At the Mountains of Madness

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
At the Mountains of Madness
Lovecraft, Mountains of Madness.jpg
Cover of Astounding Stories, February 1936
Author H. P. Lovecraft
Cover artist Howard V. Brown
Country United States
Language English
Genre Horror, Lost World
Published February–April 1936 (Astounding Stories)
Media type Print (Periodical)
Text At the Mountains of Madness at Wikisource

At the Mountains of Madness is a novella by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, written in February/March 1931 and rejected that year by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright on the grounds of its length.[1] It was originally serialized in the February, March and April 1936 issues of Astounding Stories. It has been reproduced in numerous collections.

The story has inadvertently popularized the concept of ancient astronauts, as well as Antarctica's place in the "ancient astronaut mythology".[2]

Plot summary[edit]

The story is told in first-person perspective by the geologist William Dyer, a professor at Miskatonic University. He writes to disclose hitherto unknown and closely kept secrets in the hope that he can deter a planned and much publicized scientific expedition to Antarctica. On a previous expedition there, scholars from Miskatonic University led by Dyer discovered fantastic and horrific ruins and a dangerous secret beyond a range of mountains higher than the Himalayas. A smaller advance group, led by Professor Lake, discovered and crossed the mountains and found the remains of fourteen ancient life forms, completely unknown to science and unidentifiable as either plants or animals. Six of the specimens are badly damaged and the others uncannily pristine. Their highly evolved features are problematic: their stratum location puts them at a point on the geologic time scale much too early for such features to have naturally evolved.

When the main expedition loses contact with Lake's party, Dyer and the rest of his colleagues travel to their last known location to investigate. Lake's camp is devastated, and both the men and the dogs slaughtered, while a man named Gedney and another dog are unaccounted for. Near the camp they find six star-shaped snow mounds, and one specimen buried under each. They discover that the better preserved life forms have vanished, and that some form of dissection experiment has been done on an unnamed man and a dog. Dyer elects to close off the area from which they took their samples.

Dyer and a graduate student named Danforth fly an airplane over the mountains, which they soon realize are the outer walls of a huge, abandoned stone city of cubes and cones, utterly alien compared with any human architecture. Because of their resemblance to creatures of myth mentioned in the Necronomicon, the builders of this lost civilization are dubbed the "Elder Things". By exploring these fantastic structures, the men are able to learn the history of the Elder Things through interpreting their magnificent hieroglyphic murals: The Elder Things first came to Earth shortly after the Moon was pulled loose from the planet and were the creators of life. They built their cities with the help of "Shoggoths", biological entities created to perform any task, assume any form, and reflect any thought. As more buildings are explored, a fantastic vista opens of the history of races beyond the scope of man's understanding, including the Elder Things' conflicts with the Star-spawn of Cthulhu and the Mi-go, who arrived on Earth some time after the Elder Things themselves. The images also reflect a degradation in the order of this civilization, as the Shoggoths gain independence. As more resources are applied to maintaining order, the etchings become haphazard and primitive. The murals also allude to some unnamed evil in an even larger mountain range just past their city, which even they fear greatly. Eventually, as Antarctica became uninhabitable even for the Elder Things, they migrated into a large, subterranean ocean.

Dyer and Danforth eventually realize they are not alone in the city. The Elder Things missing from the advance party's camp had somehow returned to life and, after slaughtering the explorers, returned to the city of their origin. Dyer and Danforth discover traces of the Elder Things' earlier exploration, as well as sledges containing the corpses of Gedney and the dog missing from the camp.

As the two progress further into the city, they are ultimately drawn to a massive ominous entrance which is the opening of a tunnel which they believe leads into the subterranean region described in the murals. Compulsively they are drawn in, finding further horrors: evidence of dead Elder Things killed in a brutal struggle, and blind six-foot-tall penguins wandering around placidly, apparently as livestock for the unknown forms of life which lurked inside the subterranean abyss. They are then confronted with an immense, ululating horror in the form of a black, bubbling mass, which after a brief glimpse they identify as a Shoggoth. Danforth and Dyer escape with their lives using luck and diversion. Aboard the plane high above the plateau, Danforth looks back and sees something that causes him to lose his sanity. He refuses to tell anyone (even Dyer) what he saw, though it is implied that it has something to do with what lies beyond the larger mountain range that even the Elder Things feared.

