book review: at the mountains of madness

It’s kind of sad when the Lovecraft book is the least racist in a series, but it’s also kind of good, because I really like At the Mountains of Madness. Most of why I like it is because of how ass-backwardsly the story is told.

The first 40% is telling the reader this story as a kind of cautionary tale about going back to Antarctica, but it’s done in this “As you know from the news reports…” style that doesn’t convey a lot of cautionaryness. Then the last 60% is a recounting of 14 hours that got glossed over the first time the story was told.

In those missing 14 hours the narrator and a pilot went off investigating an alien city. The most frustrating thing about this part of the story is how hyper-competent this geologist and pilot were at deciphering millions of years of history written in sculpture and alien dot languages in flashlight lit bas-reliefs on walls. I mean, the amount of backstory they deciphered was unimaginable. Lovecraft puts forward that their discoveries that these Elder Things (I use the more standardized term as opposed to Old Ones which is used in the story, because these aliens are fundamentally different from the Great Old Ones and I’m not a big fan of confusing them) had a civilization millions of years ago before fighting Cthulhoid creatures as well as the fungi from Yuggoth as sanity shaking, but the fact that a few hours in a cave could figure all that shit out is amazing. There must be stories that take this story and run with it in the “that guy made up a whole pile of crazy shit direction” right?

But the description in parts is pretty awesome. It’s a very exploratory story, and I like that. If it had a more sensible timeline I’d like it better. The actual horrific reveals are good and understated and not prefaced by the narrator’s “I must be direct even though i don’t want to. I have to warn you, but not intrigue you” shtick, which gets old really fast.

But the whole thing, though it’s told weirdly and you know that they get out all rightish because the end is written 40% into the story, is kind of endearing. Lovecraft’s obsession with decadence is in there but that’s about as offensive as it gets. It works as a story and I like it like an odd uncle.

At the Mountains of Madness draws on Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, but much more obliquely than Verne’s Antarctic Mystery (and there’s no reference to the Verne tale at all).

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