A master of terror and nightmarish visions, H.P. Lovecraft solidified his place at the top of the horror genre with this macabre supernatural tale.
When a geologist leads an expedition to the Antarctic plateau, his aim is to find rock and plant specimens from deep within the continent. The barren landscape offers no evidence of any life form - until they stumble upon the ruins of a lost civilization. Strange fossils of creatures unknown to man lead the team deeper, where they find carved stones dating back millions of years. But it is their discovery of the terrifying city of the Old Ones that leads them to an encounter with an untold menace.
Deliberately told and increasingly chilling, At the Mountains of Madness is a must-have for every fan of classic terror.
Public Domain (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
There is a great deal to this little story, including great description, what I'd call sublime horror, and a rather large dose of social commentary on the time it was written.
Be advised, however, that this story was written in the early 1930's using the literary style of that period. It was a time of great social change, and the concept of science not being able to solve all problems was really being driven home. Fear that the world was becoming a darker place was growing and the future was looked upon with gathering dread. With older works of art, one should recognize that fears tend to change somewhat. Yet Lovecraft knew about the kind of fear that never ends, that corrodes the soul, that destroys lives.
Listeners who wish easy prose and fast action should probably pass on this.
Yet if you appreciate very well written, thoughtful, and suspenseful in the classical sense sort of prose, this little novella is for you.
This book is vintage, if lengthy, Lovecraft of course. But the narration is a true masterpiece of the craft. Edward Hermann's sense of diction, stress and the sheer literal meaning of the sentences enhances Lovecraft's heavy prose. Excellent.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The disturbing implication of H. P. Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness (1931/36) is, of course, that our world is abnormal. From its great opening line ("I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why") to its closing shrieks of "Tekeli-li!" Lovecraft's story powerfully explores existential horror marked by the following:
-monstrous forbidden books
-secrets beyond human penetration
-grotesque squawking penguins
-curious configurations of dots
-tentacles, wings, and obscene odors
-careful butchery and inexpert dissection
-an appalling account of the creation of life on earth
-a pre-human megalopolis
-cosmic beauty and cosmic horror
The novella is the attempt by Dyer, a professor of geology at Mistaktonic University, to dissuade future scientific expeditions to Antarctica by telling what really happened to the disastrous one he led there in 1930. Dyer begins with practical details about supplies, personnel, and goals, scientific facts about longitude, latitude, temperature, and geology, and generally benign poetic impressions: "Distant mountains floated in the sky as enchanted cities, and often the whole white world would dissolve into a gold, silver, and scarlet land of Dunsanian dreams and adventurous expectancy under the magic of the low midnight sun." However, after his party reaches "the great unknown continent, and its cryptic world of frozen death," things start getting creepy: "On the barren shore, and on the lofty ice barrier in the background, myriads of grotesque penguins squawked and flapped their fins." And when Lake, a Professor of biology, finds a fossil footprint of some advanced life form from a period of earth's history when no advanced life forms existed and becomes obsessed with finding more, things become horribly strange.
Lovecraft's writing may at times strike one as overwrought, with absurd names like Yog-Sothoth, over-used words like mad/ness (34 times in this novella), horror/s (31), strange/ness/ly (29), primal (24), and nameless (21), and plenty of excess verbiage. And those bas-reliefs are too conveniently comprehensible. Nevertheless, if you get into his rhythm, Lovecraft builds a disturbing intensity as Dyer provides more details, leading us through a series of gateways into the ineffable alien past of earth. I found myself writing down whole passages, amused by their outré quality and awed by their rhythm and imagery. At the Mountains of Madness is an excellent story because it builds terror through gradual revelation, so that, though we guess much of what's going on much earlier than Dyer tells us, the point is that he has to nerve himself up to be able to say what he has to say. It's difficult for him. He doesn't want to inflict spiritual torment on humanity and doesn't want to relive his own Rubicon crossing into the madness lurking in the inner reality of life and the world, which "marked my loss, at the age of fifty-four, of all that peace and balance which the normal mind possesses through its accustomed conception of external nature and nature's laws." If you stay patient and journey with him through his past expedition, you may experience, if not the same hair-graying terror that Lovecraft is trying to evoke, a compellingly beautiful, disturbing, and strange experience: science fiction horror sublime. (Only Lovecraft could make into figures of horror that comment on the human condition six-foot tall, albino, eyeless penguins living in tunnels leading to the abyss.)
