At the Mountains of Madness: A Cult Tribute
As a native Rhode Islander, I can say without a doubt that H.P. Lovecraft is the most famous person to ever come from the state. Born in Providence all the way back in 1890, Lovecraft would go on to write most of his best work in the Ocean State, and has developed a cult following big enough to put him ahead of such RI legends like Alan Bestwick (great NASCAR announcer), pro wrestler Spike Dudley and the guy who created the Rocky theme. Yes, Bill Conti is from Rhode Island; suck it world.
What is the point of all this? Well, as the title should've given away, I'm doing a Cult Tribute on one of Lovecraft's stories tonight. And no, it doesn't involve Cthulhu, a dangerous proposition considering Cthulhu is the dark overlord that rules over us all. No, this story is out there in a different sort of way; it involves Antarctica, monsters, mountains, ancient astronauts, expeditions gone wrong and even at one point large, blind albino penguins. Don't worry, we're not going to talk about those much at all. I think I've built this up long enough, so grab a Surge citrus soda and relax. This is a Cult Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft's fantastic novella, and one of my favorite stories ever, At the Mountains of Madness.
[note; this tribute does feature spoilers ranging from minor to semi-major. You have been warned]
What You Already Know
Fans of the sci-fi, supernatural and horror genres will recognize At the Mountains of Madness as one of Lovecraft's most well known and finest work. Movie fans will also recognize it as one of director Guillermo del Toro's dream projects. Since 2006, del Toro has actively been trying to get an adaptation made, and at one point event had James Cameron, Tom Cruise and Universal Studios attached as producer, star and distributor respectively. Unfortunately, rating issues and concerns over the film being "unfilmable" (somewhere, Zack Snyder is pounding a desk in rage over that term) derailed the production, and del Toro appears to have all but given up on it. Can't say I blame him; who wouldn't want to pass over Lovecraft in order to make whatever the hell Crimson Peak is and a film about real life Voltron's "canceling the apocalypse!". I kid Guillermo, I kid...or do I?!
What You Didn't Know
One of the most forgotten aspects of At the Mountains of Madness is how long it took to actually get published. The story, which is actually considered to be a novella as opposed to a novel (in short, it's not quite a short story and not quite a novel), was originally written by Lovecraft in 1931, but was rejected by the editor of Weird Tales magazine for being "too long". The novella wouldn't be released until five years later in 1936 over the span of three months; in fact, the story was released in full less than a year before Lovecraft died at the age of 46. As such, it remains one of the last published works of his, and in fact appears to be the 8th to last story he ever wrote. Wonder if they make a medal for that position. As per usual, it heavily featured aspects, creatures and mythology from Lovecraft lore. Which yes, means that Cthulhu does get a couple of mentions. Hey, what's a Lovecraft story that doesn't feature a heavy dose of Cthulhu?
Told in flashback, At the Mountains of Madness recounts the tale of William Dyer, a 55 year old geologist and professor at Miskatonic University (a fictional college in Lovecraft lore). Writing to members of a planned expedition of to Antarctica, Dyer details his own expedition to the continent in 1930. What begins as a normal expedition turns into one of discovery when Dyer, his colleagues Lake, Atwood and Pabodie and several graduate students discover several fossils and remains of ancient life forms. All good right? Wrong; after losing content with Lake and his group, Dyer and the rest fly to Lake's location, only to discover all his men dead (with the exception of a missing man), their bodies mutilated and dissected. Taking only a plane and a graduate student named Danforth, Dyer flies towards a mountain range that is described as being as tall, if not more so, than the Himalayas. There, they make an incredible, and in some ways, horrifying discovery that could change the course of the world. I'm not joking, it gets pretty heavy. Like Metallica during the entire 8 and a half minutes of Master of Puppets heavy.
The ending; well, okay, not quite the ending but close enough. Fans of At the Mountains of Madness know that the most memorable part of the story is a sequence that sees Dyer and Danforth flying away from the mountains and back to their camp. As they do, Danforth looks back towards the mountains and...frankly I'm still not sure what happened. The best I can describe it is that he sees something near or beyond the mountains that turns him from a normal graduate student into the most frightened man in the history of the western hemisphere (Dyer goes onto describe Danforth losing his sanity due to this moment). What did he see? No idea, though it's described to be some sort of creature so frightening that the beings discovered in the mountains want no part of it. Beyond that, nothing. It's both a frustrating end that doesn't give us a big reveal, and an awesomely cryptic close because it doesn't give us the satisfaction, the comfort of knowing what exactly drove Danforth nuts. Just excellent writing, and dammit, if there's a better reason for this story to be turned into a feature film, I'd like to hear it. Can you imagine del Toro filming the scene where Danforth goes insane? The screaming, the obvious Hans Zimmer fog horn score, the stylistic scenery; WHY HAVEN'T THEY ALLOWED HIM TO DO THIS YET?! Damn you Hollywood!
In terms of written work that I've read over the years, At the Mountains of Madness is by far one of the most creative things I've ever encountered. It's not perfect; the characters are interchangeable and are overall about as interesting as a Floyd Mayweather fight. Take that away though, and this is a vividly engrossing tale that throws some love to Antarctica, features some of the most captivating creatures/beings you'll ever hear about and hits all the right beats. Hell, even the predictable midway turning point of Dyer finding his fellow explorers dead is done in an exciting way. Combine that with the amazing ending, and it's no wonder del Toro wanted/wants to adapt this story and why it's considered to be one of Lovecraft's most captivating works. The bottom line; if you haven't read At the Mountains of Madness yet, do it now. It's quick, it's easy to read, and you'll be engrossed and scared off your ass before you know it. If that's not enough, do it to support Rhode Island. We could use the support after all!
That'll do kids, that'll do. I'll be back...soonish? Yeah, let's go with soonish. Till then, go Cubs (it's not over yet Mets fans!), petition your local film studio to get Guillermo del Toro that At the Mountains of Madness adaptation he's always wanted and, most importantly, never look back when you're trying to escape from ancient alien beings. As they say at the end of Planet of the Apes, you may not like what you find. Dammit, now I just gotta close with an Apes related meme.