Professor Dyer concludes that the Elder Things only slaughtered the survivors and dogs out of scientific curiosity at their new surroundings, and their civilization was eventually destroyed by the Shoggoths they created, and that this entity has sustained itself on the enormous penguins since eons past. He begs the planners of the next proposed Antarctic expedition to stay away from things that should not be loosed on the Earth.

Characters[edit]

  • William Dyer (ca. 1875–?): The narrator of At the Mountains of Madness, he is a professor emeritus of geology at Miskatonic University and a leader of the disastrous Pabodie Expedition to Antarctica in 1930–31. Only his last name is mentioned in the text of Mountains, though he is fully identified in Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time", where he accompanies an expedition to Australia's Great Sandy Desert.
  • Danforth: Graduate student at Miskatonic University. As part of the Pabodie Expedition, he accompanies Dyer on a survey flight over the "Plateau of Leng" and goes mad after seeing something. He is described as "a great reader of bizarre material" and makes frequent allusions to Edgar Allan Poe. He is described as one of the few who ever dared to read the complete edition of the Necronomicon from the Miskatonic University Library.
  • Frank H. Pabodie: A member of Miskatonic's engineering department, Professor Pabodie invented a drill for the expedition that was "unique and radical in its lightness, portability, and capacity...to cope quickly with strata of varying hardness." He also added "fuel-warming and quick-starting devices" to the expedition's four aircraft.[3] Lovecraft wrote of the name "Pabodie", "I chose it as a name typical of good old New England stock, yet not sufficiently common to sound conventional or hackneyed." It's an alternative spelling of "Peabody", a name Lovecraft was familiar with through the Peabody Museum in Salem.[4]
  • Professor Lake: Lake is a professor of biology at Miskatonic University. It is he who first discovers the Mountains of Madness as a result of his "strange and dogged insistence on a westward - or rather, northwestward - prospecting trip" based on his discovery of strange fossils. He also discovers the ancient extraterrestrial specimens that he dubs Elder Things based on their resemblance to "certain monsters of primal myth" found in the Necronomicon. He reports that his findings in Antarctica confirm his belief "that earth has seen whole cycles of organic life before known one that begins with Archaeozoic cells," and predicts that this "[w]ill mean to biology what Einstein has meant to mathematics and physics." When eight of the Elder Things turn out to be living creatures rather than fossils, they butcher Lake and the rest of his sub-expedition. For the rest of the story, Lake is referred to as "poor Lake".
  • Professor Atwood: A member of the Miskatonic University physics department, and also a meteorologist. He is part of the Lake sub-expedition.

Inspiration[edit]

Lovecraft had a lifelong interest in Antarctic exploration. "Lovecraft had been fascinated with the Antarctic continent since he was at least 12 years old, when he had written several small treatises on early Antarctic explorers," biographer S. T. Joshi wrote.[5] At about the age of 9, inspired by W. Clark Russell's 1887 book The Frozen Pirate, Lovecraft had written "several yarns" set in Antarctica.[6]

By the 1920s, S. T. Joshi notes in The Annotated Lovecraft that Antarctica was "one of the last unexplored regions of the earth, where large stretches of territory had never seen the tread of human feet. Contemporary maps of the continent show a number of provocative blanks, and Lovecraft could exercise his imagination in filling them in...with little fear of immediate contradiction."[7]

The first expedition of Richard Evelyn Byrd took place in 1928-1930, the period just before the novella was written, and Lovecraft mentioned the explorer repeatedly in his letters, remarking at one point on "geologists of the Byrd expedition having found many fossils indicating a tropical past".[8] In fact, Miskatonic University's expedition was modelled after that of Byrd.[9]

In Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos Lin Carter suggests - with Joshi noting the suggestion as "facile" - that one inspiration for At the Mountains of Madness was Lovecraft's own hypersensitivity to cold, as evidenced by an incident where the writer "collapsed in the street and was carried unconscious into a drug store" because the temperature dropped from 60 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees to -1 degree Celsius). "The loathing and horror that extreme cold evoked in him was carried over into his writing," Carter wrote, "and the pages of Madness convey the blighting, blasting, stifling sensation caused by sub-zero temperatures in a way that even Poe could not suggest."[10]

Joshi further cites as Lovecraft's most obvious literary source for At the Mountains of Madness Edgar Allan Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, whose concluding section is set in Antarctica. Lovecraft twice cites Poe's "disturbing and enigmatic" story in his text, and explicitly borrows the mysterious cry Tekeli-li from Poe's work. In a letter to August Derleth, Lovecraft wrote that he was trying to achieve with his ending an effect similar to what Poe accomplished in Pym.[11]

Another proposed inspiration for At the Mountains of Madness is Edgar Rice Burroughs' At the Earth's Core (1914), a novel that posits a highly intelligent reptilian race, the Mahar, living in a hollow earth. "Consider the similarity of Burroughs' Mahar to Lovecraft's Old Ones, both of whom are presented sympathetically despite their ill-treatment of man," writes critic William Fulwiler. "[B]oth are winged, web-footed, dominant races; both are scientific scholarly races with a talent for genetics, engineering, and architecture; and both races use men as cattle." Both stories, Fulwiler points out, involve radical new drilling techniques; in both stories, humans are vivisected by nonhuman scientists. Burroughs' Mahar even employ a species of servants known as Sagoths, possibly the source of Lovecraft's shoggoths.[12]

Other possible sources include A. Merritt's "The People of the Pit", whose description of an underground city in the Yukon bears some resemblance to that of Lovecraft's Elder Things, and Katharine Metcalf Roof's "A Million Years After", a story about dinosaurs hatching from eggs millions of years old that appeared in the November 1930 edition Weird Tales.[13] In a letter to Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft declared Metcalf Roof's story to be a "rotten", "cheap", and "puerile" version of an idea he had come up with years earlier, and Joshi suggests it may have provoked him to write his own tale of "the awakening of entities from the dim reaches of earth's history."[14]

S.T. Joshi & Schultz's An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia suggest that the long scope of history recounted in the story may have been inspired by Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. Some details of the story may have been taken from M. P. Shiel's 1901 novel of Arctic exploration, The Purple Cloud, which was republished in 1930.[15]

The title is believed by Joshi to derive from a line in Lord Dunsany's short story "The Hashish Man": "And we came at last to those ivory hills that are named the Mountains of Madness...".

Lovecraft's own "The Nameless City" (1921), which also deals with the exploration of an ancient underground city apparently abandoned by its nonhuman builders, is a clear precedent for At the Mountains of Madness. In both stories, the explorers use the nonhumans' artwork to deduce the history of their species.[16]

As for details of the Antarctic setting, the author's description of some of the scenery is in part inspired by the Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich, and the illustrations of Gustav Dore both of whom are referenced by the story's narrator multiple times.

Critical reception[edit]

Theodore Sturgeon described the novella as "perfect Lovecraft" and "a good deal more lucid than much of the master's work," as well as "first-water, true-blue science fiction."[17]

Connections to other Lovecraft stories[edit]

At the Mountains of Madness has numerous connections to other Lovecraft stories. A few include:

Adaptations[edit]

The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society[20] produced a 1930s-style radio drama of the story, featuring a full cast, original music and sound effects. It is packaged with photos from the expedition, newspaper clippings and other feelies.

The psychedelic rock group H. P. Lovecraft wrote and recorded a song titled "At the Mountains of Madness", which was based on the novella. The song appears on the band's second album H. P. Lovecraft II and a live performance of it, recorded at The Fillmore, is included on their Live May 11, 1968 album.

