If you start your week off with a horror novel, maybe you’ll feel like your life really isn’t so bad after all.
Fans of Stephen King take note: This work and other tales of H.P. Lovecraft were among King’s main inspirations. Lovecraft bases most of his stories out of his Providence, just as King uses small town Maine so often as a setting. Likewise, each utilizes quirks of rural life and old wives’ tales to spin tales of the macabre that never quite fully explain themselves. Ghosts, miasmas, fiery pentagrams, voodoo magic, mysterious deaths, and the other typical plot devices used by horror are never intended to fully connect with reality. Lovecraft himself has said that the major theme underpinning his stories is the inapproachable nature of fear to reality. But enough about the subject matter, and on to the literary merits of this collection.
Unfortunately, they are few and far between. Lovecraft writes like a scientist dissecting a pig. He tells rather than shows; dialogue and inner monologue is almost non-existent; the direct description of events and places takes center stage. And while this overly formal, technical style may be enjoyable to some, I found it tedious and difficult to fully engage with.
Of the works in At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror, the eponymous novella is the best. In this story of a team’s scientific mission to the Antarctic, Lovecraft uses the unknowns of the most southern continent as a setting for an unbelievable experience that may or may not involve aliens and ghosts. While at first the mission goes smoothly, strange things begin happening, until only two of the scientists remain. These two go on an exploratory mission of their own to discover the answer to the many questions that have arisen with their discoveries, only to be presented with more mysteries. The three remaining stories in the collection would now be considered generic. But taken in the context of when they were written (the first half of the 20th century), certainly midnight hauntings, miasmas in the basement, ghosts in the attic, trips to the graveyard, and other such tropes would have been more original.
Though he has a unique voice, I just couldn’t get into Lovecraft’s groove. I will admit Lovecraft’s brand of horror is not as overt as modern slasher films. But I always have a hard time reading a book when there is nothing deeper than the inapproachable nature of fear, especially since this theme takes a backseat to the plot devices mentioned. I could never get into King, and likewise I’ll probably never read anything else by Lovecraft. That he was never able to form his ideas into anything longer than a novella makes it difficult to see Lovecraft’s work as more than entertainment. If horror is your game, then Lovecraft is one of the original voices in the field. Otherwise, nothing special here.
FanLit thanks Jesse Hudson of Speculiction for contributing this guest review.