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At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels…
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At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels (1985)

by H. P. Lovecraft

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‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ by Howard Phillips Lovecraft is more than a weird tale, it’s a deeply unsettling novella, akin to the most disturbing episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ ever made.
The story is, in many ways, the perfect horror story. It deals with madness, terror, the loss of self and grave personal danger both physical and particularly mental. It is deeply, deeply creepy. It is deeply, deeply good.
It also reaches out across a gulf of time and distance, being set at the beginning of the twentieth Century in New England, transporting the reader to the darker places of the world, mind and soul.
It is also charmingly atmospheric. There is a compelling sense of antiquity about the story that sets just the right tone. Charles establishes a laboratory in the attic of the family home. How charming, today any domestic lab facilities are normally to be found in the basements of residential establishments, or so I am led to believe. The only time anyone does any ‘research’ involving lab work in the upper stories of a domestic dwelling is when they are dabbling in hydroponics, and then they normally have the good manners to cover the windows with tin foil.
Considering his studies and their effect on him, Charles would have been far better off fashioning any tin foil into a protective hat.
There’s also the family doctor. Initially this thoroughly decent chap’s role is confined to merely making house calls on an increasingly erratic Charles, who like some troublesome teen is causing his parents no end of worry. Such care is fantastic enough in itself (but then again this is a work of fiction), but as the story develops he investigates Charles’s case and takes active, very active, steps to remedy the situation, including grappling with dark forces beyond the ken of normal man in order to save not just the body of his patient, but his very soul.
Obviously, the Ward family have BUPA.
Charles Dexter ward is a young man with an established and genuine, if slightly odd, passion for antiquities.
Harmless? Of course not.
This passion may be a product of growing up in ‘witch haunted’ parts of New England, with provocatively gloomy architecture and many a thought-provoking spire, but his studies lead him to develop an interest in his own ancestry, culminating in the discovery of an ancestor so awful that most writings about him have been destroyed.
Time to walk away? I think so.
Charles does not and unearths a portrait of his far from illustrious ancestor, who bears a striking resemblance to Charles himself.
Charles’ health begins to deteriorate soon after and, well, if ever there were a book to read while peeping through your fingers (a well known defence against all known, and some unknown forms, of supernatural threat), this is the one.
Lovecraft weaves terror and tragedy expertly and, while Charles brings misfortune upon himself as interest becomes compulsion becomes obsession becomes something much, much darker, he is still deserving of sympathy. When the academic, especially the historian, reaches out and actually touches the past, the hidden past, the forbidden past, might not we excuse them taking measures that others might consider anti-social, abnormal and oh, yes, illegal?
The tragedy is that it is not so much the supernatural horror that is the chief threat to young Charles (and it must be remembered that he is a young man and prone to a young man’s follies), but his own thirst for knowledge, the more forbidden the better.
There’s a reason why forbidden knowledge is forbidden, it’s because at some point, somebody decided to throw a lock around that knowledge. But there’s nothing like the passage of centuries to make modern man think they know better than the locksmen who witnessed first hand what horror is, and sought to expunge it from history.
This is a fascinating story, and not unlike a historical study itself as we share first in Charles’s dark discovers, and then those of Dr Willett even darker ones.
And, of course, now that the once great sauce is manufactured abroad, Lovecraft remains the only authentic H.P. worth consuming.
A horror classic. ( )
1 vote macnabbs | Nov 6, 2016 |
My reactions to reading this collection in 2005.

"A Mythos in His Own Image", James Turner --Turner, a Lovecraft scholar and affiliated with Arkham House, the first and premier reprinter of Lovecraft (including this edition), packs some interesting information into a ten page essay. First, he talks about how Lovecraft's personality changed markedly for the better in the last decade of his life. A few weeks before his death, he looked in wonderment at a letter of his from 1924, amazed at his callowness and lack of thinking. Turner traces the improvement in his life and fiction to the two years Lovecraft spent in New York. Lovecraft hated those years, was humiliated by them (as evidence one only has to look at the stories inspired by this period including his "The Horror at Red Hook"), but Turner said they did Lovecraft good in forcing him out into the wider world. He says the second great influence on Lovecraft's life was his exposure to amateur journalism and the friends the shy Lovecraft could communicate with, the writing he could excel and show off with. (I'm hardly the first to think that, if Lovecraft were alive today, he'd be burning his eyeballs out by spending 20 hours a day in front of the computer blogging and on newsgroups.) Turner seems to approve of the socialistic turn Lovecraft's politics and philosophy took in later years. It's understandable given the time, but I don't find it laudable. (At least, Turner, when talking about this, has the guts to note that the Great Race's socialism in Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time" is approvingly called "fascistic socialism" in 1934-1935.) I think Turner is right in saying that “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time” point to a new, more cosmic and sf story and less horror, that Lovecraft probably would have taken up had he lived longer. Turner also points out that the erudition of the narrator in Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” and Derby in “The Thing on the Doorstep” are autobiographical in that Lovecraft was quite a bright child who taught himself to read and was quite scholarly and happy -- until this idyllic period came to a crashing end when he was 14 and his grandfather Whipple Phillips died and left Lovecraft and his mother impoverished.