The Mountains of Madness is a musical adaptation of Lovecraft's stories by Alexander Hacke, Danielle de Picciotto and The Tiger Lillies.

In October and November 2010, BBC7 broadcast an abridged reading in five half-hour episodes performed by Richard Coyle.[21] This was repeated on BBC Radio4 Extra in March 2013. A radio adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness was also created by the Atlanta Radio Theater Company.

In 2009, Atlas Games published The Antarctic Express by Kenneth Hite and Christina Rodriguez, part of the Mini-Mythos line of books from Atlas Games (ISBN 1589781112). It is a parody of The Polar Express, telling the story of young Danforth who boards a mysterious plane with Professor Dyer. They travel to Antarctica to the city of the Elder Things and flee when pursued by shoggoths.

At the Mountains of Madness was adapted into a graphic novel created by I. N. J. Culbard and published in 2010 by Self Made Hero as part of their Eye Classics line (ISBN 9781906838126).[22][23] The book was named The Observer Graphic Novel of the Month.[24]

In 2011, Cerasus Media released a hidden object game titled Mystery Stories: Mountains of Madness, with Danforth being replaced by an original female character named Lynn Morgan, who accompanies Dyer on the exploration while Danforth himself becomes the injured pilot of their aircraft and still goes insane from the experience.[25]

Film[edit]

Director Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins wrote a screenplay based on Lovecraft's story in 2006, but had trouble getting Warner Bros. to finance the project. Del Toro wrote, "The studio is very nervous about the cost and it not having a love story or a happy ending, but it's impossible to do either in the Lovecraft universe."[26] In July 2010 it was announced that the film would be made in 3D and that James Cameron would become producer,[27] and Tom Cruise was attached to star.[28] This "was a startling prospect considering Lovecraft's tale had long been considered unfilmable."[28] Del Toro confirmed that the film would begin production as early as May 2011 and start filming in June.[29] However, in March 2011, it was announced that "Universal refused to greenlight the project due to del Toro's insistence that it be released with an R rating rather than a PG-13."[28] According to Salon.com, "Universal wants to hold onto the project in the event that it changes its mind and decides to make it later, either as an R or PG-13 movie. But del Toro is already trying to set up Mountains at another studio (possibly 20th Century Fox).[28] However, in April 2012, del Toro posted that, due to the resemblance in premise with director Ridley Scott's film, Prometheus, the project would probably face a "long pause -if not demise".[30][31] In January 2013, del Toro stated in an interview that he would try one more time to get the movie made.[32]

Unofficial sequels[edit]

Prisoner of Ice[edit]

Prisoner of Ice is a 1995 adventure video game by Infogrames that tells a story set in the aftermath of the expedition.[33]

A Colder War[edit]

A Colder War is a loose sequel to At the Mountains of Madness written by Charles Stross in 1997, where the secrets from beyond the Mountains of Madness are used by the Cold War superpowers to dreadful effect.

Beyond the Mountains of Madness[edit]

Chaosium Games released a campaign book titled Beyond the Mountains of Madness for their Call of Cthulhu role-playing game in 1999. This book details the Starkweather-Moore expedition return to the ice to discover the truth about the Miskatonic Expedition. The book incorporates many of the aspects of the original Lovecraft story, including references to the Poe story, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Nicholas Roerich, Danforth and Dyer.

Call of Cthulhu: Beyond the Mountains of Madness[edit]

Call of Cthulhu: Beyond the Mountains of Madness was a cancelled action-adventure video game by Headfirst Productions, announced in 2002. It featured a Miskatonic University archaeologist named Robert Naples attempting to stop the Nazi occult search for the Elder City.[34]

Hive[edit]

