At The Mountains Of Madness

  1. DesertOfZin

    DesertOfZin Lost

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    Always a fan of this one.

    Mountains is my favourite Lovecraft tale by far.

    Although it's definitely not one to start with for the un-initiated.
     
    Jul 2, 2007
    #21
  2. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I wouldn't swear on that one; but, if they didn't like it, I'd suggest trying something else before making up their minds.....
     
    Jul 3, 2007
    #22
  3. ravenus

    ravenus Heretic

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    Just as an aside, I recently got the CD of At The Mountains of Madness, presented as a 20's/30's style radio play by the HPL Historical Society. Of course to fit the narrative to a 75-min play structure they had to compress several details of the history of the Elder Ones, but it was still a damn entertaining experience and a nice way to relive the story. The package had some additional made-up goodies like a newspaper cutting of the expdeition and pencil illustrations supposedly torn from the journal of the explorers...very cool.
     
    Jul 3, 2007
    #23
  4. Nesacat

    Nesacat The Cat

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    I'll second JD. I do believe that you might wish to read something else of Lovecraft's before totally closing the door. I've found that his works either really appeal or put people off totally. There seems to be no middle way as is sometimes seen with writers where people will read the works even if they have no real affinity for it.

    Lovecraft and his ilk appeal to some people. Perhaps if you've liked Poe and Dunsany and Ligotti and RE Howard then you might like his work as well. Then again his larger than life view of the universe and habit of saying everything without saying anything might not appeal.

    The CD sonds very intriguing Ravenus. I think it would be quite fun listening to his work sometime during twilight in a quiet house with your eyes closed.
     
    Jul 3, 2007
    #24
  5. mogora

    mogora Shapeless Protoplasm

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    I really enjoyed the HPLHS radio play. While no adaptation can perfectly recreate the story in another media, this one does an excellent job of capturing the essence of Mountains.
     
    Jul 3, 2007
    #25
  6. Fried Egg

    Fried Egg Well-Known Member

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    It struck me as I read this story that, having many references to things introduced in his other works that, for this reason alone, it is worth reading some of his other stories first. In particular, I think readers of this story would get more from it having already read "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Whisperer in Darkness". Possibly also "The Dunwich Horror" or "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" too as we learn in those about the copy of the Necronomicon kept in in Arkham university (under lock and key).
     
    Aug 21, 2007
    #26
  7. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I think there are also some subtler implications that one might pick up on after reading other works, too, such as the references to Kadath and Leng, and how this may make this site a portal, as it were, where the realities of our world and that of the Dreamworld (and of the extremely ancient past, even millions of years before humanity's progenitors existed) "bleed into" one another.... An aspect that is hinted at here and there throughout the novel as part of the reason why this place has lasted, and why its very existence is a violation of natural law as we know it....
     
    Aug 21, 2007
    #27
  8. Lobolover

    Lobolover Well-Known Member

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    No,I find it good,it only is descriptive and the true terror comes a tad bit later .
     
    Jun 11, 2008
    #28
  9. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I've begun rereading At the Mountains, using the Penguin paperback that JD recommended, The Thing on the Doorstep &c. This is, I take it, a reliable text reflecting Lovecraft's final intentions.

    As with previous readings, I'm much impressed by the meticulous deployment of plausible and plausible-sounding details regarding the geology and weather of the setting and of the Miskatonic expedition. I'm reminded of a fan letter that C. S. Lewis wrote to John Buchan, after he read Witch Wood. Lewis praised Buchan for the careful accumulation of details making real the old Scottish setting, from which "all that devilry" was to emerge -- "That's the way to do it."

    HPL does run into a little trouble, I think, with the first-person narration, in that, at the very outset, Dyer throws out hints in a way that, I suppose, would not actually be used by a scientist concerned to communicate these alarming facts. Lovecraft hasn't quite solved the problem of writing a spellbinding story that will conjure up -- ah! -- "adventurous expectancy" while maintaining a completely credible supposed public warning from a scientist. If the book really were such, I suppose the author would begin with a presentation of his conclusions and a list of his photographs, drawings, maps, testimonies, etc. etc., with recommended responses, but later in the book a narrative portion in which he would eschew hinting, foreshadowing, etc. So the reader does have to make an effort of suspension of disbelief, not simply for the sake of all the outlandish things that will happen, but for the sake of the narrative structure. It is one I am willing to make, but having taught technical writing for several years, I know I am doing so.

