At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft
At the Mountains of Madness
HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness was written in 1931 as a novella, written from the point of view of a geologist, William Dyer, writing about a terrible event that happened on a scientific mission to the Antarctic some years previously. His aim is to prevent a separate mission from going back to the area where he and a team of about 20 researchers initially went to drill for rock samples. Exploring unknown territory using light aircraft, some members of the team come across a mountain range higher than the Himalayas, the ‘mountains of madness’ as the narrator comes to call them. Their presence is an incredible scientific discovery, and further radio reports describe odd rock formations, which are baffling the team.
The tension is set from the beginning of the novella, with the narrator finally revealing what actually happened to these men, who eventually meet with disaster, despite himself and others having kept their silence on what they found when they went to find the missing team. Time is short for the original Antarctic mission if they are to complete their investigations during the summer months, and when strange fossil markings are found in the rock samples the team splits and a biologist, Lake, sends back radio transmissions of his discoveries at this new mountain range. These transmissions become more and more excited as this otherworldly landscape is explored and a cave is found, which unearths things that no human has ever seen before. Investigations begin, but then the radio falls silent.
Unable to get hold of the team, Dyer sets off to find the campsite and comes across a scene of complete devastation. Official records of the trip paint a picture of a terrible storm destroying the campsite, but in reality Dyer and another team member set off to discover what actually happened after the strange specimens were found, and find a world of horrors.
The fictional grimoire the Necronomicon, which appears in several of Lovecraft’s stories, describes a race called the ‘Elder Things’ or ‘Old Ones’, which lived ages before mankind. Here, Dyer, who a one point feels sorry that he had ever ‘read the abhorred Necronomicon’, brings it to mind when trying to find out more about the ‘monstrosities’ dug up, as the fossils found show a greater advancement of evolution than thought possible from the age of the rock they are found in.
This novella starts off brilliantly, ramping up the tension through keeping us separate from the action as it unfolds, but also through the initial descriptions of the frozen, alien landscape of Antarctica. However, at Dyer descends into the world of the Elder Ones, I think that by trying to describe what these things are and where they came from the mystery is lost and it starts getting a bit ridiculous. However, as a novella and an example of fantastic horror writing it’s definitely worth reading.
The Shunned House
The Shunned House, written over four days in 1924, is written from the perspective of a young man investigating the mysteries of ‘a dingy, antiquated structure’, which ‘stands starkly leering as a symbol of all that is unutterably hideous’. Over the years, the house has seen a surprising number of its residents die, getting to the point where nobody would rent it. Those who died seemed to have been sapped of life, so whatever ailments that they had caused death sooner, whilst other residents showed ‘in varying degree[s] a type of anaemia or consumption’.
The horror seems to be focused on the cellar, which shows strange growths of luminous fungus and has a strong unwholesome odour. The narrator grows up knowing of the empty house, and as a child participates in dares with other local children to enter it, but it is when he reaches adulthood that he starts to ask questions about it.
His uncle has been studying the house for years and shares his research with his nephew. This starts with the house’s construction in 1763 and then catalogues the range of deaths and illnesses which plague the families who lived there up to 1861, from which date no tenant will go near it.
To find out what is causing this unnatural level of deaths, the narrator and his uncle decide to undertake a scientific experiment in the cellar of the house, with terrible consequences.
This is a spectacularly creepy short story, painting a gruesome portrait of a dark, dank house, which has a sickly, oozing atmosphere that over years sucks the life from those unfortunate enough to live there. It’s easy to guess what the horror is, but this vampire story is definitely no Twilight.
The Dreams in the Witch House
This is a 1932 short story, which includes elements from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos universe – a framework of entities, names and places that were used and changed by Lovecraft across many of his works, and also used to varying extents by a range of other writers he corresponded with.
A young man, Walter Gilman, rents a room in the ‘Witch House’, where a witch Keziah Mason lived, who disappeared from jail in Salem years before. People in this house, like in ‘The Shunned House’, die prematurely. Gilman is studying mathematics and folklore at university, and theorises that the unusual geometry of his attic room can allow travel from one dimension to another.
He starts being transported in his dreams to another world, and the witch and her familiar are getting closer and closer to him as he realises that these trips are actually occurring each night. The witch wants to capture his soul and make Gilman an accomplice in events, which are driving him insane, and over which he has less and less control. At one point his professors forbid him from reading more of the Necronomicon, elements from which seem to influence what he sees as he moves from this world to others.
