Thursday, July 30, 2009
When I was in the peak of my Lovecraft phase-somewhere between 1984 and 1989-I devoured just about everything I could find by the guy. For some reason, however, I never read At the Mountains of Madness. Looking back, it's likely because I read the rather tedious Randolph Carter dream cycle novellas, and wrote a lengthy paper on their Jungian symbolism, and I was simply exhausted by the ornate and often leaden prose and ready to move on. The idea of plowing through another HPL opus became distasteful, and I put him aside for a couple decades.
Of course I never really put HPL aside, aside from in the literal sense that I stopped reading him. Those stories, in the Del Rey paperbacks with the Whelan covers, continued to haunt me in the pleasantest sense of the term. Just last fall on a camping trip I took a half-hour walk into the woods alone after dusk, and HPL was there in full force. Any time there are mysterious and vaguely discerned figures half-lit in the woods I am totally immersed in Lovecraft again, and while traveling I often think of eldritch horrors while scrambling on some antideluvian ruin or other. And whenever I read words like: eldritch, antideluvian, shambling, nameless, unmentionable, bizarerie, etc, I know where I first read them, and think of falling into a merciful faint lest I remember some indescribable horror or other.
So I read At the Mountains of Madness at last, and while there were a few moments of the old HPL magic, I think the story is mostly an overblown drag, like many of his novellas. There's simply too much to strain credulity, like the fact that engineers and biologists have carefully read the Necronomicon before their arctic expedition, or that a couple of scientists with a few hours would be able to read a gazillion years of history on an alien culture's carved ruins, to make the book a pleasure. HPL is at his best when he has next to no description of his creepily imagined horrors: At the Mountains of Madness has too much description, and could lose 60 pages or so for superior mood and effect. Michael Chabon might be a huge fan of the book, but he's from Columbia, MD-what the hell does he know? Give me "The Horror at Red Hook," or "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," or best of all, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," which I'm re-reading tonight.
Of course I'll gladly go see a film version if Guillermo del Toro does so as rumored...