    It might be worth discussing what HPL does and comparing it to Tolkien's "editorial" front-matter in The Lord of the Rings. He provides an "explanation" for how the book in the reader's hands came to be (it is from the Red Book of Westmarch, etc.), but here again the reader is really given just enough to help him or her settle in for a tale of wonders. Tolkien doesn't spend a lot of time conjuring up the scholarly apparatus that would accompany such a remarkable publication. (Understand -- I don't mean that he doesn't try to make the reader really believe the book is a genuine translation. I don't think he ever wanted to hoax anybody any more than Lovecraft did. I just mean that both Mountains and LOTR are cast as authentic documents about marvelous things, and that neither Tolkien nor Lovecraft went so far as to cast their stories in the form of genuine scholarly work. The big difference is that LOTR has the form of a "novel," omniscient narrator and all, but HPL's story is presented as a first-person record. This has advantages for the story he wants to tell, but the reader does have to play along because on its own terms the first-person narration, in the form it takes, is not wholly convincing.)
     
    Feb 21, 2013
    #29
  10. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    In my rereading -- perhaps my fourth reading -- of Mountains, I'm feeling ambivalent about the early references to Lovecraft's mythology. I understand that he wants to provide context for what will emerge, but on the other hand, when his characters refer to the Necronomicon, Tsathoggua, etc., this suggests a world in which these elements are "prosaic," part of a body of knowledge and of well-established surmise -- and thus a world in which events such as those that begin to occur in Antarctica are only what are to be expected. What Lovecraft means as enhancements of mood and atmosphere may actually diminish the mysteriousness he'd like to conjure.
     
    Feb 22, 2013
    #30
  11. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I believe "Shadow Out of Time" was written after this one. In that case, this would, I suppose, be the first Lovecraft story wherein it's as if the presiding genius is Olaf Stapledon rather than Poe, Machen, or Dunsany. In HPL's more typical stories, the alien civilizations and bizarre entities did not, I suppose, necessarily have very much behind them; for the most part, it seems they were there for the sake of the weird atmosphere and horror effects that HPL wanted to conjure. Here Lovecraft is writing an imaginary-realm story and proposing quite detailed "knowledge" of an alien civilization more, it seems, for their own sakes, though within the framework of a weird horror story.

    Tolkien was the greater writer, but I think something similar happened in his case. he wrote the stories he is best known for, and in them, although he was, to be sure, able to draw on an existing mythology (that of the Silmarillion) that was unknown to nearly all of his readers -- still there was also a freedom of improvisation for the sake of adventure and atmosphere, e.g. with the Ents, etc. But in his late work (in The History of Middle-earth) one sees him querying his own imaginative creations and looking to systematize his "knowledge" of them. Was HPL perhaps doing something of the sort? In his last few years was he, indeed, really developing an elaborate "mythos" that might eventually have run to hundreds of pages of imaginary worlds, histories, races, etc.? I wonder. But if so, might he also have found that he lacked the desire to tell stories -- or at least that it was a weaker desire than it had been?

    "The Colour Out of Space," which I commented on, at length, over in the Groff Conklin anthologies thread a few days ago, is a real work of art. Pretty much everything all works together.

    In Mountains, though, I keep getting a sense of things pulling different ways. If engendering suspense, etc. is the purpose (clearly it is a purpose), then some material is pretty questionable in terms of letting the cat out of the bag, etc. For example (quoting from the Penguin edition of The Thing on the Doorstep &c), on page 263, an allusion to "Elder-Things supposed to have created all earth-life as jest or mistake," and again, on p. 266, "Great Old Ones who ... concocted earth-life as a joke or mistake." On p. 286 there is more of the material alluding prosaically to R'lyeh, etc. See my message #30 above for why I question this.

    Very well, then let's suppose HPL largely wants to invent a really detailed ancient realm, a lost race scenario to rank with the greatest -- he is going to have to struggle with how to present it, and of course does so in the form habitual to him, the horror story. And so you get this phenomenally protracted, delayed expository matter to lead up to the great shattering moment, which readers sometimes feel doesn't succeed as "pay-off." Well, then the story is criticized as horror story clogged with way too much detail. What I'm saying is that maybe one could criticize instead the decision to cast the story as a horror story, a sequence leading up to one shattering moment. Might it have worked better if he'd cast it as an admittedly episodic adventure story with, to be sure, a strong element of the weird and horrible? Add some Rider Haggard elements? -- by which I don't necessarily mean a love story!
     
