At The Mountains Of Madness is a novella by H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re not familiar with HP, he was a pretty miserable person who didn’t see much good in his life. He channeled these sad feelings into an entire universe of bizarre fiction. Mark Twain once remarked that James Fenimore Cooper’s favorite device was the dried twig that, when stepped on, alerted bad guys to your presence.
Lovecraft’s equivalent to the dried twig is/are monsters with giant tentacles, ancient and lost civilizations, Elder Gods that are secretly running the show, smelly people with fish gills, old forbidden books like the Necronomicon, mad Arabs, musty libraries, primitive rites, and more. It’s weird stuff. It’s also great.
At The Mountains of Madness fits into the lost civilizations category, but gets its fair share of tentacled beasties as well. It concerns an unfortunate group of explorers who journey to the Arctic from Miskatonic University. Good old Miskatonic U is another Mainstay of Lovecraft’s fiction. It never goes very well for their scholars, so I don’t know why anyone bothers to enroll. They could drive themselves insane first and save on tuition.
Once they start exploring, they find the remains of an earlier search party. The fate of the party was quite dreadful, as that is how it always is in Lovecraft’s stories. The new searchers began traveling across the Arctic and eventually come to a lost city of ice, tens of millions of years old.
This is one of the things I love about HP’s writing. I think the idea that there are ancient things–both out in space and at the bottom of the ocean and hidden under the ice caps–that were here before us and will be here millions of years after we’re gone is really creepy.
He is also one of the rare horror writers who knows how to leave things to the imagination. When he is trying to describe something “indescribably awful,” he stops at that description. If it can’t be described it can’t be described, which avoid the inevitable letdown felt at the grand unveiling of so many monster tales and movies.
Anyways, it is a great novella and now Guillermo Del Toro is going to be filming a movie version. Unfortunately I am hearing that Tom Cruise is in it, but maybe he will be eaten quickly.
If you’re a horror fan, you must read HP Lovecraft at least once.
PS: Last December a reader sent me an advance copy of the graphic novel, Howard Lovecraft and The Frozen Kingdom. That link will take you to my review.