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At the Mountains of Madness
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1001 Monthly Group Read > January {2009} Discussion -- AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS by H.P. Lovecraft

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message 1: by Denise (new)

Denise | 243 comments Ok, it's time. I noticed at least one other person listed this on the "just started" or "just finished" threads.

I found myself more interested in the story of H.P. Lovecraft himself, than of this book. That doesn't mean I didn't like it. I did have to read it more like an assignment than as a story I could lose myself in. Still, I appreciated things about it. And not just that it was short.

I did like the descriptions of landscape and of scientific expeditition in harsh, magnificent terrain. I was not overwhelmed by a sense of horror myself, but I found it easy to follow how the narrator and his partner in exploration had been.

I did experience a sense of doom based on my assumptions of human nature. My belief is that the narrator will be unsuccessful in his attempt to prevent other explorers from attempting to study what he was warning them away from.

Lorena (lorenalilian) | 19 comments I find that while reading Lovecraft I never have that sense of being frighten per say but I almost always have disturbing dreams after reading him.

This particular story was so rich in description and amazing attention to detail that I kept thinking "this would make an awesome movie in the right hands". I like this sense of personal despair for a horror story set up much more than the traditional monster story.

message 3: by mara (new)

mara | 220 comments Mod
Well this kind of is the traditional monster story, though, isn't it? In fact, my reaction was to think of the story as kind of cute/quaint - don't look behind you! It isn't scary because it was written really before film and the genre took horror to that whole 'nother level, so to speak...But it gets really good is all I'll say, especially if you like Super Mario Bros. 3. Last 80 pages or so are really fun.

message 4: by Jill (new)

Jill (wanderingrogue) | 9 comments Lorena wrote: "This particular story was so rich in description and amazing attention to detail that I kept thinking "this would make an awesome movie in the right hands". I like this sense of personal despair for a horror story set up much more than the traditional monster story."

Guillermo Del Toro has plans to do a movie adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, so you might actually get to see it (after he's finished with his several other projects). If anyone could bring it faithfully to the big screen, it's Del Toro.

message 5: by Elizabeth (last edited Jan 17, 2009 07:12AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Elizabeth I just couldn't get into this book. I agree completely that the level of description was amazing, but the narrative seemed detached somehow. It made me feel like I was reading a text book on the Antartic landscape and the "Old Ones". I could not wait for it to end. Longest short story ever.

Also because of that same feeling of detachment with the narrative, I really don't think that the main character would have convinced anyone not to go there. If anything, I think that they would have felt encouraged. Afterall, curiousity is such a strong part of humanity.

Oh and Lorena - I had weird dreams too. So even though I really didn't like this book it certainly left an impression.

Lorena (lorenalilian) | 19 comments Jill - Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorites! I hope he gets the chance to work on this, I would be one to watch that film opening week.

Elizabeth - That is one of the things that amazes me most about Lovecraft, while I am reading him I don't feel particularly affected but the stories stay with me in different levels, including my dreams. I must say I agree with you about only being able to take him in small dosis, I have been reading a compilation of his short stories/novellas since September last year, and I can only manage one in between other books before I feel a bit overwhelmed by his style.

message 7: by Henrik (last edited Jan 18, 2009 07:15AM) (new)

Henrik | 9 comments Elizabeth wrote: "I agree completely that the level of description was amazing, but the narrative seemed detached somehow. It made me feel like I was reading a text book on the An..."

Well, it sort of depends on what kind of person you yourself are, whether the horror "gets you", then + whether anyone would take the warning not to go and explore again. (Although I am pretty sure that Lovecraft (HPL) was very aware that of course mankind is foolish enough to go and explore--that's really part of the horror;-))

HPL deliberately wrote this in a dry, scientific language, since his belief was that only by using the "truth language" of modern times--the scientific one--could a weird tale really hit something in modern man. The premise being, of course, that modern man accepts science as "the truth teller" of the world. The old, classic ghost stories etc. didn't work any more, he thought, so something new had to be added.

HPL had a theorical basis for a weird tale (incl. the horror tale), saying that the genuine weirdness/horror in a tale had to be an extension of science & its results, not (as it was before) a contradition. Which is why, in essense, I think At the Mountains of Madness is such a success. Although I do like his other late, long tale, The Shadow Out of Time, better.

Mara, I must confess that I don't understand your reference to Super Mario Bros 3. Can you elaborate, please?

message 8: by Christina (new)

Christina | 186 comments For me, all the long descriptions of the landscapes and the exploration's goals etc was a way for HPL to set up the narrator as a scientific and rational man that wouldn't normally believe in anything super-natural so that when he believes it, you can't just dismiss it as being nonsense or the ramblings of a madman.
So I saw it as the author's way of making the horror more real - but that's maybe just another way of saying what Henrik said ;-)
And I don't think anyone will be scared away from investigating further by that account...
I liked the story - but the lengthy descriptions dragged it down for me. I loved the plot twist however!

message 9: by Delirious (new)

Delirious | 3 comments I thoroughly enjoyed this story but then again I like alot of old school horror. I'm brand new to goodreads and this group (obviously), so it's just coincidence that I recently read some Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle horror stories. I'll be the first to admit none of them were all that "horrific" compared to some of their modern counterparts but I really liked most of them.

I loved HPL's descriptions of the surroundings and the atmoshpere he was able to create. I thought it effectively created a sense of isolation and feelings of impending doom. I kept having flashbacks to John Carpenter's movie The Thing during the early parts of the story.

I felt the suspense leading up to the exploration of the alien structures was far superior to the revelations the found there. Just a weak finish to a very strong first half of the story.

message 10: by Karyn The Pirate (new)

Karyn The Pirate (krazykaryn) Since I am a big fan of HPL I am a little biased. However, it took me 3 reads to get into this story. Once in I was really hooked. I think the science in the story makes it that much more believable to the reader. Society today is still a great believer in the fact that if a scientist says it or writes it, then it is truth (not to mention the media.) I just know that I was so into this story that someone came up to me and made me jump.

message 11: by Melissa (new)

Melissa  (melsbooksandinfo) Lorena wrote: "I find that while reading Lovecraft I never have that sense of being frighten per say but I almost always have disturbing dreams after reading him..."

I know what you mean about disturbing dreams. I guess it is my fault since I read right before bed, but since I have been reading this book my dreams have been downright weird--creepy even.

I do like how he sets up his story, he gives you so many facts and in such a scientifically objective manner that it makes the story all that more suspenseful.

message 12: by Timmy (new)

Timmy I agree about the stories getting under your skin in unexpected ways. I think Lovecraft's horror is most effective when lurking beneath the surface. His details form unspoken implications that end up being much more horrific than anything described. He tries to capture the overwhelming feeling of insignificance, mind-blowing terror, and worldview shattering awe that would plow into you during the discovery of a physically, dimensionally, and temporally alien civilization.

message 13: by Karyn The Pirate (new)

Karyn The Pirate (krazykaryn) One thing about the story I did not truly understand is the extent of information the narrator gleaned from the sculptures and wall scenes. It must have been extremely detailed for what I thought was artwork on the walls of the dwellings.

message 14: by mara (last edited Jan 26, 2009 10:10AM) (new)

mara | 220 comments Mod
Karyn, I had the same reaction to the wall scenes. But then think about how we extrapolate so much from ancient art ourselves. In my first few years of college a few classes handed out the essay "Body Ritual Among the Acirema" which always made me laugh. It pokes fun of that kind of thing.

Henrik, thank you for this explaining the dry, scientific tone. The style is actually common for that time and comes out of an earlier tradition going back through the 19th century. Frankenstein is written in that same style. And even Poe's stories, the ones written in third person, are too. And even Wuthering Heights is written from that objective thrid party fact-relating stance. The narrator is either objective and simply relating truths, or not objective but communicates a commitment to write so for the sake of staying true to the ideal of rationality. In fact, this story is kind of on the tipping point into mid 20th century where belief in objectivity starts losing ground and giving way to the idea that it is all subjective/relative, etc, which is pretty much the dominent world view we're in now and is reflected in a more emotive/ less analytic tone in our fiction...But, yeah, for sure the dryness can be a little hard to swallow, but if the style becomes familiar it's easier to overlook.

Oh, Super Mario Bros. that was just silly. I was thinking of the penguin in the last level where you have to navigate through the ice tunnels and slides and to reach the penguin...Sorry if I ruined the last scene for anyone (which I really loved - not at all what I had expected!)

message 15: by mara (new)

mara | 220 comments Mod
Also, why is the Shadow Over Time better? I might want to read more from this author

Kristi (kristilarson) | 267 comments I read this book in 2 days, and I wish I owned a copy so I could do it again. Mostly because I liked it, and also because I feel like I could visualize it better a second time. I didn't mind the technical sound to it, since I'm a scientist. It made him sound like an authority on the topic. Although, his knowledge of the history of the Old Ones seemed a little exaggerated. I mean, how could they figure that out in a couple of hours? Maybe the Old Ones were just so advanced that their art was able to portray everything so well.

I doubt that his story would prevent people from venturing into the area. Just think what this would do for the theory of evolution (and Christianity)?!

Did anyone notice that 'shewing' was used instead of the word 'showing,' or was it just my edition?

message 17: by Henrik (new)

Henrik | 9 comments Kristi,

Yes--HPL was by birth an American but at heart an Englishman (a so-called gentleman, even), so he spelled things the British way. Furthermore, he preferred the English of the 1700s, which crept into much of his spelling--incl. "shewing";-)

IN HPL's opinion that was the time English was perfected.

As for the "preventing people to venture into the area" idea: HPL the person certainly knew that people would, in case any thing like this ever happened in real life--curiosity is simply too strong. And he himself would have loved that, I think, since he was a strong advocate for evolution and against religion (in casu Christianity). So if some final evidence could destroy religion he would have loved it. (Here I ignore for a minute that things are really not that simple re. evolution, hehe.)

In any case, although the scientific voice of the narrator on the whole represents something HPL believed in (see what I wrote earlier re. dry writing), I do not believe the narrator is a representation of HPL of himself; rather he is a representation of a more general sort. In which case I think he is right: Many people, if they had experienced things like that, even if very scientifically minded, would sincerely hope no one followed up on it.

As for the knowledge gained by the art: I do think such intimate knowledge--or, at any rate, inductive reasoning based on the art's information--is possible, cf. both what you said (advanced art) + Mara's comment.

Mara--I'll reply to your question re. "Out of Time" a little later:-)

message 18: by Henrik (new)

Henrik | 9 comments Delirious, what are the "modern counterparts" you refer to in message #9? I am honestly interested to hear:-)

I find that waaay too much modern so-called horror is boring and not interesting at all; all about gore & shock value and none about genuine atmosphere and horror. (A writer like Thomas Ligotti an obvious exception; what a mindblowing imagination.) But I'd love some recommendations:-)

message 19: by Derrick (new)

Derrick (afderrick) | 93 comments I'm not much of a horror film fan at all. So when I started opening this book I was a little worried that I would find it too scarey and not be able to finish it. So far I'm about halfway through the book but I wanted to jump into the conversation here anyway.

It was mentioned that HPL was a believer in evolution. I find that this story is written in such a way that if your belief system is evolution you may find it much more frightening. Then again, maybe I've not gotten to the frightening part. I do not believe in evolution. Thus, I feel that plays a large part in the depth I am involved with the storyline.

The other thing I find interesting in the book is the scientific nature that it was written in. Being a computer technician I do not find it difficult to understand but I find it cold and uninviting. This also is making it difficult for me to get lost in the story. Now that being said it was written in a way that would make it more believable than some other fictional story. For instance, I did find myself looking up these "mountains of madness" online to see if there were in fact mountains in Antartica that are higher than the Himalayas. I was disappointed to find that was not the case at all and so continued reading the book with the understanding that the mountain range being discussed is fictional.

On the point of dreams, people have mentioned while reading and just after reading this story they have some very outlandish dreams. After the past two nights of some restless sleeping I will say that the book is having the same affect on me. The interesting part is that the dreams are in no way related to the story at all. So I'm not sure why I am having the dreams. Perhaps it is simply the suggestions from reading other people's comments.

message 20: by mara (last edited Jan 29, 2009 10:10AM) (new)

mara | 220 comments Mod
"Being a computer technician I do not find it difficult to understand but I find it cold and uninviting"

That's exactly it - but in a way I think it's effective. Can't you hear that cold, grim-style bass monotone voice of the gray-faced, droopy-eyed narrator, you know telling his story behind a musty old wingback chair, with - I don't know - the pupils of this eyeballs missing or something?

message 21: by Melissa (new)

Melissa McClintock (melissableuz) Henrik wrote: "Kristi,

Yes--HPL was by birth an American but at heart an Englishman (a so-called gentleman, even), so he spelled things the British way. Furthermore, he preferred the English of the 1700s, which ..."

Derrick wrote: "I'm not much of a horror film fan at all. So when I started opening this book I was a little worried that I would find it too scarey and not be able to finish it. So far I'm about halfway through..."


I agree with everything you wrote here. There is something I couldn't put words around. I hated the book by the way. Yet it did follow me, not in dreams, but it did have some effect.