    Feb 23, 2013
    #31
  12. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    It's an interesting query you raise concerning the use of the evolving "mythos" elements. From my reading of and about HPL, I'd say it was a case of several things coming together with this short novel. Part of it is that the mythos itself was gradually becoming a more notable element in his work, a consistent background rather than simply atmospheric effects. In part, I would say this is why there are links between this and some of his (so-called) "Dreamlands" stories, particularly The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and "The Other Gods" (just as similar, though lighter, hints of such links show up in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward with mention of Carter and the sign of Koth). Thus, he is calling on a gradually developing vision of that largely unknown world to suggest to the reader various things which may (or may not) be supported by the events of this particular story. In this case, many of them are not; they aren't dismissed, but rather -- as with "The Call of Cthulhu" -- the reality underlying the characters' understanding of these things based on their exposure to the materials at Miskatonic University proves to be woefully awry... which is, to me, why his use of this sort of material actually does work in the tale's favor, showing the limitations of his characters when confronted by the unknown.

    Another point is that this isn't simply a horror story, but rather an odyssey into a realm where reality and dream blur (again, like Dream-Quest); where the laws of the universe (at least, as we understand them) "break down" or are at least undermined here and there, such as the intimations of the disruption of time at the heart of the continued existence (and inhabitance) of this aeon-lost city... something he shifts to following the encounter with the shoggoth, though he hints at it at various places beforehand. Thus, there is no single "great shattering moment", but a series of climaxes throughout the novel, both major and minor, each in its own way supporting the implications of the others. While awe and terror are the main things he is aiming at, I would also say that, by this point, HPL was beginning to develop more and more into that unique blending of science fiction and horror he did so well. Interestingly, this also meant that this sort of fiction was used to explore, in dramatic terms, many of his ponderings about social and political issues as well (something which began to become quite noticeable about the time he did the ghost-writing job "The Mound", some three or four years earlier). While he always tended to turn a jaded eye on the social satire of so much sf of his day, the general impression is that this is less because he felt such was truly out of place, and more because of the very crudity and blatant handling of such in most instances of the period (e.g., Burroughs' Martian novels). More subtle (or wittier) handlings of the subject, he didn't seem to object to nearly as much, if at all.

    As for his characters' references to these mythological matters... I don't think they would see the events they encounter as "matter of course", any more than most scientists who were also interested in folklore and mythology would view such violations (supporting this or that mythology) in our everyday world. They might well be aware of the mythology as presented in the various tomes kept under lock and key, but they would be much more likely to view such things as sceptically as members of their profession today view similar claims. This would by no means prevent their being interested in the mythology, or jocosely referring to aspects of it which struck them as applicable (as, in fact, he remarks that Lake does when dubbing his frozen finds the "Elder beings" -- where he specifically states that such was done with that sort of wry humor as its base). Plenty of scientists do this with things from, for instance, science fiction or fantasy when they see a similarity between that and something they have discovered or are researching; it gives a sort of short-hand way to refer to any number of factors which would otherwise take up considerable space to enumerate, for one thing; for another, there is that sense of half-humorous, half-serious recognition of such similarities which is simply the human ability to see patterns and connections, even where such do not objectively exist. (One of the chief dangers any scientist faces when studying a thing, and one of the chief reasons why more critical and sceptical peer-review is one of the greatest strengths of science.)

    Of course here the reader -- being "in the know" about the "truth" of these things -- is thus ironically placed several steps ahead of the characters, who in making such connections do so with a large amount of salt. In this way, at least, I would say the use of such references acts as a way to create tension between what the reader knows (and is intended to know or suspect) and what the characters -- who are only gradually introduced to the reality underlying the myths they know -- would, in reality, know or accept until confronted with overwhelming confirming evidence.

    More thoughts later. An interesting discussion....
     
    Feb 23, 2013
    #32
  13. Sourdust

    Sourdust Well-Known Member

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    Partly inspired by all the talk here (and on the ebook thread), I too spent the last week, off and on, reading Mountains. I've never been a particularly great fan of the Lovecraft I've read, but I thought I'd give him another go.

