Classic horror story by H. P. Lovecraft. It is written as a narrative by a professor who is trying desperately to dissuade a forthcoming expedition to Antarctica.

It makes very good reading, quite possibly Lovecraft's finest work, and an excellent resource for students of the Cthulhu Mythos, as one can find a good load of background information on many of the creatures therein.

It can also be found as an audio book, where the narrative has been converted to a radio interview instead. It's a bit shorter than the book, but still not bad.

The Necronomicon On Ice

'Go thou to H. P. Lovecraft and shudder.'

-- The Sun newspaper


At the Mountains of Madness was written in 1931 by H. P. Lovecraft, scary fiction author extraordinaire. At 35,000 words, this is the second-longest of his works1 and it is classified as one of Lovecraft's "short novels." Lovecraft's macabre and suspense-laden writing style is at its finest in this work, which is why it's one of his most successful tales.

'At the Mountains of Madness represents the most serious work I have attempted.'
-- H. P. Lovecraft

Early in 1931, Lovecraft wrote this tale in several uninterrupted sessions. From the outset, he was determined to make this a seriously frightening work. His writing method was slow and laborious; he agonised over every word in the hope of striking just the right note of fear with the reader. This exhausting process often left him emotionally drained, and he was rarely happy with the finished product. He edited the work relentlessly: ".... half of the pages are corrected, transposed and interlined beyond all human legibility," he wrote to a correspondent. When the work was finished, he was concerned that it wasn't as powerful as he intended. "It is altogether too slow for the cheap, artificial markets."

His concern deepened when the fiction periodical Weird Tales rejected the work, and he withdrew it from submission in other publications. "Its rejection was a very discouraging influence," he wrote. He took rejection very hard and would often withdraw his stories after a single knock-back from a publisher - this also explains why his love-life was practically non-existent. Often his friends and correspondents would sell his stories on his behalf after an initial rejection. At the Mountains of Madness, however, is the only work of Lovecraft's to be offered to the offices of a literary agent: Julius Schwartz, the famous editor of DC Comics.

Schwartz began his career as an editor back in 1930, when he started the very mother of all science fiction fanzines, 'The Time Traveler', with Mort Weisinger. By 1934 he created and co-owned Solar Sales, a literary agency filled with the cream of science fiction's crop. So when he met Lovecraft at a literary gathering in 1935, Schwartz was scouting for talent, and Lovecraft was desperate to sell. Lovecraft hesitantly gave At the Mountains of Madness to Julius, who forwarded it on to Astounding Stories for an astonishing $350. Together with 'Shadow Out of Time', Lovecraft stood to receive $650; the stories were due to be printed in a 1936 edition, and life was looking pretty shiny for our black-penned author.

But things took a turn for the worse when the stories were published2. Lovecraft was horrified by the heavily edited version that appeared. He was accustomed to Weird Tales producing his works untouched, so it came as a rude shock to see the "appalling hack job" that editor F. Orlin Tremaine had made of it, with hundreds of deviations from the original text. "I'll be hang'd if I can consider the story as published at all," he wrote. The works themselves received a fairly subdued reception by the readers; some fans were openly hostile, complaining that there was "no place for weird horror in a science fiction magazine."

The sale of the works was a great achievement for Solar Sales, who went on to boast that they represented "Bradbury, Bester, Binder, Bracket, and Bloch and that was just the B's. We also represent H. P. Lovecraft for the L of it." But Lovecraft was jaded by the whole process, and never sold his works through an agency again.

The Tale

'Imagination could conceive almost anything in connection with this place.'

This is the tale of an Antarctic exploration that went horribly wrong.

The location represents a "radical departure in setting" for Lovecraft, who set most of his stories in New England. Lovecraft himself was horrified and (according to reports) actually allergic to temperatures lower than 20 degrees; towards the end of his life, 30 degrees. At the time the story was written, there were no KH Satellites. There was no GPS. Douglas Mawson was still visiting his continental nemesis. The Titanic sank less than 20 years prior. You can see why Lovecraft decided to give everyone the howling fantods about Antarctica.

The tale is presented as a retrospective recount from a member of the surviving party to a newspaper editor. The narrator, geologist Professor Dyer, tells the story of the preparation, execution and destruction of the trip. His story is limited by personal perspective, which allows Lovecraft to carefully control the release of information to the reader. This is also done through the narrator's reluctance to talk: he is only telling the tale to prevent others from exploring the region. Additionally, Lovecraft avoids filling the tale with mundane details of the trip by explaining that these were already released to the public in a self-censored press release.

