Thursday, April 16, 2009

Book Review: At the Mountains of Madness...

by H.P. Lovecraft

Boy do I wish I read this book at a younger age.  A phenomenal novella, it would have had an even more profound impact on me was I not been as cynical and prejudiced against fiction of nearly all kinds as I am now.  Even still, though this book draws heavily upon its predecessors (Edgar Allen Poe and numerous other authors who wrote about Antarctica in the 19th and early 20th century), it remains the base template for a large portion of all horror/sci-fi to come after it...As nearly all science fiction films draw heavily upon Blade Runner from the mid 80's on, so it is with all horror/sci-fi books written after At the Mountains of Madness.  It truly is that groundbreaking and genre shattering.
The story of an Antarctic expedition looking for new geological and fossil specimens, the book was written at a time (early 20th century) when nearly all of Antarctica remained unexplored, the South Pole having been reached only a few years prior and many of the tallest mountains in the world remained unclimbed.  Thus, it was entirely plausible that mountain ranges higher than the Himalaya and enormous ancient cities remained hidden and as yet unseen when the story was penned.  Now, though many fewer mysteries about our world remain (if hardly any at all) the atmospherics and ability of Lovecraft to create a highly detailed world of fantasy remains the hallmark of the story.
Creatures unimagined who dissect the humans they encounter with ease and yet who themselves are torn to pieces by an even greater evil lay the groundwork for creations by authors such as King and Barker later in the century while Lovecraft is able to use the white, sterile environment of the Antarctic as the true main character of this tale.
Told in the first person by a survivor of the doomed expedition, At the Mountains of Madness will remind many of both the first and second "The Thing" films based on a later short story ("Who Goes There?") which also borrowed heavily from Lovecraft's vision.  In fact, Carpenter's monster in the more recent "The Thing" bares a striking resemblance to one of this story's creatures.
To anyone who is a fan of horror/sci-fi or stories of the unexplained and unexplored you owe it to yourself to read this novella.  As a last note, Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan's Labryinth, Hellboy, Hellboy II and the upcoming "Hobbit" movies, is reportedly in the process of turning this story into a film.  One only hopes he can do it justice...

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