    What surprised me about this work was its relative restraint, compared to some of his earlier stories: the gibbering hysteria is only occasionally - and mostly through the proxy of Danforth - allowed to encroach on the more neutral tone of scientific reportage, and the Antarctic setting is a good one (you can definitely trace the connection - via John W. Campbell's later story - to John Carpenter's The Thing). The highlight of the book for me was Lake's description of the excavated Old Ones, struggling to place them in terms of existing taxonomies. Here, I think Lovecraft comes closest to an sf-style 'sense of wonder' at the point where he most eschews his 'word hoard' of gothic vocabulary.

    I agree with Extollager, however, that there is a tension between the sf/adventure story framework and the horror one. Clearly it works for many people, but I've always felt that Lovecraft tries to force a sense of the horrific through overblown linguistic tics, in a ratcheting hysteria of language that makes Poe seem positively subtle. Reading this, it struck me that he uses certain adjectives like Greek epithets, with a cumulative effect that can be deadening: I count* nine instances of 'hideous', seven of 'hideously', and a heady twenty-one of his beloved 'nameless'.

    The same is true of his allusions. Early on, we are told that: 'Something terrible about the scene reminded me of the strange and disturbing Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich'. Fair enough. However, in case we had overlooked this comparison, Lovecraft goes on to invoke it a further six times. Exasperation at this at least had the effect of prompting me to go and look up who this Roerich was: his images are indeed very striking (I was going to embed one, but apparently I'm not allowed to, having a post count of < 15 - I've set it as my avatar instead), but that fact does not enhance Lovecraft's text.

    So, while I can see the merits of the book, including its synthesis of Haggard-esque 'lost world' narrative and early science fiction, I remain unconverted to the cult of HPL. (From the Weird Tales stable, my pick would be Clark Ashton Smith - I find S.T. Joshi's assessment that CAS was 'far behind Lovecraft as a literary craftsman' to be baffling).

    * Or rather, an e-text search function counted.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2013
    Feb 23, 2013
    #33
  14. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I meant that, for the reader, or anyway for this reader, these early allusions may work against the atmosphere HPL was trying to conjure, because the reader sees the explorers readily fitting their outré observations into an explanatory framework that is, broadly at least, correct. HPL thus implies that the elements of this framework are common knowledge, at least within certain circles, not only of students of ancient myths but of geologists, etc. One infers that anyone who teaches at Miskatonic not only knows of the Necronomicon but has probably taken time to browse in it. It's as if knowledge of the old myths is supposed to be restricted to a very small group -- and, on the other hand, it's familiar enough that it's the first thing to come to mind when non-specialists see remains that are, in fact, firmly a part of the myths. Hmm!? Thus for the reader there's a deflation of the sense of mystery.
     
    Feb 23, 2013
    #34
  15. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I'm now on p. 310 of the Penguin Thing text of Mountains, and am thinking (probably someone has said this before) that At the Mountains of Madness is Lovecraft's Silmarillion.

    It is a summary of the "lore" of the Elder Days, including a creation narrative or (at least) explanation, an account of the migrations, cities, and wars of non-human "races," clarification of their relationship with human beings while maintaining focus on non-humans (in The Silmarillion, the focus remains on the Elves), etc., with an authorial intention of setting in order an extensive mythology elements of which were not, perhaps originally conceived in terms of clear relationship with other elements.

    Both are notably "dry" as compared with other works by their respective authors, and reading either takes more perseverance than one is usually called upon to exercise.

    I don't want to press the similarity too much lest one's thought of either work is distorted, but to some extent it seems to me a helpful comparison.
     
    Feb 25, 2013
    #35
  16. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I think, within certain limits, that's a fair estimation. As I noted in another thread, this is also one of the pieces which has been compared, in some respects, to some of Olaf Stapledon's work, particularly Last and First Men. Whether that was an influence on it in any way, I can't recall (I don't remember when, exactly, Lovecraft read Stapledon, for instance), but this sort of epic "cosmic history" certainly has its affinities to both. Even more so in the case of "The Shadow Out of Time"; though both owe more than a little to their predecessor, "The Mound", as well as (in a different way) "The Shunned House", with its history of the Harrises and Providence, or The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and the long section dealing with Curwen and his cohorts.