'The tremendous significance lies in what we dared not tell; what I would not tell now but for the need of warning others off from nameless terrors.'

The horror behind this story belongs to the Cthulhu mythos more overtly than many of his other tales. References to the ancient legends become more explicit as the story develops. Early in the book, the narrator describes the scene as he approaches Antarctica by sea:

'Something about the scene reminded me of the strange and disturbing Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich, and of the still stranger and more disturbing descriptions of the evilly fabled plateau of Leng which occur in the dreaded Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. I was rather sorry, later on, that I had ever looked into that monstrous book at the college library.'

Which only goes to show, you college kids should spend more time at the library.

If the tale seems familiar, don't be surprised. Lovecraft got much of his inspiration for the work from Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, who in turn drew heavily from Benjamin Morrell's A Narrative of Four Voyages. And it appears that the 1938 novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell was "inspired" by Lovecraft's work, which only goes to show that nobody's having any original ideas.


If you need to know exactly what happens in the book, read on.

Professor Dyer of Miskatonic University sets out on an Antarctic expedition with engineer Professor Frank Pabodie, biologist Lake, physicist and meterologist Atwood, sixteen assistants and a team of sleigh dogs. The expedition aimed to extract and study fossils, minerals and rocks around the region.

Shortly after landing and making camp, and inspired by some of their earlier findings, Lake begins a prospective trip westward to explore the region. He stops just short of a mountain ridge. What he finds is astonishing: several large, dead, perfectly perserved organisms, of unknown species, are discovered in an abandoned cave. Lake reports this to the base camp by wireless dispatch, and announces his intention to perform a rudimentary autopsy on the creatures. He describes the organisms briefly, and explains that the sleigh dogs cannot abide the corpses, before switching out for the night.

The next day, when the base camp attempts to contact Lake, nobody answers.

The day after that, a rescue mission is sent to find Lake. The mission consists of the narrator, Pabodie, assistants and supplies. While flying to Lake's campsite, the narrator sees a mirage of a miraculous city, but dismisses it and concentrates on the task ahead. Arriving at the camp, they discover eleven dead and one missing. Some of the creatures have been buried, while others are completely missing. The autopsy room is littered with human body parts.

Dyer and Danforth decide to explore the area beyond the mountain ridge. The two of them discover an ancient city made of stone, built hundreds of thousands of years ago. Murals carved onto the walls describe the creation of the city by the Ancient Ones, and its slow abandonment over time. The two take photos and draw sketches of everything they find. They piece together the history of the city, involving Shoggoths and Old Ones.

The missing man and his dog are discovered in an empty cave; it appears that someone - or something - tied their bodies to a sleigh and dragged them back to the dead city. As Danforth and Dyer prepare to leave the city, something gives chase. It is a Shoggoth - and it screams at them, 'Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!' in imitation of the Old Ones. The two of them escape, alive, and force the expedition party to leave Antarctica without explaining what they saw.

1 The longest is The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
2Astounding Stories, Vol. 16, No. 6 (February 1936), p. 8-32; Vol. 17, No. 1 (March 1936), p. 125-55; Vol. 17, No. 2 (April 1936), p. 132-50.

September 16, 2009 (DTF Message Boards)
"Next year will start R&D on my lifetime commitment AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS." 
- Guillermo del Toro Gomez1

The big budget version of At the Mountains of Madness is scheduled for release by Universal Pictures in 2013, mainly driven by Guillermo del Toro (no relation to Benicio), who burst onto the global scene in 1993 with Cronos, rising out of the jungles of Mexico like some unspeakable old one with 9 academy awards in Mexico and gaining acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival. His most respected films are El espinazo del diablo (The Devil's Backbone) and El laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth), but the audience be more prone to recognize him as the director of Mimic, Blade II, and the Hellboy franchise. He is directing the two-part prequel The Hobbit***, and is rumoured to be working on Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a remake of Slaughterhouse Five, and a film version of Charles Dickens' unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.2 There is also much anticipiation of his upcoming adaption of the Dallas series of 1980's American television, The Eternal Immolation of J.R. Ewing, featuring Kiefer Sutherland in the title role in lieu of Larry Hagman, who is otherwise occupied with his efforts in combatting global psoriasis and breeding genetically-engineered manatees to aquarium size, an endeavor known as The Manhagman Project.3 Interestingly, Sr. Del Toro Gomez is also interested in the video game genre, predicting the imminent appearance of "an earthshaking Citizen Kane of games."4 Moreover, if you stare at a photograph of Guillermo at 4:15 AM on a Saturday morning in a Nevada casino hotel suite with a 24-ounce can of Miller Lite whilst under the influence of Resveratrol dietary supplements and 800 mg Ibuprofin, and you fuzz your eyes just right, you can imagine his beard and shaggy locks of hair are the tentacles of The Great Old One himself.5

