In which we are treated to the history of the star-headed, alien squid people.
So, we’re back, and things are continuing apace. When I last left off, kindly but otherwise besotted geologist William Dyer had just found his colleague, Professor Lake, murdered, along with his crew. Notably missing from this slaughter were three things: a member of the expedition, a dog and the mysterious corpses that Lake had been going on about in Chapter III.
At least one of these mysterious disappearances is solved almost immediately. Near the sight of this slaughter, Dyer finds several star-shaped “grave mounds” and in light of this revelation we are treated to the first of what are to be several of Dyers’s curious implementations of his reasoning faculties.
While I would assume that most people, having just been informed by their colleague that a menacing-looking race of super creatures was at least in very close vicinity, would proceed with some caution when pondering the nature of these creatures, and especially any odd occurrences that might be a result thereof, Dyer does not do any of this. No, he thinks that a member of Lake’s expedition must have “gone mad,” then slaughtered his fellow explorers and dug the suspicious grave mounds in a moment of manic inspiration.
Maybe I’m over-indulging in my perspective as a reader, but this seems a little far-fetched. Anyway, I paid it little mind because, once again, Lovecraft was able to distract me with a deftly employed slow reveal.
Having investigated the wreck of the second camp, Dyer sets out with a fellow explorer—“young” Danforth—to take a look at the mysterious city, as reported by Lake. And what a city they find.
It might be simply because standards of design have changed, but for all the description that Lovecraft ladles carefully onto the abandoned city of the Old Ones, it sounds like kind of a hokey place. Of course, it doesn’t help that Lovecraft’s love of description sometimes runs away with itself. There are “pyramidal,” “triangular” and “ovoid” architectural features in this lost city; the place is replete with bas-relief, cartouches, chambers, archways and catacombs.
It is in his city’s loving description that you receive a glimpse, I think, of Lovecraft’s real passion. Like the passages describing the Old Ones themselves, it seems like Lovecraft is just trying so damned hard to describe his creations accurately that he’s almost tripping over himself in the effort. It is a situation where less, perhaps, would have been more, but “less” was definitely not in the cards.
For me, the best parts of At the Mountains of Madness have been when Lovecraft’s obsessions overlap somewhat with my own and we both bask for a moment in our mutual fetishes for the imagined. The description of the city didn’t quite do this for me; the description of its history did.
After discovering the lost city of the Old Ones, Dyer and Danforth set out on foot to explore it. They find a series of frescoes and sculptures that tell (in surprising detail) the history of the Old Ones and their civilization on Earth.
Apparently the Old ones, able to withstand interstellar travel, came to Earth and originally colonized the oceans, where they built vast, underwater cities. They then repeated this trick on land, bioengineering Earth’s flora and fauna in order to provide themselves with food and entertainment. (There’s a fun aside where Lovecraft implies that humans evolved from the Old Ones’ resident jester.) The Old Ones then underwent an extensive war with several different species, the most interesting of which were the “Cthulu Spawn”—tentacled creatures that feature heavily in Lovecraft’s mythology.
There is a lot of mythology in The Mountains of Madness. Lovecraft is constantly making references to the “Necronomicon,” amongst other of his universe’s apocrypha. As I continue reading this book, it strikes me that this is really the appeal of Lovecraft’s universe: it’s so complete. It’s obvious that Lovecraft had a blast filling in the odd corners of his fictional world, and it’s fun to see what wound up in that space.
Too bad his talents as an architect of fiction didn’t have quite the same pickiness…
Next: Giant penguins, blob monsters and the true reason behind the demise of the Old Ones.