    It's odd, though... when I first read The Silmarillion, I (like many others) found myself having to struggle a bit with that condensed, "dry" approach; these days, I find it quite gripping and moving. Either I'm becoming more sensitive to the strengths of such as I grow older... or I'm just flat-out becoming senile... and I'm not really sure which!:p
     
    Feb 25, 2013
    #36
  17. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Yes, I think The Silmarillion "improves" with repeated readings. I'm not sure I'm finding this to be the case with Mountains -- I'm not sure that I'm getting much from it that wasn't present in my earlier readings. What was excellent before may remain excellent, but I don't know that I'm detecting new excellences, and things that seemed to be literary shortcomings probably still seem such. Indeed, I probably relished most of the "Mythos" references more the first time I read the story, when I was completing my first acquaintance with this part of HPL's achievement.

    One impressive invention is the mirage -- which Dyer comes to realize was a "reflection" of how the Old Ones' city looked millions of years ago.
     
    Feb 25, 2013
    #37
  18. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Which foreshadows something at the end of the novel as well, for which HPL has been preparing with various careful word-choices and insinuations throughout.

    For me, this isn one that, while the main elements of the plot do not vary, the telling of the tale improves with each reading. I find the texture of the tale grows. As for the Mythos references... I don't find them to be a problem here; quite the contrary. On the other hand, I do have some problems with the two passages in "The Whisperer in Darkness" and soime of the references in "The Shadow Out of Time"....
     
    Feb 25, 2013
    #38
  19. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I finish this rereading with mixed feelings. HPL might have strengthened the story as story if he had given the narrator a stronger motive than curiosity for going on and on int he Old Ones' city. If one is hinted at, perhaps that hint(s) needed to be a bit stronger. I think also that HPL didn't solve the problem that arises several times, in which the narrator teases the reader: on the one hand he's writing to warn the world; on the other hand, after 100 pages, he cannot bring himself to say that he is afraid that human activity in the Antarctic will provoke the emergence of shoggoths that will prey on human beings. Again and again the reader is supposed to "infer" or "surmise" what is plain enough except for the narrator's own obfuscatory prose. HPL wants to build a sense of mystery and he doesn't want it all to dissipate at the end, but his attempt to juggle accumulating-mysteriousness with this first-person-narrator's need to tell the awful truth was, I think, evidently more than he was able to manage.

    But the novel remains an impressive performance thanks to some "sublime" word-pictures and the general success of the rendering of the polar realm, which at times is rather convincing.

    This was perhaps my fourth reading (having first read it in the early or mid-Seventies), and I'm doubtful that I will read the whole novel again from beginning to end unless I have an extrinsic reason to do so.
     
    Feb 27, 2013
    #39
  20. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    This is not intended as an attempt to persuade, but simply as something to think about:

    I can, to some degree, agree with you that HPL didn't quite succeed in making this the sort of "scientific report" warning he perhaps intended; yet I do think he had enough on the shoggoths to convey his warning there. There is also the fact that Dyer (the narrator) makes it fairly clear early on that this isn't the formal report, but rather a more informal statement, offered against his own inclinations, and with severe reservations, both about the wisdom of going into the entire experience, as well as concerns any chance of success.

    However, on the question of the shoggoth... I would very much say that this aspect is at most a subsidiary threat. Like the "blind beings" of "The Shadow Out of Time", the shoggoths may pose a menace to a segment of humanity, but are unlikely to be a world-wide menace (at least for a very long time). Rather, what we are dealing with is what happens at the end, and on that Dyer's inability to be specific lies not (as with some other aspects) with his own psychological trauma in reliving the experience in relating it, but his own lack of knowledge. It was Danforth who, out of them all (if memory serves -- it has been a while) had actually made it through the entire Necronomicon, and therefore able to interpret whatever he saw (which Dyer did not)... though, again, this is necessarily through the filter of Alhazred's mythologizing; or, rather, his attempt to reinterpret the mythology through his scientific worldview. It is this aspect which I was referring to earlier when mentioning the references to Kadath, the "Dunsanian dream-world", etc., in MM; for what Danforth witnesses is the reality which lies behind those myths. In this sense, the denouement of this novelette is a reiteration of something said in the penultimate paragraph of "The Strange High House in the Mist", as well as the point of "The Shadow Out of Time"; something which far transcends the physical threat and goes right to the core of our vulnerabilities as human beings.

    Lovecraft himself addressed this ending in a letter to August Derleth of May 16, 1931:

     
    Feb 28, 2013
    #40
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