Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of Madness tells of a geological expedition that discovers the ruins of a prehuman civilization in Antarctica. The author, H. P. Lovecraft, draws in the reader by suggesting scenes of unimaginable horror. His rich imagery in phrases like "morbid survival from nightmare antiquity" leaves the reader needing further explanation.

The Transition of H. P. Lovecraft: The Road to Madness bookRead more reviews on AmazonLovecraft is known to have said "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." But it's not so much fear of the unknown as fear of the unknowable that he fills his stories with. The protagonist uses words like incalculably and immeasurably to describe events in the story, thereby abandoning all hope of understanding and communicating his situation. We find that he "can never hope to depict" or "even suggest" the horrors encountered in the frigid Antarctic wasteland.

Some have interpreted Mountains as a fully scientific expression of Lovecraft's earlier supernatural stories. In my view, however, this story is still largely in the realm of fantasy. While the aliens in the story "filtered down from the stars", they apparently originated in "other universes". They posses "a difference in basic nature", are on "another order of being", and the Antarctic world they inhabit is described as having "alien natural law".

At the Mountains of Madness suffers from a periodic slow pace and an over-description of irrelevant detail, weaknesses that can be exacerbated by Lovecraft's somewhat Victorian writing style. The author's technique of luring the reader with hints of horror is perhaps better suited to the short story than the novel. At other times, though, his prose stands out as exceptional. When something happens "amidst the chaos of terrene convulsions long before any human race we know had shambled out of apedome"—or "in the unknown epochs since matter first writhed and swam on the planet's scarce-cooled crust"—we find ourselves sharing Lovecraft's utter fascination with the grand cosmos.

No comments:

Post a Comment