In 2005, Elder Signs Press published Hive by Tim Curran.[35] In the story, set in the present, the Plateau of Leng has crumbled under the ice and snow due to geological changes, the Shoggoths are non-existent (with Dyer's accounts of them overthrowing the Elder Things having been chalked up to stress and madness), and the Elder Things, both living and ethereal, still exist under the Antarctic ice. The plot deals with a group of American explorers unearthing an Elder Thing tomb and citadel. A parallel plot also deals with an expedition using an experimental submersible to breach Lake Vostok, which is named as the location of the underwater city to which the Elder Things fled.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Joshi, S. T. (2001). A dreamer and a visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in his time. Liverpool University Press, 302. ISBN 0-85323-946-0
  2. ^ Jason Colavito, The Cthulhu Comparison
  3. ^ Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness, p. 4.
  4. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. V, p. 228; Joshi, p. 181.
  5. ^ S. T. Joshi, The Annotated Lovecraft, p. 175.
  6. ^ Joshi and Schultz, p. 132.
  7. ^ Joshi, p. 18.
  8. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. 3, p. 144; cited in Joshi, p. 183; see also Joshi, p. 186.
  9. ^ Manhire, Bill (2004). The wide white page: writers imagine Antarctica. Victoria University Press, p. 315. ISBN 0-86473-485-9
  10. ^ Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, p. 84. Joshi regards this suggestion as "facile" - Annotated Lovecraft, pp. 17-18.
  11. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, May 16, 1931; cited in Joshi, pp. 329-330.
  12. ^ William Fulwiler, "E.R.B. and H.P.L.", Black Forbidden Things, p. 64.
  13. ^ Joshi and Schultz, p. 11.
  14. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. III, p. 186; Joshi, p. 175.
  15. ^ Joshi and Schultz, pp. 10-11.
  16. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, "The Nameless City", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, pp. 104-105; cited in Joshi, pp. 264-265.
  17. ^ "Book Review", Astounding Science Fiction, November 1948, pp.105-06.
  18. ^ Anthony Pearsall, The Lovecraft Lexicon, p. 326.
  19. ^ Anthony Pearsall, The Lovecraft Lexicon, p. 146.
  20. ^ "HPLHS"
  21. ^ BBC Radio Page for the series
  22. ^ At The Mountains of Madness product page, Self Made Hero
  23. ^ Croonenborghs, Bart (January 26, 2011). "At the Mountains of Madness with H.P. Lovecraft". The Comics Journal. 
  24. ^ Cooke, Rachel (November 14, 2010). "At the Mountains of Madness by Lovecraft/Culbard – review". The Observer. 
  25. ^ http://www.cerasus.de/games/all-titles/mystery-stories-mountains-of-madness/
  26. ^ Guillermo Del Toro Films, At the Mountains of Madness
  27. ^ "Guillermo Del Toro Finally Arrives 'At The Mountains Of Madness'! Best Movie News Of The Year?"
  28. ^ a b c d Zoller Seitz, Matt (2011-03-08) The amazing del Toro movie that just got spiked, Salon.com
  29. ^ Matt Goldberg (2010-02-09). "Universal Looking at James McAvoy to Star in AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, but Guillermo Del Toro Wants Tom Cruise". Collider.com. Retrieved 2011-01-19. 
  30. ^ PROMETHEUS / MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS
  31. ^ Entertainment Weekly, June 10, 2012, "So is del Toro's dream of adapting At the Mountains of Madness really dead? Maybe. Maybe not."
  32. ^ First Showing, January 7, 2013, "Del Toro Will Try 'Mountains of Madness' Again, Cruise Still Attached"
  33. ^ Prisoner of Ice - Call of Cthulhu: Prisoner of Ice - Review - Adventure Classic Gaming
  34. ^ Call of Cthulhu Trilogy XBOX - Cancelled | Unseen 64
  35. ^ HorrorScope: Review: Hive by Tim Curran

References[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (2005) [1936]. "At the Mountains of Madness". At the Mountains of Madness: The Definitive Edition. New York: The Modern Library. ISBN 0-8129-7441-7.  Paperback.
  • Pearsall, Anthony B. (2005). The Lovecraft Lexicon (1st ed.). Tempe, AZ: New Falcon. ISBN 1-56184-129-3. 

Web sites[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]