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Feel the Fear and read it anyway.
Omnibus: At the Mountains of Madness - H.P Lovecraft
Member Name: historywitch
Omnibus: At the Mountains of Madness - H.P Lovecraft
Advantages: A mix of creepy and unsettling horror that will scare the socks of you
Disadvantages: Wordy, lacking in gore, the last three stories are more sci-fi/fantasy
***OK, so who is Lovecraft?***
There is no shortage of information on H.P. Lovecraft on the internet; Wikipedia has an enormous article covering his life and his books, describing him as the ‘most influential horror writer of the 20th century’. His subjects range from ancient alien unknown forces to eldritch horrors lurking on the Eastern seaboard of the USA and humans meddling with what they most certainly shouldn’t. His stories are bizarre, strange tales of the type that would be considered ludicrous were it not for his superior skill in building up tension and his ingenious talent of being able to stimulate those deep personal primitive fears. Many times I have considered his stories and thought ‘WHAT? How was I ever convinced by that?’. But that’s just the thing, in that moment, reading those pages, nothing has ever seemed quite so real or downright terrifying. For those who expect gore and long descriptions of faces being melted off or spines being ripped out and turned into Christmas decorations, look somewhere else. These stories play on your deepest, darkest fears, in such a subtle way that you almost don’t realise that you are being unsettled until you put the book down and are left with this unshakable, disturbing feeling that some things are just not right in the world.
A confession: unable to sleep one night I picked up another Lovecraft book and read a few pages, intending merely to finish the chapter. Two hours later I was in such a state of disturbed terror in the darkened room that I felt I couldn’t move, felt I couldn’t sleep with the book in the house and was seconds from throwing it out the window just to settle my nerves. Never before or since has a book had such a profound influence on me, so it was with trepidation that I started this one, especially as the reviews on the back of the book say things like:
‘Go thou to H.P Lovecraft and shudder’
‘Horror against which there is neither defence nor refuge’
‘These tales of horror are in the true gothic tradition…full of hinted terrors and unholy stenches’
You get just seven of Lovecraft’s finest stories in this 552 page book, indicating that they are all closer to novelettes than mere short stories. They are all deliciously wordy slow-burners, but enough of the praise….lets get to the stories.
*At the Mountains of Madness*
Written as if by the sole (sane) survivor of a polar expedition, it reveals the previously hidden fate of the rest of his team in the weird artic wilderness surrounding the poles. Starting with the technical and scientific details of the trip it is most unprepossessing, Lovecraft slowly dropping in those extra details that build the tension, the veiled references to an insane colleague, the outright warnings against visiting those regions and the palpable terror of the author. What did they find in those strange snow-covered mountains and what lurks in those secret underground caverns? What did Danforth see that turned his brain to jelly? These questions pull you through the pages of descriptive detail that are characteristic of Lovecraft, whilst his skill as a story teller prevents you from sniggering with incredulity as you reach the penultimate pages where all is revealed.
*The Case of Charles Dexter Ward*
Beginning at the end, with the eponymous hero behaving strangely, incarcerated in the local asylum and ultimately disappearing under strange circumstances, we follow the events that led him there through the perspective of a later historian/psychologist, examining his case through the evidence left behind. The story is revealed in pieces, in part through purported examinations of the documentation left behind and in part through the previous investigations of his father and the family physician, trying to find out why Charles had gone a bit crazy. The revelation that Charles Ward was led to his doom by his investigations into his family history is an interesting approach and worth bearing in mind for all of you genealogists!
*The Dreams in the Witch House*
A student interested in the mysterious disappearance of a witch in the frankly creepy town of Arkham, moves into her old house to investigate the phenomena which so many have reported. What is that pattering sound and why is he having the most terrible dreams? Why has his health declined so quickly and what is lurking behind that panel in the attic? Whilst we are shrieking ‘Get out, you fool, get out!’, he continues his investigations but where will it all end? This is the scariest of all the stories in this volume and although overwhelmed with literary, scientific and arcane little titbits, this does not attract from that real sense of total creeping horror that this story imparts. A real malign presence is there throughout the story, almost leaching out to touch the reader as you turn the pages, this is not one I will be reading again in a hurry.
*The Statement of Randolph Carter*
This short little story (merely seven pages long), is a strange and disturbing piece. Written, as it suggests, in the form of a formal statement it describes the events surrounding the disappearance of Carter’s friend Warren, who went on an expedition with Carter into one of the tombs in a swamp ridden graveyard. Only Warren entered the tomb, keeping in touch with Carter by means of a transmitter so we know only what Carter knows of Warren’s disappearance. And what he saw and heard is enough to send the chills up and down your spine, despite the brevity of this story.
*The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath*
Another Randolph Carter story, this time following his dream into a strange unknown land inhabited by Zoogs and Atal, talking cats and Dholes. As the title suggests he is searching for the Older Ones who live on Unknown Kadath and on his travels he passes weird alien, fantastical landscapes and people with all the strange dream like qualities that make this story so bizarre. I have to say I skimmed a great deal of this, as not being a great fan of fantasy stories I found it unappealing and uninteresting, which greatly disappointed me. There was no creeping horror, no tension and I found it hard to get into it at all.
*The Silver Key*
Yet another Randolph Carter story, this time dealing with the loss of his talent for dreaming. On discovery of a strange silver key in the attic his dreams return, with an intensity that blends reality with fantasy…not to the extent of the previous story…instead he takes the path back into his past. This is a much more readable story in my opinion and whilst lacking the Lovecraft horror, it is a gentle, thought-provoking and unsettling story instead.
*Through the Gates of the Silver Key*
After rehashing some of the end of the last story, we get to see the consequences of his discovery of the silver key, get more information on his life and strange incidents that occurred in it and the battle of his heirs to get their hands on his estate after his strange disappearance. There is a little more of the strange alien lands that we visited in the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, finishing up with an interesting and unexpected conclusion.
I have to say that the first four stories promised and delivered everything that I have come to expect from Lovecraft, a thoroughly disturbing and unsettling experience. However, the last three stories I found could not really be described as ‘horror’ in even the loosest sense of the word and were more akin to the sci-fi/fantasy stories that my husband is so enamoured of. These were certainly much less to my taste and it is unlikely that I will read them again, even though I will return regularly to the first four. If you want the full benefit of the Lovecraft ‘scare’ it is better to seek out another collection of stories, but if you are interested in seeing the wider scope of Lovecraft’s talents, then this collection is for you.
This book is part of a three volume series:
Part 2- Dagon and Other Macabre Tales
Part 3- The Haunter of the Dark
***Price and ISBN***
RRP is £6.99.
Amazon have it for £5.49 and Marketplace offers start at £2.59
Summary: Hyperventilates and covers her eyes with a cushion.