“At the Mountains of Madness” -- This is at least the second time I’ve read this Lovecraft effort from 1931. On the first reading, I found it too long and, probably because of the impatience of youth, filled with too much description. I liked it far better this time. In fact, while “The Colour Out of Space” may be Lovecraft’s best story (it was his favorite) in terms of building and sustaining, even upon successive readings, a feeling of horror, this may be, in terms of blending details from the real world with the details of his own imagination and sheer inventiveness, his greatest story, even better than the similar, sf flavored discovery of ancient aliens on Earth -- “The Shadow Out of Time”. Indeed, it is the closest thing to a bible for the Cthulhu Mythos that Lovecraft wrote. I think part of my appreciation is that I know a lot more about geology and paleontology, am a lot more interested in those topics, than when I last read this story in 1982. I was impressed by Lovecraft’s erudition and interest in those knowledge. I was surprised to see a reference to the maps of the Old Ones supporting “the theories of continental drift lately advanced by Taylor, Wegener, and Joly.” (had to do some online research into these names since I recognized only Wegener -- often considered the father of continental drift theory. It turns out that all were real geologists. Other names Lovecraft mention turn out to be real. The frequently mentioned eerie artwork of Nicholas Roerich really does exist, and Lovecraft was obviously a fan of that Russian. Likewise there really was a Antarctic explorer named Borchgrevingk. According to Joshi’s biography of Lovecraft, he was, earlier on, an enthusiastic follower of Antarctic exploration. One of the challenges of this story -- and a good example of what Tim Powers has cited as Lovecraft’s technique of carefully researching a factual background and fitting his fantastic elements into the interstices of that fact -- was Lovecraft building a fake Antarctic geography that incorporated the real geography. As far as his imaginative details, Lovecraft not only describes a vast, lost city in the polar wastes and the society and science and culture and art of his Old Ones (interestingly enough, this story seems to involve an earlier example of a once mechanistic society turning to engineered biological creations for its needs -- and the resulting shoggoths getting out of control), but a description of the elder history of the Earth. There is a great deal of similarity between this story and “The Shadow Out of Time”. Both have more of a sf feel than horror. Both end with the exploration of ancient alien cities by their scholar narrators, both reserve their horror not for the featured aliens but the other, subterranean races that haunt their races. Both, in fact, are rather admiring of their featured aliens, especially here where the narrator says, despite their alieness, the Old Ones “were the men of another age and another order of being”. He also, when discovering the body of another scientist the Old Ones have dissected, says his expedition wasn’t the only one collecting specimens. (I think it’s quite probably that John Campbell, Jr.’s 1938 “Who Goes There?”, a tale of an alien discovered in the Antarctic and who revives with horrible consequences, was influenced by this tale which, indeed, appeared in Astounding.) This narrator is not trying to rationalize away his experience nor is he in doubt as to its reality. Rather, he is revealing all to the world so that they will not mount further expeditions to the Antarctic. Of course, the story is quite explicitly inspired (as was Jules Verne’s “The Sphinx of the Ice Fields”) by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward -- Tim Powers, a Lovecraft fan, has said that he took his method of plot construction from H. P. Lovecraft's letters. I'm not sure what specific story Lovecraft was talking about when mentioning his method, but, this time around, I noticed that, like Powers, Lovecraft inserts historical characters in his story. Specifically, the figure of Captain Abraham Whipple who leads the raiding party on Joseph Curwen. The first times I read this novel, or twenty years ago, I didn't know he was an historical figure, but I've since heard him talked about in the Revolutioanry-era folk song "The Yankee Privateer". There are probably other historical figures (besides Judge Hathorne -- a relation to Nathaniel Hawthorne) I didn't recognize. This is still one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, and, like my most favorite, "The Colour Out of Space", springs from 1927, a very productive year for Lovecraft. It's a very good mixing of Lovecraft's antiquarian interests in 18th century America, gothic horror, and, with Yog-Sothoth, elements of the Cthulhu Mythos (which, of course, is not a concept Lovecraft himself used to organize his most famous stories).

“The Shunned House” -- This 1924 story is, in mood, sort of a rehearsal for Lovecraft's more successful The Case of Charles Dexter Ward from 1927. Set in Lovecraft's beloved hometown of Providence, it effectively uses Lovecraft's knowledge and love of the city. It also evokes, as the later novel does, the name of the historical privateer Captain Abraham Whipple (the narrator is a member of the Whipple family). It's a bizarre mix of werewolf and vampire mythologies mixed with the sort of scientific paraphernalia (the evil is dispatched by Crookes tubes and carbolic acid) that not only harks back to gothics like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein but the scientific trappings of Lovecraft's more famous tales like "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Whisperer in the Darkness". The evil here is described as an immaterial being from another dimension which sucks life out of the inhabitants of the house like a vampire. (Lovecraft mentions Exeter and vampires. I believe the town was the actual site of some bizarre stakings of corpses to put an end to a putative plague of vampires.) Lovecraft links, at the story's beginning, the tale to his idol Edgar Allan Poe in which he mentions that Poe passed by the site of real horrors when he spent time in Providence.

“The Dreams in the Witch House” -- This story is too long, but it is perhaps the quintessential combination of the various strains of Lovecraft's horror fiction. We have the very traditional trappings of horror with Black Sabbats and witches mixed with the cutting edge science of quantum mechanics and "non-Euclidean geometry" and Reimann equations. There is even a rationalized, literal version of the dream journeys Lovecraft's Randolph Carter goes on. Protagonist Walter Gilman's body really does journey to other dimensions and worlds and even seems to bring back a relic of the Old Ones (the story was written in 1932 but seems to take place in 1927 or 1930 -- before the Miskatonic University expedition to the Antarctic covered in 1931's "At the Mountains of Madness".

“The Statement of Randolph Carter” -- This 1919 story is fun even though it's early Lovecraft operating in a more traditional horror vein. It's most notable for the introduction of the Randolph Carter who features in more strange, Dunsanian stories later on. Still, I liked this story with undescribed subterranean horrors and a young Randolph Carter deemed too nervous and unsteady to accompany his friend Harley Warren who, of course, meets a bad end beneath a cemetery in Gainesville, Florida. This end is a bit jokey (and, the device of the telephone wire shows Lovecraft's interest in technology) with some unnamed entity calling up Carter and telling him that "YOU FOOL, WARREN IS DEAD!"

“The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” -- I had more tolerance for this story upon reading it a second time, after an interval of twenty-some years. It's obviously Lovecraft operating under the influence of Lord Dunsany in his themes, images, and language. I'm also more patient with long passages of description which this style features. But I can't say I liked it all that much more. I did, though, find it more interesting. First, given that the city Randolph Carter quests for turns out to be a transposed version of his childhood memories of Providence, Rhode Island, I'd be curious as to how long Lovecraft had this story in his head before he wrote it in 1927. I suspect that it was a metaphorical reaction to his return to Providence in 1926 after living in New York. Second, I find the differences between the plot and what a romantic like H. Rider Haggard or Edgar Rice Burroughs would do with the setting interesting. Carter allies himself with the loathsome ghouls though he doesn't much like them (his cat allies from Ulthar are more palatable). There are no women characters of any sort, much less a princess to save or run afoul of. Carter does not get involved with any political revolutions. The closest he comes is attacking the island of toad-like beasts (in which the unrealistic and formulaic device of splitting the attackers into three equal groups mirrors something similar in the attack on Joseph Curwen's farm in Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward from the same year) but that is an attack with little permanent consequence. This is something of a nexus for Lovecraft's various settings. Richard Pickman, from "Pickman's Model" of a year earlier, shows up as a head ghoul. Not only is the plateau of Leng mentioned (also featured in the later "At the Mountains of Madness"), but we get an actual appearance from the deity Nyarlathotep who speaks to Carter and tries to trick him into destruction while also getting him to expel the Great Ones from inhabiting the dream city he created from his memories of Providence.

“The Silver Key” -- When I first read this story, I wondered if it was written before Lovecraft's "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" because, though it covers all of Carter's life, it makes no real mention of the events of that story though it is listed as being a 1926 story and "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" is dated 1926-1927. After reading it, I found out this story was written first. It's not unusual for Lovecraft stories to begin with a philosophical statement -- "The Call of Cthulhu" being the most famous example. Here, though, the first five-and-a-half pages of an 18 page story are taken up with what seems to be, from what I've read Joshi say of Lovecraft's personal philosophy, an autobiographical description of his character. To be sure, Carter is not Lovecraft in every detail. He's 50 years old (Lovecraft was only 36 when he wrote the story); he is a successful author of mainstream books (where, it is said, he spent too much time worrying about improbabilities and sympathetic characters), and he uses drugs for his ennui (Lovecraft, evidently, even forsook alcohol). But the description of the philosophy, the concern with the beauty and importance of dreams, Carter's philosophical development, all seem pertinent to Lovecraft. Both espouse a sort of conservative, aesthetic nihilism. Carter has no "delusion that life has a meaning apart from that which men dream into it". Since Carter sees that "good and evil and beauty and ugliness are ornamental fruits of perspective, whose sole value lies in their linkage to what chance made our fathers think and feel, and whose finer details are different for every race and culture," beauty is the only judgment, the only value. And beauty is judged by the harmony of something with tradition. Lovecraft and Carter find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Atheists who find value in the old rites of religion but not its "stale and prosy triteness" and myths overthrown by science. Yet, science leads to an overthrow of the old beliefs because of "preconceived illusions of justice, freedom, and consistency ... [without thinking] that that lore and those ways were the sole makers of their present thought." Carter and Lovecraft disdain the resulting "cultivated irony and bitterness", and drowning ennui in "bustle and pretended usefullness, noise and excitement, barbaric display and animal sensation." It's a very modern dilemma. Since nothing ultimately matters except something's beauty, the beauty of dreams is important to Lovecraft and Carter, even more so than "the animal pain of a stuck pig or dyspeptic ploughman in real life". That's why Carter is so disturbed that he has lost "the secrets of childhood and innocence" and, after thirty, can no longer find the gates of dream. He eventually finds his way back with a silver key left to him by an ancestor. He loops back on his earlier life, regains the gates of dreams, and the precognitive powers of his earlier life are explained. This is also, after "The Rats in the Wall", only the second Lovecraft story I've read to mention World War I which Carter served in. The story is interesting, but the main interest of the story is one it says about Lovecraft the man.

“Through the Gates of the Silver Key” -- H. P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price -- I am curious as to how much Price contributed to this story. There is a coherence here in tying this story and the cosmic voyages of Carter to not only the rationalistic background of the Cthulhu Mythos and also the Dunsanian dream stories of Lovecraft, much more coherence than the earlier "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath". To be sure, the links and explanation still are fairly loose though the story links pretty tightly to the other Carter stories making it quite clear that we're talking about the same character. The idea of other dimensions, other times, other worlds is rationalized via the analogy of conic sections. As a three dimensional cone takes on different appearances in a plane depending on how you cut it, so other dimensions and their beings look different to us depending on how they are projected into our world. Price may have come up with this idea. On the other hand, the Lovecraft who the same year would write "The Dreams in the Witch House" with its combination of quantum mechanics, black magic, and non-Euclidean geometry was certainly capable of doing so as well. This story may be Lovecraft's first development of the bodyswitching idea since it is from 1932-1933 and "The Thing on the Doorstep" (1933) and "The Shadow Out of Time" (1934-1935) came later. However, it isn't exactly bodyswitching since the consciousness of Carter and Zkauba, "wizard of Yaddith", fight for control of the latter's body. Certainly, whoever contributed what, this story opened up a framework for unlimited cosmic adventure anywhere at any time. While neither author exploited (at least Lovecraft didn't, I don't know much about Price) the possibilities in this, the direct sequel to "The Silver Key", Brian Lumley certainly gave it a try in his five volume Titus Crow series. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Apr 12, 2014 |
The book is introduced by then-editor of Arkham House, James Turner, who came to an intimate understanding of E'ch-Pi-El from having edited the final two volumes of Lovecraft's SELECTED LETTERS. Although his Introduction cannot compare to the one that China Mieville wrote for The Modern Library edition of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS--THE DEFINITIVE EDITION, it is very fine indeed.

"At the Mountains of Madness" begins the collection, and it is recognized as a classic by mature and intelligent critics. I found it difficult to read and comprehend when I first tried to read it at an early age, but now it is a work that I return to again and again, with deeper appreciation. The writing is so fine, and the prose style is quite precise for such a long work, each and every word adding to the effective of a masterpiece. There is nothing dull, as some clueless critics have complained, about the presentation of the antient race and their world, and some of the horrific touches are amazingly effective. One wonderful touch is to find that first one of the Great Old Ones have been dissected by the explorers; and then, horrifically, we discover that one of the men have been dissected by the inhuman race -- superb! And the moment when the two main characters witness the overwhelming terror manifested by the appearance of a shoggoth remains one of the scariest moments in all of Literature.

