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H. P. Lovecraft Omnibus 1: At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft

H. P. Lovecraft Omnibus 1: At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft
Book Name: H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus 1: At the Mountains of Madness
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
Publisher(s): Arkham House
Formatt: Paperback
Genre(s): Classic Horror
Release Date: 1964

You probably think you’re safe as you’re reading this. You might be sat in the comfort of your home, or with a tablet on the morning commute. You might be at the office, reading on your lunch hour. Everything seems normal. But just out of reach, in the corner of your eye, something evil lurks. Pressing in from other dimensions are elder monsters and alien entities that revel in chaos and death. Now, don’t let on that you know, don’t try to catch a glimpse of them, for madness awaits that way, and worse still, they might notice you.

H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of horror have shook readers for decades, even seeping so much into pop culture that you can find references to his works in scores of books, films, TV shows and games. This book is a great introduction to his work, showing a range of different pieces from tales of pre-human monsters roaming the earth, occult experiments, explorations of terrible alternate dimensions, and surreal travels across fantastic dream worlds. Without expecting the reader to be familiar with his work or mythos, the book slowly introduces the reader to the main themes of Lovecraft’s work, with each tale focusing on a separate horror, but linking them together.

The first story At the Mountains of Madness is a recount of a geological expedition to the arctic. Geologist William Dyer’s account is a slow build-up of mystery and horror as it follows the expedition, the fate of its members, and of the horrible discoveries made in the frozen arctic world. There is a great sense of increasing peril and horror that grows throughout the tale as more information is revealed to the reader, and even as the story draws to an end there are a number of twists that shake the reader just when they think the terror has reached its peak.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a different sort of tale. Featuring pieced together fragments of long ago atrocities and the horrible influence of the past on the present, this story is one of innocent curiosity gone bad, with terrible consequences. It is a haunting piece filled with sinister revelations that keeps the reader hooked till the end.

The Dreams in the Witch House is also a tale of the dangers of studying forbidden mysteries. An interest in folk tales of an evil witch bring scholar Walter Gilman to research strange mathematics and the dimensions that they suggest. But when his dreams show him alien universes and fantastic worlds his work ceases to be theoretical. This tale of dark obsession and growing paranoia will leave the reader constantly guessing at the events of the narrative.

“The Statement of Randolph Carter” is a very short interview with the title character. Less than ten pages, it details the end result of the research of Carter and his friend Warren. Entering a long forgotten graveyard and seeking to plumb its depths, Carter describes the fate of his friend to the interviewer. Despite its length the story manages to encapsulate much of Lovecraft’s ideas and style.

The last three stories form a continuous narrative over time. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath follows Randolph Carter’s surreal trip through an amazing dreamland as he seeks to reach a beautiful city. Coming across forbidden landscapes, almost men, armies of cats and outer gods, Carter learns what it costs to challenge beings outside of time and space. The latter two stories of the Silver Key take place after this quest, showing an aging Carter’s attempts to return to dreamland, and the consequences of his travel. This selection of stories holds a number of twists and intricate plots that weave together to create a truly otherworldly tale and a chilling conclusion to the book.

Lovecraft’s writing style is different from what contemporary readers might be used to. There is a kind of sedate, measured quality about it, even in the faster scenes. Long pages of description are common, while thick prose and dense language may have even those with a wide vocabulary reaching for a dictionary. Yet the beautiful and terrible scenes of lost cities, sweeping vistas and strange creatures will haunt the reader long after they’ve put down the book. None of the stories are what you would call fast paced, Lovecraft tends to build on suspense, allowing the reader time to realise the true horror of events as snippets of information are revealed.

Often Lovecraft’s style is to avoid direct descriptions of the worst horrors in his narrative, instead the reader will hear fragments of information, second hand accounts or short glimpses abruptly cut off. This style sometimes makes things even more horrifying as the reader is left to imagine all sorts of terrible possibilities. The writing is great at hinting of awful things crawling in the dark, but lets the reader’s imagination do the work of filling that void.

The book is perhaps a bit lacking in characterisation, many of Lovecraft’s protagonists lack fully developed characteristics and seem to develop along similar lines. The theme of scientists and scholars exploring forbidden mysteries is common and results in an archetypal victim. Randolph Carter is probably the most developed, yet I question his convenient knowledge of half human languages and friends in strange places. Often the story’s perspective shifts around the character, sometimes told as an observation from another point of view. This stylistic choice lets the reader see the situation fully, allowing them to absorb the horror of the scene.

Lovecraft’s work and ideas are certainly a wide departure from normal fiction. The writing style lends the stories a somewhat archaic tone but doesn’t affect their readability. His plots are ones of fantastic horror and surreal adventures, they deal with hidden fears and philosophical notions, sometimes quite high concept. Yet there is a definite draw to the mysteries that Lovecraft hints at, and the reader is pulled along with the narrative. The book certainly delivers on a chilling read, providing mystery, suspense, and fantastic horror. It shows a great deal of imagination that is sometimes lacking in contemporary fiction, and is definitely one to read.


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