Benjamin2011-02-07
At the Mountains of Madness

by H. P. Lovecraft
For whatever reason, I\'d never read this before. Reading it now in the context of Rider Haggard and Burroughs was interesting, however. While She would mention, every so often, that it was a True Story and not merely a Fanciful Tale, for the most part it was concerned with outlandish peoples and unheard of magic.

Lovecraft, on the other hand, goes to ridiculous extents to convince the reader of the trustworthiness of his narrators. It reminds me of an essay I read about Stoker\'s Dracula pointing out that the first several chapters are deliberately quotidian, that the later weirdness might seem more grounded.

Lovecraft spends really the majority of the story showing us how reliable and Scientific his scientists are. He spends pages and pages describing the expedition, the early fossil finds, the type of drill used to find them, &c. In theory (and perhaps in practice, many decades ago) this would create a creeping dread as things get, ever so slowly, more and more weird. In practice, however, it was dull as anything.

I was effectively reading a detailed and precise account of a polar expedition that never happened. An account of the expedition itself, you understand, not of the participants. Even the narrator doesn\'t really have any sort of character or personality, although I know how many flashlight batteries he packed.

And then once they arrive at the \"blasphemous\" (what the hell does Lovecraft think that word means, anyway?) ruins, they discover a series of stone carvings that tell the history of the Old Ones. In other words, infinitely less action and more exposition!

Finally they find an underground cavern full of six foot tall blind albino penguins, and then they are chased by a Shoggoth. The part takes about fifteen pages, at most.

Having said all that, the core concept is really cool. And I\'m quite good at filtering out the boring bits, so I enjoyed myself. The Shoggoth itself is neat--it can take any form it likes, and it chooses a massive, fast-moving form that reminds the narrator of a oncoming subway train.

Anyway, I certainly didn\'t hate reading it; I enjoyed it. But now that I think back on it, it seemed to magnify all of Lovecraft\'s weaknesses. I suppose it showed off his strengths, as well (scale, general weird creepiness, &c.)... but it was just too long for them to be terribly potent.

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