If you become irritated when characters in horror movies enter places they should know better than to enter, Dyer and Danforth may drive you crazy, but they do what they do because of curiosity, and this novella is largely about that human trait: "Half paralyzed with terror though we were, there was nevertheless fanned within us a blazing flame of awe and curiosity which triumphed in the end." Ah, Dyer should know that the more he tries to convince scientists not to explore Antarctica by telling them of his experiences, the more they will flock there.
Edward Hermmann's clarity, restraint, gravitas, and deep, rich voice render Lovecraft's most outlandish names, exotic terms, frustrating delays, and pet words convincing. In a brilliant touch, his moment of greatest emotion comes when Dyer feels some cross-species sympathy: "Poor Old Ones! Scientists to the last--what had they done that we would not have done in their place? . . . Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star spawn--whatever they had been, they were men!"
I'd only read a few H. P. Lovecraft stories, ignorantly scorning his work for its pulpy purple prose, nameless, eldritch obsessions, and phobias about size, age, and tentacles. I figured that the worst evil in this world is done by human beings, not by lurking protoplasmic blasphemous alien entities. I only bought the Blackstone audiobook version of At the Mountains of Madness (1931/36) because I could get it cheaply after buying a cheap kindle version. And the novella knocked off my soul-socks, and made me keen to read all of Lovecraft's stories.
This was my first experience with a Lovecraft story, and I was not disappointed. I'm not usually interested in horror books or movies, but I've enjoyed other books that reference Lovecraft's stories, so I gave this a try when it was up as a Daily Deal here at Audible.
It is a horror story, there's no doubt about that. However, it's very different from the modern sort of horror. This is not a story that's scary from the start, moving from one terror to another. Instead, this is a slow build up of expectation of terror, leading up to the one moment of true horror.
Which even that wasn't all that terrible for me as a modern reader, having been exposed science fiction.
That said, I was aware of the era that book was written, and can imagine what this might have been like to read in that era.
I wasn't looking to be terrified, I was looking for a good story, well told by a great narrator.
I would recommend this book.
Only 10 years after the publication of this book Europe had been nearly completely destroyed, the Soviet Union controlled most of the east, America controlled the rest, the atom had been split, and the technology needed to take men to the moon only needed perfecting. Computers, radar, jet engines, women in the workplace, a Jewish state inside Palestine, the neutering of any meaningful monarchies in England and Japan ... a total change in civilization. All within about 10 years.
There's a scene near the end of this book that stood out for me more than almost any other and that is when they first hear and them come upon those albino penguins. The image is at first somewhat comical, then a little sad, too. The scene stood out for me because those penguins seemed to make for a wonderful metaphor for our own existence - blind, pale, helpless, easily frightened chattel to be trampled over by far, far greater powers. The birds were totally indifferent to their surroundings, utterly incapable of comprehending their fate or that anything of any greater importance was going on around them, aside from the inconvenience of being disturbed.
I felt as if Lovecraft had somehow felt the pulse of the times and was able to create a vision of what we as a species were about to do to ourselves during the late 1930's and into the 1940's. That dread that is on every page of the book is palpable and captures what some, but not nearly enough people, must have felt when visiting Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia before war broke out: a terrible helpless feeling of unease all around that nobody could escape from and a feeling that tragedy was about to happen again.
And the book's warning to all future adventures to leave well enough alone and to not explore to deep into regions that are best left unexplored, though a theme that crops up in science fiction very often, is more than just a trope here. Lovecraft seems to be intuiting the dangers of man meddling with things he can't control by foreshadowing nuclear war with those terrible visions beyond the mountains. Lovecraft is saying that the old way of life will forever change if man proceeds on its current course, that poking our noses where they don't belong will, though not unleash the darkest horrors of the ancient universe, somehow corrupt us from within.
Lovecraft is saying that science and reason can only take us so far before we get lost in a labyrinth of confusion, causing us to splinter as a society and species, forcing us from one extreme to the other, slowly eroding our own sense of self and art and culture, that all the greatest learning will eventually lead to an even greater forgetting; a forgetting of ourselves. Lovecraft seems quite content to stay put, to not pass that terrible boundary we charged right over in the 10 years after this book was written.
