February 5, 2014

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (Review)

Title: At the Mountains of Madness
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
First published: 1936
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This was my first Lovecraft and unfortunately I was not in the least impressed. Tell me, have I started at the wrong place? It seemed a proper place, though. I mean, what can go wrong with the remnants of an old and mysterious civilization found deep in the Antarctic? It's an AWESOME plot! However, the way the story is written robs it of all its awesomeness.

The first problem is that everything is told, not shown. It can be a successful literary device, but in a horror story it's totally anticlimactic. (There are spoilers ahead, but I don't believe they will affect your reading because the story is plain and devoid of suspense anyway) Let me give you an example. Part of the expedition has disappeared. Another part comes to the place where their last camp was and see something HORRIBLE, which the narrator CAN'T SPEAK ABOUT, which HAS RUINED HIS LIFE... Then he proceeds to tell what fake story they have reported, what was done next, and only like 40 pages after, when he is already in some other place, does he give some hint of what was exactly seen. I, as a reader, am already pissed off and ready to through the book out of the window.

Another thing that bothered me is that they never actually SEE those elder creatures, although they do come to life. They see only the traces of their actions and their dead bodies. How do the explorers then know about what was life like for them? From reliefs! They are able to tell the whole story of that old civilization from just looking at the reliefs adorning the walls for a couple of hours. Has Lovecraft ever tried to interpret a relief in his life? As someone who has studied the history of art for three years, I tell you it's not that easy! Unless of course their art is really different from ours, but then they would not be able to understand it anyway.

And, of course, the writing. It's so descriptive that it just makes me sleepy. For more than 50 pages they explore the old city, looking at the reliefs and having some horrible premonitions. No less than 5 times the narrator compares the scenery with that on Roerich's pictures. OK, OK, Lovecraft, calm down! I got it from the first mention already! It's no necessary to emphasize how in awe of Roerich you are...

In my book:
Wonderful premise, but pitiful realization.


  1. Unfortunately, that's pretty much Lovecraft's style. His short stories are more bearable and one actually gave me a nightmare but that was not due to his writing as much as it was due to my own imagination. Because he didn't go into a lot of detail, describing things, my overactive imagination filled in a lot of blank. End result? Nightmare.

    Vivid descriptions of violence were not typically published and, when they were, they were often banned or censored in some way. I don't know if he avoided lurid details for that reason or not. I just know that his writing was an inspiration for a lot of later horror masters, like Stephen King, and even Joyce Carol Oates lauds his influence over the horror genre as a whole. Even H R Giger has said that much of his art is inspired by Lovecraft. Do I get it? No. I frankly never found Lovecraft compelling enough to read more than one novel and two short stories.

    1. Well, usually I don't need the detail, because my imagination can also be too responsive... But this story just didn't trigger it at all!

      I know he's super-important and a classic of horror, that's why I expected so much from him. I guess it's the case when it's better to read the derivative works, not the original...

  2. Interesting, I read my first (and so far only) Lovecraft story in autumn, and loved it. It was Shadow over Innsmouth. It was just so creepy and I liked the pacing and don't remember problems with descriptiveness, but it may also be because I am not familiar with horror genre so I don't actually know what's good and what's not. Still, even now I have serious problems looking at fish, for some reason.......

    1. Maybe I should try Shadow over Innsmouth then. I'm also not familiar with the genre at all, but something tells me it should be at least a little bit scary :) And I can see a huge potential of the plot, so it just pains me to see it spoiled with the bad narrative...


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