After I read the final Harry Potter book, I made a vow never to reread a book again. Previously I’d been in a habit of going through series every year or so. I’ve heard of people who read Lord of the Rings on an annual basis, and I don’t think that such a routine is healthy. You need to find new authors, new tastes to care about.
So why did I reread At The Mountains of Madness? Since I was published in Horrified Press’s Fall of Cthulhu, I’ve considered writing other Lovecraft pastiches. But if I were to do so, I’d want to write something original while sticking to the rules of Lovecraft’s cosmology. I could subvert the setting’s pessimism by focusin on alien creatures that aren’t inherently antagonistic, and present them as sympathetic allies for mankind. The Old Ones from the Mountains of Madness are good candidates. So are their Shoggoth Slaves. The Great Race of Yith, showed up in The Shadow Out Of Time would also work. So I reread this story to brush up on my Old Ones Lore. Also, I was completing strenuous assessments for my university course, and I didn’t want to waste any brainpower on reading something new.
The story itself concerns an Antarctic expedition that goes slightly askew when scientists attempt to dissect hibernating aliens. Somewhat understandably, the aliens respond violently and the whole thing just goes to hell. Meanwhile, two other members of the expedition happen upon a psychedelic city. One of them, the narrator looks at some murals on the wall and from them he gets a detailed understanding of a prehistoric civilization’s history. Might stuff, there. The main motifs of the Old One’s civilizations are five pointed stares and periodic slave revolts. After some alien wars their civilization declines and some go into hibernation.
Read this story for the history part, that’s the highlight. There is also a description of a drill that foreshadows Wyllis Cooper’s great story The Thing On The Fourbleboard. The slave revolts hint at Lovecraft’s racism, but I like to think that the revelation about the Old Ones more or less being differently shaped men indicates that he was growing out of such bigotry. This is one of the really essential Lovecraft stories, alongside The Dunwhich Horror and Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath.