Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: At the Mountains of Madness

I finally finish H. P. Lovecraft's longest work, At the Mountains of Madness, shortly before I read Bad Magic (which has a review here). It can best be summed up like this (page values approximate):

Page 1: Don't go to Antarctica, guys. We found something really scary there.

Page 1 to ~50: We went to Antarctica and it was really cold. Also, we heard weird piping and saw a mirage of a weird city.

(seriously you guys, we saw something really scary. My buddy totally went nuts from it.)

Page ~50 to ~70: My colleagues in the advance camp found a cave full of ancient bones and some million-year-old dead creatures that looked like sea cucumbers with tentacles. Those things were tough. Also, the dogs hate their scent. We will ignore this! Onward, for science!

(I'm not kidding, something totally freaky is in Antarctica)

Page ~70 to ~80: The other camp got trashed and some of the sea cucumber things disappeared. Woa!

(Have I mentioned the freaky thing we saw?)

Page ~80 to ~100: We flew past some weird mountains and found a city that's millions of years old. We got out and explored and somehow managed to decipher the drawings on the walls to learn the history of the sea cucumber race. They created and enslaved the shoggoths, fought the Spawn of Cthulhu and the Mi-Go, and finally went underground when it got too cold for them. Let's just skip over the part where "psychic control" and "senses beyond those of humans" are somehow depicted in art.

Page ~101: We found a big hole in the ground.


Page ~103-end: Dude seriously, that shoggoth was scary. Also, my companion saw some weird city in the clouds that made him go crazy. Yeah, I don't get it, either.

The one cool part of the story was the description of the Shoggoth, which comes at the very end and, much to my dismay, I had already read on the Wikipedia page on the topic.

Some parts of this story were so typically Lovecraft that they felt like self-parody. Just about everything they come across is indescribably terrifying. To illustrate, I leave you with this:

Had it been some trace of that bizarre musical piping over a wide range which Lake’s dissection report had led us to expect in those others - and which, indeed, our overwrought fancies had been reading into every wind howl we had heard since coming on the camp horror - it would have had a kind of hellish congruity with the aeon-dead region around us. A voice from other epochs belongs in a graveyard of other epochs. As it was, however, the noise shattered all our profoundly seated adjustments - all our tacit acceptance of the inner antarctic as a waste utterly and irrevocably void of every vestige of normal life. What we heard was not the fabulous note of any buried blasphemy of elder earth from whose supernal toughness an age-denied polar sun had evoked a monstrous response. Instead, it was a thing so mockingly normal and so unerringly familiarized by our sea days off Victoria Land and our camp days at McMurdo Sound that we shuddered to think of it here, where such things ought not to be. To be brief - it was simply the raucous squawking of a penguin.

1 comment:

bluefish said...

"What we heard was not the fabulous note of any buried blasphemy of elder earth from whose supernal toughness an age-denied polar sun had evoked a monstrous response."

Well, thank goodness for THAT. (But yes, I laughed aloud.)