Wierd, it must be he knows how to affect a psychological aspect of the reader or I doubt it was the comments from others..

i never heard about it til now.


message 22: by mara (last edited Jan 30, 2009 09:30AM) (new)

mara | 220 comments Mod
I thought the comment about evolution was interesting. It all really ties together doesn't it? The vast unpredictability of the landscape, the vast unpredictability of life itself evolving from nothing, from sludge, into something, separate from any human-centered plan, separate even from Earth, the agitated foreboding narrative tone, the icy scientific style - it all gets under your skin and really is effective.

The most fascinating part for me was the treatment of the Shoggoths - how they seemingly evolved beyond their use as mimic-servants to turn on their masters, but really the fact that they became oppressors is only a function of what they were programmed to do - which makes a statement (maybe a premature, undeveloped one that shows how relatively new and fearsome the idea was...) about evolution - that it does not favor benevolence or even what we think of as civilization (art, societies, etc), that fear and dread play a role in who "wins" and not the plan of a benevolent god or universal plan - frightening indeed

Aside from that, I really loved the detail - towards the end and past the boring biology textbook tone of the first half

"When we had followed the thing into the archway and turned both our torches on the indifferent and unheeding group of three, we saw that they were all eyeless albinos of the same unknown and gigantic species. Their size reminded us of some of the archaic penguins depicted in the Old Ones' sculptures, and it did not take us long to conclude that they were descended from the same stock-undoubtedly surviving through a retreat to some warmer inner region whose perpetual blackness had destroyed their pigmentation and atrophied their eyes to mere useless slits. That their present habitat was the vast abyss we sought, was not for a moment to be doubted; and this evidence of the gulf's continued warmth and habitability filled us with the most curious and subtly perturbing fancies."

Giant, eyeless penguins perpetually wandering in the dark tunnels, persued by a malevolent slime...Damn this is good stuff! What an imagination

message 23: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 2 comments I am contemplating as to which story I should read. H.P. had written so many short stories, it's hard to pick where to start. I have read bits and pieces of Re-Animator, and so far I am impressed. More as it develops.

message 24: by Derrick (new)

Derrick (afderrick) | 93 comments Finished it last night. Wouldn't have said it was scary but it was an intense read. Still, the style of speaking in the book just left me unattached to it.

message 25: by mara (last edited Feb 06, 2009 01:21PM) (new)

mara | 220 comments Mod
Not scary?! But it had slimy space creatures and oozy stuff! And humongous blind penguins!

Eliza (elizac) | 77 comments I have to agree with the not scary, but I did really love the way that he built suspense throughout the book.

message 27: by Henrik (new)

Henrik | 9 comments Derrick, you wrote:

I did find myself looking up these "mountains of madness" online to see if there were in fact mountains in Antartica that are higher than the Himalayas. I was disappointed to find that was not the case at all ...

Fair enough. But if I remember correctly, at the time HPL wrote the story, much of the central part of Antartica was still uncharted and unknown territory--so at the time it was quite possible he could be right. Adding to the horror back then, I am sure. HPL also had quite a vast knowledge on the scientific discoveries of his day--incl. about Antartica--which explains why much of the rest of it sounds "real".

Interestingly enough, btw, I read a few years ago that there's been discoveries on Antartica suggesting huge, natural underground tunnels, lakes etc. far below the surface...

Perhaps there's even a humongous blind penguin or two???;-)

message 28: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 2 comments Derrick wrote: "Finished it last night. Wouldn't have said it was scary but it was an intense read. Still, the style of speaking in the book just left me unattached to it."

Indeed, perhaps so.

message 29: by mara (new)

mara | 220 comments Mod
That would be interesting, the underground tunnels and everything.

It is unfortunate that the style is so dry until near the end. I really did think it was worth getting to the last half for the descriptions of the creatures and the story of their civilization.

message 30: by Derrick (new)

Derrick (afderrick) | 93 comments Okay, if they find blind penguins living underground, I'm going to start building a shelter.

Lorena (lorenalilian) | 19 comments LOL!

Katharine | 25 comments I finished the story a while ago, and I did enjoy it though I felt it dragged in some parts. Some of the suspense built up was brilliant, especially when they were meant to be heading to the camp and suddenly lost contact with the others.

I have been reading a couple of his other stories, as this one was part of an anthology. The second story I read "the Case of Charles Dexter Ward" was very different, and I have to say I enjoyed it more. It was very mysterious and based around a man delving into the past of his ancestor, whom he discovers was a demonologist. I think I preferred this as I found the human aspect of Mountains more intense and interesting than the monsters, especially when they went into the city and discovered their history, to be honest I scanned a lot of this as it didn't interest me at all!

