At the Mountains of Madness

H. P. Lovecraft’s celebrated novella sees explorers uncover ancient cosmic horror in the freezing Antarctic

H. P. Lovecraft’s reputation as the master of ancient unknowable cosmic horror has remained undisputed for decades. At the Mountains of Madness is one of the stories that cemented his reputation – a short novella that he wrote in 1931, and was originally chopped up and published over three issues of Astounding Stories in 1936.

The story is about an exploratory expedition to the Antarctic – a region that was still fairly new and unknown at the time that Lovecraft was writing. This provided enough mystery for Lovecraft to hide the remains of an ancient civilisation, which turns out not to be quite as dead as the explorers originally think. Then, as they explore further beyond the peaks of a dark and unknown range of mountains, the total horror of the situation is revealed.

It’s a slow and creepy story. However, Culbard’s art takes some of the edge off the horror, largely because his square-jawed characters look like they could have stepped out of a superior Saturday-morning cartoon. The design and atmosphere are wonderful, but there’s something a little less stomach churning about seeing such stylised characters meeting their grizzly doom.

As a graphic introduction to Lovecraft’s work it does a good job, though we suspect Lovecraft aficionados might find the ‘Cthulu Animated’ style of the illustration and its subsequent impact on the horror to be too tempered. Compare the final horror inflicted upon the explorers, for example, with Lovecraft’s original, and you’ll realise that any illustrator might struggle to do justice to Lovecraft’s unspeakable horror. Illustrating Lovecraft perhaps leaves too little to the imagination – something that Lovecraft himself seems to have been greatly in favour of.

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