It’s an interesting concept that a witch, making unholy alliances with alien creatures, is continuing to prey upon the inhabitants of the house Gilman stays in, but I think this story is one of Lovecraft’s weaker. Again the main protagonist is a young man who is trying to solve the mystery of weird goings-on – apart from this witch there hasn’t been another woman in the compilation of stories that I’ve read, and she is more of a one-dimensional supernatural freak rather than a woman. Gilman is also pretty unlikeable as a character, obsessive and reclusive, which means that as a reader I did not much care what happened to him because he could have just left the house to stop his supernatural wanderings. Also, the reasoning behind why the witch is so interested in him is vague and the story muddles around with Gilman mainly spending his time falling asleep, seeing horrible things, and then waking up again.
The Statement of Randolph Carter
This is a very short story, only a handful of pages long, inspired by a dream Lovecraft had. Written in 1919, it is written in the style of a testimonial to the police of why he was found wandering around a swap, and what happened to his friend who disappeared.
The narrator’s friend, Harley Warren, studied ‘strange, rare books on forbidden subjects’, and took the narrator to a cemetery where he wants to enter what he thinks is a portal to another realm. Warren tells his friend to stay outside, and hands him a phone attached to a long coil of wire to keep in contact with him as he descends alone into the tomb. After Warren has been gone for a couple of minutes, screams come over the phone and he begs his friend to run and save himself.
A short, sharp shock best describes this story, and entertaining enough as part of a short story series.
This At the Mountains of Madness book review was written by Cat Fitzpatrick
Have you read At the Mountains of Madness?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
At the Mountains of Madness reader reviews
7.3/10 from 1 reviews
There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
love songs for the shy and cynical
The first love song in the world, as composed by a pig in the Garden of Eden... The Devil, alarmed when his hobby of writing romantic fiction begins to upstage his day job....
Weird Shadows over Innsmouth
Respected horror anthologist Stephen Jones edits this collection of twelve stories by some of the worlds most prominent Lovecraftian authors, including H.P Lovecraft himsel...
Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters
Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters is a collection of 23 stories focused around the theme of strange creatures in the vein of Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Cloverfield, and more. The a...
The Crimson Pact: Volume 3
The Crimson Pact Volume 3 features fifteen action-packed and frightening short stories, including, "That Which We Fear" by New York Times' bestselling author ...
George RR Martin
George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois have put together a towering anthology of specially-commissioned stories from the most stellar names in the genre, set in a number of ...
The Crimson Pact: Volume 2
The dark fantasy and adventure continues as volume two mixes sequels from Gloria Weber, Sarah Kanning, Justin Swapp, and Isaac Bell with new stories from Lester Smith, Kath...
The Crimson Pact: Volume 1
The moment of the demons' defeat became their greatest victory. In the carnage after the last great battle against the demons, a doomed general discovers their hidden v...
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 8
From the inner realms of humanity to the far reaches of space, these are the science fiction and fantasy tales that are shaping the genre and the way we think about the fut...
Josie Brown Rose Mambert and Bill Racicot
Tales of lust, betrayal, murder and... elves. 20 original stories enchant, intrigue, and delight as they explore the theme of "Elf Love" in a variety of genres: f...
The Pan Book of Horror Stories
22 terrifying tales of horror by such famous authors as Peter Fleming, C. S. Forester, Bram Stoker, Angus Wilson, Noel Langley, Jack Finney and L. P. Hartley. Stories of th...
Alt Hist: Issue 3
The third issue of Alt Hist includes two stories about the American Civil War, one about the great Tesla, a tale of post-war revenge set in Dublin, and a compelling story a...
Alt Hist: Issue 2
Alt Hist is the new magazine of historical fiction and alternate history. The second issue features eight new stories and also three book reviews. From ancient Egypt to Wor...
George RR Martin
Sixteen all-new stories by science fiction’s top talents collected by bestselling author George R. R. Martin and multiple-award-winning editor Gardner Dozois. It turn...
The Secret Life of the Panda
John Joseph Adams
Humans beware. As the robotic revolution continues to creep into our lives, it brings with it an impending sense of doom. What horrifying scenarios might unfold if our tech...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
Hig, bereaved and traumatised after global disaster, has three things to live for - his dog Jasper, his aggressive but helpful neighbour, and his Cessna aeroplane. He's just about surviving, so long as he only takes his beloved plane for short journeys, and saves his remaining fuel. But, just once, he picks up a message from another pilot, a...
Beren and Luthien
Painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts and presented for the first time as a continuous and standalone story, the epic tale of Beren and Lúthien wil...
Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall - named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn h...
While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya. The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient...
The Ninth Rain
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the real...
The Court of Broken Knives
Anna Smith Spark
They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we pi...
With Blood Upon the Sand
Ceda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further t...