It's very pessimistic in its conclusion, however, I can't say I blame him either; he knew which way the wind was blowing. And I should be careful in reading too much into this book because after all he was trying to just write a damn entertaining page turner with some first-rate horror that Hollywood is still trying to copy to this day (either great films like Carpenter's 'The Thing' and Darabount's 'The Mist', or failures such as Ridley Scott's beautiful but deeply flawed 'Prometheus'). Yet the best stories, the ones that resonate with each generation are more than just fun reads, there does have to be something more to the pie than just a pretty pie crust.
Lovecraft writes very simply, clearly, and is a master at teasing out splinters of information at just the right time as to build the for boding. And even when there is really not much actually happening, he still manages to fascinate, such as the telling of the strangeness of the Old Ones and their life on early, ancient Earth. He doesn't bog us down with needless emotional scenes, rather, he uses Danforth as the emotional sounding-board to juxtapose with Dyer's cool, clinical, detachment. The rest is all supreme imagination and, honestly, horror so well written that I was genuinely scared and kept looking over my shoulder. It's really quite uncanny.
But there is much more here than a writer's wonderful imagination creating a mythos just for fun, Lovecraft has tapped into a vein that still resonates because he not only knows how to write a great story, but also because he knows what frightens us and because he intuited so much of what was just about to happen to the world in the coming years. Lovecraft is sort of a mile marker, a sign post, a line in the sand on which one side is all that came before and on the other is all that he warned humanity not to cross over less it destroy itself.
And so here were are looking back at a base camp we can never return to; only madness awaits us ahead.
Ever since listening to the terrific novel "14" by Peter Clines, I've been curious about Lovecraft's work. I'd certainly heard of him and knew that his books had created a sort of mythos among fans, but I still didn't really know what to expect. He is characterized as a horror writer and there's no doubt his imagination is incredibly fantastical, but horror is a really personal thing -- what is horrific to one (person, or generation) might not be horrific to another. To me, this novella (and I suspect his other work) is not horror, even though it is interesting science fantasy, and I prefer science fiction to science fantasy. Many sources (and I looked up this title before buying it) say At The Mountains of Madness this is not a typical Lovecraft work, but my curiosity is sated. Science fantasy - and Lovecraft - just aren't for me, but it was good for what it was. Very good narration from Edward Hermann too.
Either you dig Lovecraft or you don't. The guy had issues and his prose was the purplest, like most pulp writers of his time. But all American fantasy and horror written since the 1930s has been influenced by Lovecraft. Lovecraft himself was heavily influenced by others, of course, and At the Mountains of Madness, one of his most famous works, made explicit reference to Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
This is a novella about a scientific expedition to Antarctica. The Antarctic was even more mysterious and unknown in the 1930s, so it was a perfect place for Lovecraft to situate an ancient, alien city. His narrator, in recounting his perilous journey from which only he and one other explorer/scientist returned, is attempting to discourage others from following in their footsteps, lest they too unearth Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.
All the classic Lovecraft tropes are here — alienness incomprehensible to human minds, non-Euclidian geometry, sanity loss, and awful truths about prehistory revealed. The city the scientists discover in the South Pole was once inhabited by a race of creatures from another star, known only as the Old Ones. The Old Ones were scientifically and culturally advanced, and created servants to help them build their great cities. These servants, awful, intelligent monstrosities known as Shoggoths, eventually rebelled against their creators, making this ancient story literally older than mankind.
Surprisingly to me, given Lovecraft's usual xenophobia and characterization of the alien as unknowable and inimical, his narrator displays an almost touching compassion and understanding for the Old Ones, observing that they were simply "men of another age, albeit alien."
In the climax, the awful truth is revealed, there is much slime and carnage, and the narrator narrowly escapes from the terrible underground tunnels of the ancient city of the Old Ones.
You will never see penguins the same way again. Tekeli-li!
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
H.P. Lovecraft was a decidedly pulpy writer, but his best stories still maintain their delicious, vintage creepiness. This one is no exception. Written in the 1930s, it builds from a premise that would no longer work in the 21st century, the idea that one of the last unknown regions of the world might contain great and terrible things.
However limited Lovecraft's storytelling and characterization gifts were, it's hard to fault his imagination. He succeeds in creating a vivid sense of an Antarctic waste in which explorers encounter a never-before-seen chain of towering mountains, under whose shadows they unearth some strange fossils. Soon, horrific disaster befalls part of the team, and the narrator (who is writing his recollections from a few years hence) and a companion decide to take one of their planes and explore beyond the mysterious mountains in search of answers.
