Remember to click G+1 if you like a post... It will make me happy :-)

24 August 2012

At The Mountains of Madness (1931)

H P Lovecraft is a name that crops up quite a lot in Horror literary circles. I like a little bit of horror, but up until very recently, I’d never sampled Lovecraft. This oversight has now been rectified.

5 is the magic number

Having put this book down, I find that there’s a lot bouncing round my head other than just the story. I’ll come to the story soon, but I need to mention a few things about the author himself first...

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a man with strong ideas and he really didn't mind telling you what they were. The problem I have is that some of those ideas were pretty extreme and unsavoury. It's widely documented that he was an outspoken racist; He hated anyone who wasn't white. Actually, he hated white people too, but not as much as he hated Jews and Blacks! He wasn't too keen on homosexuals either. From what I've read, he comes across as knowingly conceited. I'm pretty certain there were times when he was trying to shock his readers rather than to enlighten them. And knowing this, I find myself wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. Was he simply playing to the gallery? I’m struggling to convince myself. Take his overt support of Hitler: I know that he was expressing his sympathies without the benefit of hindsight, but surely he must have had an inkling of what was on the cards?

H P Lovecraft was born in 1890 and died of intestinal 
cancer in 1937. By all accounts he wasn't all that keen on 
swimming.

Let's separate the man from his work...

At the Mountains of Madness was written in 1931, but Lovecraft didn't manage to get it published until 1936. After a rocky birth, it is now widely recognised as a bit of a classic.

When I picked this up, I was instantly hooked. The story opens with an expedition setting sail for the Antarctic. Who could fail to be drawn in by that premise? I’m reminded of all sorts of great tales that start this way. (Note to self: I must try and get my hands on John W Campbell’s 1938 Novella, “Who Goes There?” which inspired John Carpenter’s “The Thing”.)

The Whaler, Arkham

I have a real love of old science and old science writing. In this particular tale, scholars from the Miskatonic University have set sail on ex-whaling ships to undertake some new-fangled geological experiments. They’ve designed a revolutionary drill that’s going to allow them to collect rock and soil samples from beneath the Antarctic surface! How on earth could this possibly get them into trouble? Heh, heh...

I love the language of the story. Lovecraft has a real skill for putting his words together and he just loves to write. There is real art here and an incredible amount of detail. Where I might have jotted: “We arrived and things were going well”; Lovecraft writes: “The successful establishment of the southern base above the glacier in Latitude 86° 7', East Longitude 174° 23', and the phenomenally rapid and effective borings and blastings made at various points reached by our sledge trips and short aëroplane flights, are matters of history; as is the arduous and triumphant ascent of Mt. Nansen by Pabodie and two of the graduate students—Gedney and Carroll—on December 13–15.” At times I’ll admit that it was too much. I found myself wishing that Lovecraft would get to the point he was trying to make. And look, I’ve stumbled across a popular topic with followers of Lovecraft...

My own fanciful anatomically incorrect interpretation of the Elder Things

The question seems to be whether Lovecraft ever really had a plan for his stories, or whether he just let them develop organically. Neither is wrong, but I find that knowing this helps me as a reader to prepare myself for the journey. I’ve found organic stories can be a bit longer to get through. Bearing in mind that I’ve only read this one novella by Lovecraft, my feeling is that he was largely making it up as he went along. I think he had a vague idea, or agenda, but I also think that he was letting his pen light the road. And this is why I think the story is prone to a little ebb and flow in its pacing. It’s hard to tell, as Lovecraft appears to love to build the tension by skirting around the obvious. In Mountains, he puts off the reveal for as long as physically possible, whilst at the same time teasing us by telling us everything.

The baddies in this tale are interesting. They’re fictional, but presented to us as ancient history. It’s a nice twist and incredibly well done. I hadn’t realised, but Lovecraft is widely acclaimed as the Author to popularise the ‘Tentacle’ as a device of modern Horror. Apparently, all his beasts have tentacles. Whilst his peers were dabbling with the more popular land-based horrors of Werewolves and Vampires, Lovecraft was diving the depths of the oceans for his inspiration.

I dreamt of a city beneath the waves...

Like, I said, there’s a lot to get your head round here with Lovecraft. I’ve said as much as I care to in this sitting. At the Mountains of Madness is definitely worth a read. It’s an old read, but I think I support the notion that this is a classic. It isn’t without fault; I found it long-winded at times, but maybe I’m just a tad impatient these days? Let’s round this off...

On the Triple-B I’m going to find 7 strange corpses in a long-hidden cave. Oh dear... no good can come of this...




2 comments: