What I'd read about Lovecraft's writing was interesting. Even by his fans, he's not considered to know much about how to turn a phrase. The term "purple prose" comes up a lot in the sniffier descriptions, but everyone acknowledges his wild imagination and ability to generate a palpable sense of dread that other writers strive for, but force with nameable threats and terrors.
With Halloween coming, I figured it would be a good time to finally delve in and check out what all the fuss was about.
I will not say At the Mountains of Madness is my new favorite novel(la). But it is a fascinating work - complete in its mythology, striking in its building of atmosphere and dread, and it feels like a single man's efforts to restrain an entire culture's imagination and mythologies, pouring them out onto the page with force rather than cultivating smaller ideas and lulling the reader with craft.
A large scientific expedition heads to the Antarctic in the heady days of mid-20th Century scientific discovery, looking to perform geological surveys, when they push further into unexplored territory than anyone before them. And, of course, they find something beneath the ice and rock.
If this sounds familiar to your fans of John Carpenter's The Thing, well... it was one of those moments that I keep running into where you stumble over the inspiration for something you thought was pretty clever (yes, I am aware that The Thing is a remake of the Howard Hawks film, but...).
The structure of the book is quite odd. There's no character development, no real real conflict for the narrator, and vast expanses of the novella are much more about descriptions and world building - the standard issue of all science fiction and fantasy novels - than it is about the actual plot. And, if I can do this without driving you Lovecraft fans crazy, while he clearly checked with a thesaurus for as many variations on "terror" as possible, that "purple prose" comment stems from Lovecraft's insistence on associating every word with an adjective. Sooner or later - you run out of terms that mean "scary".
Also - I am now intimately familiar with usage of the term "cyclopean". Well done, Mr. Lovecraft.
But, as I'd read - Lovecraft does build a world that's astounding, and there's no denying the creepy vibe he infuses into the work. He's a master of demonstrating that sometimes less is more - that the worst fear of man is not knowing. And not only does Lovecraft refuse to give the reader everything, his narrator doesn't get everything - left with a madman ranting about things that are unknowable by the human mind.
No kidding its scary. And no wonder its been copied again and again. Its a singular vision that took a new way of writing that comes along once in a great while. I tip my hat.
And I'll definitely check out some more Lovecraft.
|Man, this would be AWESOME|