At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

For some reason I wanted to read something that was scary or spooky at the least. There are many writers out there and many stories, but for some reason I wanted to read something from HP Lovecraft as he was, as far as I can tell, the original horror writer. After a few internet searches I found this book and knew I had to check it out.

H.P. Lovecraft was born in Rhode Island and spent the majority of his life there. Surprisingly he did not gain fame until after his death,IMG_2243 because he was mostly published in Pulp magazines and lived much of his life in poverty. From what I have read it seem that he was a pretty strange individual and some say a recluse. He died at the age of 46 after being diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine. His most famous stories include The Call of Cthulhu, The Shadow out of Time, and of course At the Mountains of Madness. What I think is interesting is that despite his postmortem fame, he never wrote a full length novel. The titles I mentioned are all either short stories or novellas, consisting of less than 50,000 words and under 7,500 words for a short story. Lovecraft is also famous for creating the “Cthulhu Mythos” which is a term used to describe more or less the horror occult universe that he used in many of his short stories. Much like various comic publishers and writers do today, Lovecraft set up his own universe, complete with monsters he made up and uses that as the setting for many of his most famous stories. I think this is somewhat of a common practice now, but Lovecraft may have been one of the first to do this for his writing.

The story takes place in the early 1900’s where a group of brave individuals undertakes a journey to Antarctica. Dyer along with a team brave the elements and the unknown in the name of science to explore the frozen continent. It is a scientific expedition as they are looking to make discoveries that will make them rich and famous. During their journey a sub expedition makes an incredible discovery one that will certainly bring them untold fame. But before the team can make it back to base camp they are struck by tragedy. Fearing the worst as they have received no contact from the sub expedition team, Dyer and another team set out to find what has happened to the lost team. What they discover will rewrite the history books as well as test their sanity as they venture into the unknown.

First, let me say that this was first published in 1936, so over 80 years ago. In saying that one must remember the time and context in which it was written, which is very hard to do. For that reason I think this story is very, well just, bla. I never felt it really took off pretty much up until the very end. In this day and age it is hard to imagine what someone almost 80 years ago may have thought about the story.

There are a few issues I have with the book. The first is that it is very very wordy. Lovecraft seems to want to squeeze as many words as possible into a sentence, which end up being very long winded. On one hand I feel this is very annoying and hard to read, on the other I realize that this was more than likely the style at the time. I will also add that it is not my personal favorite it is quite beautify written, that much I am certain of. I put this in the category of Dracula by Bram Stoker, which in my opinion is one of the most well written books I have ever read. It is no surprise that they were written somewhat around the same time. Below is an example of a long sentence from the book –

We were marvellously well-equipped for our specific purposes, and in all matters pertaining to supplies, regimen, transportation, and camp construction we profited by the excellent example of our many recent and exceptionally brilliant predecessors. ( A 34 word sentence.)

The state and silence of the great dead city made it clear that it had at no time been an habitual seasonal rookery, whilst the manifest indifference of the trio to our presence made it seem odd that any passing party of those others should have startled them. (A 48 word sentence.)

Another issue I have is, and I have always talked about this, is the amount of description and or detail used in the book. Without giving too much away there are probably no less than 40 pages dedicated to the description of what Dyer and his team find. While this may seem okay, the copy I read was only 116 pages. To me it was during this long stretch that the story dragged and became near unbearable to read. The plot seemed to stall and all action had come to a complete halt as Lovecraft described every minute detail of what they found. While this aspect I did not like, I understand what he was trying to do. He was certainly trying to build a very real, spooky, and detailed ambiance. However, for me it was too much, too much detail that I felt was not needed.

While I did not particularly care for this story what I did find interesting was the fact that Lovecraft invented his own universe as well as the Necronomicon, which if you do not know is a book that deals with the occult. I will admit that before I did some research I thought that this book was real and written many many years ago, much like the Devil’s Bible, which is in fact real. Lovecraft mentions the Necronomicon in many of his short stories, talking about various aspects of the book and its information on certain monsters. This is quite clever in my opinion. Not only the fact that he came up with the idea, but the fact that there is this myth in and of itself that some, myself included, that thought it was a real manuscript.

I am not a huge fan of the horror genre and most of what I have read is from Stephen King. I realize that this is a classic story in the genre but still I have a hard time saying I liked it. There were a few times during the story where I did feel a bit of anxiety for the characters and what they discovered, as I imagined putting myself in their shoes. But again the over description certainly reined all those feelings rather quickly. Being a classic I am going to recommend this story if nothing else to just read how Lovecraft writes, as his style is certainly one that time has forgotten. His masterful use of certain words as well as his ability to match them together will make you appreciate someone who is a true writer. A true literary master, someone who did not have the internet and the ability to right click and choose a synonymy in an instant. So while I did not  care for the style I certainly know when there is something that a master of his craft has produced. For those reasons I recommend checking this one out, and just remember that it is a pretty short read, only 116 pages. Also I think this may be available in the public domain, just something to think about before you purchase it.


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