hoping to fake out Universal, too… Cruise was never attached, either. It seems this was a project that had no chance of success.

    But now that Del Toro and Cameron are gone from At The Mountains Of Madness, Mihai and Sparks are making the H.P. Lovecraft film adaptation.

    The Producing-directing team of Carrie Cain Sparks and Shadow Mihai – shadowmihai.com have announced they have begun pre-production on an original feature film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness. As a precursor to their film, they last week released the sjLume.com audio book version of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness along with a companion e-book version in various electronic formats. The audio book was directed by Shadow Mihai.

    I haven’t seen the script (they won’t let a stumbler like me near it with a 30 foot word processor) but Director Mihai, who wrote the script for the new adaptation, insists that there is plenty of theme based faithfully on the original Lovecraft work, and several unconventional storytelling angles that are compelling and unusual. Sparks and Mihai say that the production values will be similar to the intended Del Toro work. They will shoot live action and in the 3D format.

    So many of us Lovecraft fans and horror fans (and fans of 3D film) were let down when Del Toro dropped At The Mountains Of Madness. But Mihai and Sparks intend to produce the film out of their own company, Stella James Studios. A start date for the historic film is supposed to be announced this week on sjLume.com.



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