Friday, September 24, 2010


At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror collects H. P. Lovecraft’s eponymous novella (originally published in 1936) and three short stories: “The Shunned House” (1937), “The Dreams in the Witch-House” (1933), and “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1920).

In At the Mountains of Madness, an Antarctic survey team discovers the ruins of an ancient city, whose creators have conveniently left an easily-deciphered complete history of their civilization illustrated on the walls. This is one of Lovecraft’s later works, and in it, he substantially demythologizes his Cthulhu mythos, which previously had often featured a supernatural focus but here receives a rather thorough science fiction explanation.  

If you’ve read any quantity of Lovecraft before, you’ll find this novella fairly predictable. And if you’ve read a lot of Lovecraft, you realize you can’t go anywhere in his world without stumbling over some infestation of trans-worldly evil.

This is one of Lovecraft’s longer works, and it’s a bit of a slow builder, although it does pick up nicely as it goes. Lovecraft’s strength here is the usual one: atmosphere. Because of its isolation and severe environment, Antarctica lends itself particularly well to horror, and on top of that Lovecraft does a great job of depicting the atmosphere of the lost city.

The three short stories here have considerably more in common with one another than with Mountains, and they feel like padding to make this volume book-length (Additionally, this volume’s stupid cover has nothing to do with any of the stories within). But briefly, “The Shunned House” takes too long to get going and falls somewhat flat once it does, “The Dreams in the Witch-House,” something of a thematic bridge between the other two stories, is a disjointed mess, and “The Statement of Randolph Carter” is a vintage second-hand account of lurking horrors.

At the Mountains of Madness is hardly Lovecraft’s best story, but it may be some of the best atmosphere he’s ever done. I recommend the novella, whether you get it with extra mediocre stories or not.