So, it appears that the Rhode Island Recluse is finally hitting the mainstream. It's amazing that he dare venture out into the sunlight again after that brief, ill-fated venture into marriage and New York city. Say this next bit out loud in the voice of the narrator from Superfriends: What horrors await him next? What will he discover in the future ruins of Hollywood? Stay tuned 'til next week, when Marvin and Wendy discover Tom Cruise casting rumors and other unspeakable terrors! </voice>

 Seriously, ATMOM is much-anticipated by the cultisit community at large. Eons-dormant seething masses wait to emerge and swarm the daylight world and its concession stands!6

 ***update (courtesy of avalyn): Fickle Hollywood; the latest news is that MGM now has the Hobbit project, with Peter Jackson directing.

1. Delo Toro Films Message Boards.
2. Wikipedia, Gillermo Del Toro.
3. Physician's Desk Reference 2010.
4. Gamasutra.
5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
6. ...even now, as I write, the beast is upon it's dragging me toward the grotto... I..... ..... ......(sorry, I dropped my pen).... the churning mass is devouring my legs....the pain is exquisite....oh God it's teeth are lashing out at my writing hand.... ...... .....(It's okay - I've switched to my left hand, I'm good now).... I've got to post this letter off to mother before the end! Oh God! The thing! The Terrible thing!

At The Mountains of Madness is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most influential novels. Written in 1931, it presents the first-person narration of Dr. William Dyer, a geologist at Miskatonic University. Dyer is a survivor of a paleontological drilling expedition to the Antarctic and he tells the reader that he is telling his story in order to dissuade another group of adventurers and scientists (the Starkweather-Moore expedition) from visiting the icy continent lest they accidentally unleash ancient horrors on modern humanity.

(Spoilers follow.)

In the course of the story, Dyer reveals that their leader Dr. Lake took men ahead in search of fossils and found a massive mountain range taller than the Himalayas. They also discovered an underground cavern system filled with strange creatures (the Old Ones) that the scientists think are fossilized but which are actually in a state of suspended animation. The scientists take the Old Ones back to their camp for examination despite their sled dogs reacting violently towards them; Dyer and his companions get their reports over the radio.

When Lake’s party goes ominously silent, Dyer’s party goes to investigate. They find Lake and his men gruesomely dead and the Old Ones either carefully buried or missing. A man named Gedney is also missing; Dyer and his companion Danforth go searching for him in an airplane. Past the huge mountains, they find the vast, ancient stone city of the Old Ones and glimpse an even taller mountain range beyond it. They explore the ruins and find murals depicting the Old One’s alien origins and long rein on earth before humans evolved, Gedney’s body carefully stowed as a scientific sample, giant albino cave penguins, and a fearsome shoggoth that kills the surviving Old Ones and pursues Dyer and Danforth out of the city.

It really does read like the travelogue of a pedantic college professor, and we get pages and pages of descriptions of fossils and geology and landscape and history. The emphasis on the world building sells the reader on the believability of the story through the exhaustive details ... but that in combination with Dyer’s academic diction saps the tension from parts of the novel. It might be a bit of a slog for those used to faster-paced narratives. (But this novel would be a good piece to compare and contrast with Dan Simmons’ excellent novel The Terror, which features an elaborate, frightening arctic setting described masterfully.)

That said, I found it tremendously useful precisely because of its elaborate backstories. It’s an encyclopedia of the histories of many of the most popular Lovecraftian monsters. So my take is that this novel is a must-read for any writer who wants to write weird fiction or horror based on Lovecraft’s settings.

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