Another of the stories centres around a man who has strange dreams when lodging in a room formerly occupied by a witch (so perhaps not for those of you who have been having strange dreams from Mountains!)
I haven't finished this yet but I am finding it just as intense, so I would encourage people that didn't really love Mountains to try some of his other short stories, there is much enjoyment to be had!

message 33: by Jill (new)

Jill (wanderingrogue) | 9 comments I highly recommend the story "Shadow Over Innsmouth" if you want a great and creepy Lovecraft story. It's one of my favorites. They made it into a movie called Dagon, but the story itself is far better. Interestingly enough, there is also a Lovecraft story called "Dagon", IIRC. But it's not the same story as the movie.

message 34: by Kristin (last edited Feb 13, 2009 02:28PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kristin (zildjian35) | 22 comments This is a book I probably wouldn't have read had it not been for this list/group. I found it pretty similar to Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea except that this novel was on land, wasn't as descriptive concerning animal species, and was a little drier in my opinion.

I did appreciate the importance that was stressed in this book concerning geography, evolution, geology, archaeology, science, art, and expeditions. There's still several spots on Earth that has yet to be explored and that's very exciting, especially to all of the scientists out there.

I think the main part I liked was how the penguins have persevered through climate change and predators on that lonely continent. Very impressive how that particular species has adapted throughout time.

message 35: by mara (new)

mara | 220 comments Mod
Kathryn, thanks for mentioning those stories. I think I like this story enough to want to read more by this author and the ones you mention sound promising

message 36: by Tricia (new)

Tricia | 4 comments Really? I'm perplexed that anyone found this book even remotely interesting. I really had to force myself to finish it.

message 37: by Christina (new)

Christina | 186 comments I'm currently reading through all of Lovecraft's fiction (see H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction) and it's interesting to see his development from rather blah teenage stories to more and more sophisticated ones.

In the short story A Nameless City, we follow a man investigating a strange, forsaken city in the desert - and a lot of this story is re-used in At the Mountains of Madness - but in a much better way. The man also enters the city and searches it for clues for who build and inhabited it - and again, gets more than he ever bargained for...

But there are no humongous blind penguins in the short story... ;-)

Katharine | 25 comments I saw this on the BBC website today and couldn't resist posting a link!

'Ghost Peaks' mapped under ice

message 39: by Henrik (new)

Henrik | 9 comments Hee hee... I heard it too, and planned to share it. You beat me to it, Katharine;-)

Now all we need is those giant penguins!!

message 40: by Denise (new)

Denise | 243 comments Thanks! That was an interesting read.

Leila (leilatre) | 37 comments I (finally!) read this one this week. Once again I find myself with a different reading experience than those expressed above. Maybe I'm a contrarian. :)

I loved the beginning of this story. I loved the set up, the discussion of the expedition, the building of suspense regarding what the expedition would bring. I also found it interesting to feel like the technology of the time was not particularly removed from what one might expect today. I loved the author's descriptive style.

The story lost me after the initial horror of the camp scene in the foothills. I liked the concept of the lost city and deciphering the ancient ruins and art, but the narrative style of constantly repeating how little the narrator wanted to tell the story and how he desired to leave certain details out, etc., just wore on me and felt like a forced way of creating suspense. Eventually it made me feel like I just wanted it over already, detracting from the well-written descriptions and the story of the lost city and the Old Ones.

I'll be the first to admit that horror/suspense is not a genre that I read (or watch!) very often, so I guess it isn't that surprising that those parts of the tale didn't grab me. I will say that I enjoyed his descriptive style and I'd definitely read more of his work. Maybe not starting tomorrow, but still. :)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 125 comments I half wonder if the whole point of the story isn't so much the horror prospects (despite the many many times the narrator says that he's trying to deter future exploration) but rather him subversively actually encourage said exploration, because he KNOWS as a scientist the he couldn't resist the urge himself to go explore a whole vast network of prehistoric paintings (at least prehistoric to us) that give us a whole new glimpse of life on the planet. I think he does it right before the other expedition is set to go out because he wants credit for finding the creatures first.... doesn't want some other group to go in there later and claim credit for his "find." But he's had to wait all this time before announcing it so other people wouldn't think he was crazy....and because he had to wait until another expedition was getting ready to go, so it was already in progress before he made his claims. Classic "I saw it first!"

Maybe not really Lovecraft's intention in the story, but honestly, probably the more realistic.

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