Review: “At the Mountains of Madness”


A  classic horror by H. P. Lovecraft

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There is nothing more mysterious than reading a story set in our own world that is tainted with a dark twist concerning the unknown. When a person reads a story that contains so much believability but is spiked with a subject matter that exposes some eternal darkness beyond what we know to be true, the reader is left with a feeling that there are things in this world yet to be explained.

“At the Mountains of Madness” is one such read, a novella that was originally rejected by Weird Tales magazine because it was too long for the pulp format they were built to handle, and it draws you deeper into the world we live in by taking you to unimaginable places on our own planet. It seems that Lovecraft was enamored with the frozen continent since his youth and it was only inevitable that he would eventually write his longest work about an expedition to that remote land in our own world that he depicts so wildly that one would think they had stepped through the cosmos to another planet.

Lovecraft’s story begins as a group of scientists decide to embark upon a mission to Antarctica to use a device to extract some core samples to study hoping to discover a bit about the earth’s history in a less than hospitable region, environmentally speaking. Early on in the story you are delivered a long expose of scientific words you can hardly pronounce and you might be tempted to put the story down in favor of something a little easier to read but when you stick through the mire of big words you start to be intrigued by some bizarre encounters.

The scientists begin the explore the frozen continent at the southern fringe of our globe in all its harshness and barren cold while you see the events unfold with a first person narrative with minimal dialogue that is common to Lovecraft work, and as we have noted before, probably comes back to his own introverted personality. It is very clear that he is much more concerned with what happens than he is with establishing talkative relationships between characters. Yet, in his own way, you can identify somewhat with the characters as the story moves forward. You want them to keep going because it is through their eyes that you see the tale unfold and if they do not discover the source of the twisted mysteries then you don’t succeed in discovering the source of the strange life forms they discover buried beneath the arctic ice.

After chance leads one of the scientists to discover the beings that can neither be classified as animal or vegetable, certain horrors fall upon them. Perhaps they should have never disturbed the ancient creatures preserved in the frozen world. After the horrible events strike, our protagonist Dyer and his sidekick Danforth venture plane toward a bizarre set of mountains they dub the Mountains of Madness. There they find something so bizarre and otherworldly on our own planet that hints at intelligent life far more ancient than our own history, land their plane, then trek into the ancient city at the bottom of the world. The psychology of the human mind cannot be satisfied unless they explore this dark Cyclopian world of strange geometric patterns laden with mysterious murals. These murals seem to tell the story of what they find as they delve deeper into a dark abyss that hints at something even more horrible.

I won’t spoil the experience by revealing the ending as I have only highlighted some of the weird events that haunt the expedition where they learn more than they bargained for. But rest assured, you will be left with a sense of twisted reality that makes you never want to visit such places that will alter your view of our existence.

Is it worth the read? Well, some say it is not Lovecraft’s best work but the imagery is unparalleled for its time and still stands as a landmark of fictitious architecture of alien origin. The story bogs down at points with long lectures of scientific mumb- jumbo that makes you feel like you are back in Biology class. At other times you feel like the story takes a jump backward holding you back from proceeding with the story line. Others hail it as classic Lovecraft that no fan should omit from their reading list. The ancient city of a lost civilization of life forms more bizarre than we could ever imagine is so large, so alien, and so extreme to exist right under our nose that it confounds us to the core of our being testing our own sanity. The imagery described is certainly a sign of a world that contains powerful beings that if unleashed, would alter our own civilization in ways we hope we never have to deal with.

What would happen if world leaders and the scientific community at large were told of this massive dark discovery where these Elder Things have been aroused back to life by the accidental stumblings of curious scientists and left to roam the subterranean halls of our misunderstood planet? Better yet, what would you do?


– by J.Wade Harrell,

author of Shadows of Siernod and Flames of Palamarr

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About J. Wade Harrell

A native of rural SW Oklahoma, I currently write swords and sorcery fiction which I publish in electronic format on Amazon. My interests and hobbies include shooting, riding motorcycles, fishing, watching college football, playing games, and most of all, spending as much time as possible with my better half, Kathy. I hope you enjoy my blog and that it might lead you into my fantastic worlds of swords and magic. -J. Wade Harrell
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