Next comes my second-favourite work by Lovecraft, his short novel THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD. I have always considered this an unedited work, for Lovecraft never prepared a final typed version. The entire handwritten manuscript may now be viewed online, and it reveals that Lovecraft worked diligently on the novel, revising as he went along. The manuscript also reveals how much we owe to those editors who decipher'd it for publication--it is a chaotic mess! WARD has been called the author's "love letter" to his beloved birth city, but it is also an exceptionally fine and captivating classic of supernatural fiction, dense, packed with unimaginable horrors, and utterly original. The myth that Lovecraft was incapable of creating interesting characters is belied by the forceful and satanic portrayal of one of weird fiction's finest villains, the monstrous Joseph Curwen. One of the really original aspects of the novel is its handling of supernaturalism, which is presented with an air of vital realism, incredible as the goings-on may be.

"The Shunned House" is a novel play on the vampire theme, handled with expert mood and mystery. "The Dreams in the Witch House" is a very odd tale, not completely successful and in some places very weak--its use of Nyarlathotep in the role of a satanic Black Man never comes to life. The very early "The Statement of Randolph Carter," written almost one century ago in 1919, introduces a character that returns with each of the other following works, including another short novel, "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," which (like WARD) was left unpolished by Lovecraft.

One of the original touches to Lovecraft's fiction is that it reveals in a multitude of ways his personality, his dreams and intelligence, his grotesque racism and pure love of Literature. He was a remarkable fellow, extremely pleasant as may be seen in his published correspondence, and a damn prick, as evidenced in his treatment of his Jewish wife. I judge him first and foremost as an artist, and as such he was absolutely first-rate. His excellence as an artist is now established by his publication by Penguin Classics and The Library of America. Soon we can add W. W. Norton to the list, as this year they will publish a handsome fully illustrated folio edition, THE NEW ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT, identical in format to their three-volume THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES. ( )
3 vote wilum | Jan 13, 2014 |
The horror in At the Mountains of Madness is not in sadistic descriptions of slashings, torturings, mutilations and bloodletting, but rather in the slow build-up of the feeling that humanity is not alone in the universe and that the other inhabitants, if they consider us at all, don't really think much of us. The only times the history of the Elder Things mentions us it is as either an amusing animal kept for entertainment or as a foodstuff.

The horror is that there are unfathomable depths of pre-history, that humankind are very much late-comers and that, if we are not careful, we might come to the notice of things that could wipe us away with little thought.

Nonetheless, the Elder Things are portrayed as one of the few, if not the only, of Lovecraft's non-human races with which we can feel any sympathy. He remarks that, despite the terrible toll they take upon the expedition, they were not evil things of their kind and that they had not acted any differently than would we in the same circumstances. The fate of the Elder Things is one that evokes a feeling of pity.

I've read that this story de-mythologises the Cthulhu Mythos and recasts the stories as science fiction rather than as tales of the supernatural and cosmic horror, but I don't think that is necessarily correct. Although the Elder Things are described as being composed of normal matter and having originated somewhere within our own mundane dimension, Lovecraft specifically states that the Star Spawn of Cthulhu and the Mi-Go are composed, at least partly, of some exotic material and that their origins lie outside the realm we know. Also, credit must be given to Lovecraft's characterisation, something that he is not often accorded: the story is written from the perspective of a scientist who has interpretted the history of the Elder Things through pictorial representations. Naturally the narrator's own world-view, that of scientific materialism, infuses his interpretation.

One of Lovecraft's best. ( )
1 vote Michael.Rimmer | Mar 30, 2013 |
The master of horror restored to his original unedited text. A must read. ( )
  uujeff | Feb 13, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. P. Lovecraftprimary authorall editionscalculated
Derleth, AugustIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Joshi, S. T.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turner, JamesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
White, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This collection contains 7 stories ("At the Mountains of Madness", "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", "Dreams in the Witch-House", "The Statement of Randolph Carter", "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", "The Silver Key", and "Through the Gates of the Silver Key") and SHOULD NOT BE COMBINED with other, differing collections.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586063226, Mass Market Paperback)

The finest works of H P Lovecraft, renowned as one of the great horror writers of all time. A major figure in twentieth-century supernatural fiction, H P Lovecraft produced works of enduring power. He has influenced the whole spectrum of those working in the horror genre, from Stephen King to the creators of hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Gathered together in this volume are seven of his greatest works, including the three short novels, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, At the Mountains of Madness and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Timeless in their appeal, these classics of the sinister and the macabre hold the power to truly terrify.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:19 -0400)

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