What they find -- and what the narrator has told no else of -- is a vast, abandoned city millions of years old. Who (and what) were the inhabitants? Where did they come from? Where did they go? Is there some unspeakable evil that still lurks in the depths? (Well, duh -- it's Lovecraft.) You'll just have to read to find out.
If the ending is a little anti-climactic and Lovecraft has an annoying tendency to lead the reader, most notably by having the the protagonist discern a detailed historical narrative from stone reliefs on the wall (how helpful of the artists to have gotten all that information in there), the slow, eerie build-up is worth it. One can hear the footsteps echoing in the dust of long-abandoned, cyclopean halls, as the polar winds howl in the crags beyond. Is there a warning about humanity’s own course in this frightening place? Will we heed it? An interesting question for Lovecraft to have asked, considering all that has happened since the 1930’s. It's a shame that plans for a Guillermo del Toro film version seem to have gotten canned -- that would have been really cool.
Definitely a book I'm glad to have found on sale for a couple bucks -- and listened to during a freak winter thunderstorm. The British-accented audiobook reader works just fine as a middle-aged scientist.
I could wile away the hours...
Edward Hermann does a wonderful job reading this pseudoscientific yarn of things that go bump in the Antarctic night, about an expedition so shudderingly terrifying to the cool scientists who undertake it, that it must never be repeated. Never! Somewhere in the abyss, deep in the shadows, half glimpsed and indistinctly understood, lives a horrible ancient secret that looks and sounds like a nightmarish... [I won't spoil it] ... derailed. Pustular, foul-smelling, impenetrably dark and evil. Heads rolls and ichor oozes. Fly from the station! Fly you fools, fly!
I especially enjoyed Lovecrafts use of the English language, and Mr.Herrman's outstanding read.
Like many Poe stories.
The narrator. He was an eyewitness to something he hoped no humans would ever see again..while he was reporting events objectively, he was also trying to convey a dire warning.
"Classic horror by the master!"
This is the longest of lovecrafts stories and the best example of how his tales build tension, and the atmospheric horror he was famous for. Told in a first person perspective, at the mountains of madness recounts a failed expedition to the vast unexplored lanscapes of Antartica. Shortly after arriving at their campsite, one of the group sets out on a solo trip in one of the planes. He sends word to the rest of the party that he has made several amazing discoveries, discoveries that defy belief. He relays several updates back to excited camp and informs them of large fossils which he has managed to make ready for the return flight, but which seem to set the huskies on edge.
Soon after the contact stops, leaving the party no choice but to set out on a rescue mission. As the two man rescue party finally spot the landing site of their missing member and land the plane, they are met with a scene of disturbing signs.
From this point on, Lovecraft builds the terror expertly but never shows the creature or presence that is overshadowing every step the explorers take. The setting of Antarctica is used as one of the characters in this tale to great effect. Lovecraft uses the isolation as a sharpening stone to the growing paranoia of the explorers.
This is a master of atmospheric horror at his best!
"An Excellent Introduction! Madness Indeed!"
I am not sure if I can honestly answer the question having listened to many audiobooks, almost none of which were horror. Despite the only exception being the Audible edition of the Dracula novel I believe this is one of the best in my collection. Brilliant world-building and nightmareish atmosphere turn this story into one of exquisite terror I could hardly put down!
I will try my best not to spoil any major story elements for new listeners as I was but I will say that my favourite part would be during the major storm and immediately afterwards. And also...the chants at the end. Horror itself.
The performance I originally found somewhat unusual due to the fact that it sounded much like a classical radio broadcast. However given the age of the original source material it fits. I particularly enjoyed the sense of overcoming dread that the quiet gentle nature of the narration gave the performance. There were moments where - 80 plus years on - I could sense the abject fear on the page and in the character's minds as well as the scientific curiosity. Bravo Mr Herrmann.
Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! I highly recommend this book. Buy it as soon as you can.
"Boring. Reads like a world-building summary..."
This is the first H.P. Lovecraft I've listened to and it will be the last. In fact, as soon as I'm finished this review, I'm going to take advantage of audible's lovely refund policy.
This came across like an author's world-building notes rather than a story. It focused almost entirely on detailed descriptions (down to minute level, which often made it feel like a science textbook), lacked any sort of character building (no character interaction or insights, zero dialogue), and relied on the protagonist's occasional declaration of feeling (e.g. 'it was terrifying') to establish any sort of atmosphere and even then it was minimal. I found it terribly dull.
The narration was without fault; unfortunately it couldn't save the book.
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