At the Mountains of Madness is a 1931 novella from the eldritch pen of HP Lovecraft. I’m a huge Lovecraft fan, as you may be aware, and like to read at least one of his short stories over the festive period. Last year, it was finally the turn of the epic Mountains of Madness! This is the third-longest of Lovecraft’s stories, and the longest one that I have so far read, so to some extent I had been putting it off accordingly.
It’s the tale of an academic expedition to Antarctica, led by Dr William Dyer of Miskatonic University, following up on a previous expedition that discovered a collection of ruins beyond a range of impossibly high mountains…
There’s a really great atmosphere for the most part of this story, though it does unfortunately seem to flounder a little about two-thirds of the way through. An advance party under Professor Lake discovers some frozen specimens of creatures that pre-date humanity, some in perfect preservation and some damaged. The advance party then goes missing, so Dyer and the others look for them and find their camp abandoned, with those perfectly=preserved specimens now missing. Searching for the specimens, the first team discover the city and then spend a massive chunk of the narrative making copies of the wall carvings they find there.
Evidently, the city is the home to some particularly foul beings they call Elder Things, and the scientists delve deeply into the city, where they find dead specimens, giant albino penguins, and are eventually chased through the chasms by a Shoggoth.
The tale is a bit like a classic disaster movie, with that impending air of doom hanging over from almost the get-go – except for that damn sluggish segment where they take notes! I mean, they know something is up from the missing research team and the escaped specimens, yet they take their time in the caverns taking notes! It just felt a bit… stalled…
However, it’s possibly the seminal Lovecraftian work – after Call of Cthulhu, I suppose – and you can’t really pass over reading it at least once. Though, obviously, I’ve now spoilt the ending for you. But you should still give it a try –
The publication history is also quite intriguing, it being rejected by Weird Tales in 1931 and not being published until a serialized version in Astounding Stories in 1935 – a version heavily edited, much to Lovecraft’s annoyance. It’s a shame, in a way, as the generally negative reception at the time seemed to affect him deeply, and he said it put an end to his writing career. That said, he did still go on to publish some classics, including The Haunter of the Dark, The Shadow Out of Time, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, although the latter was also abused in its initial publication… but that’s a story for another day.
It’s definitely worth a read, for the disaster-movie feel, and the fact that it looms so large in the mythos.