Field of Science

August 20, 1890: 120 years Lovecraftian Geology

“I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why. It is altogether against my will that I tell my reasons for opposing this contemplated invasion of the antarctic - with its vast fossil hunt and its wholesale boring and melting of the ancient ice caps. And I am the more reluctant because my warning may be in vain.”

The short extract is the introduction of "At the Mountains of Madness", a horror story by the American writer H. P. Lovecraft (born on 20. August 1890 in Providence) written in February/March 1931 and originally serialized in the February, March and April 1936 issues of Astounding Stories (one of the first pulp- and horror fiction magazines).

The story follows the tradition of the Cthulu-mythos - anyways presenting a more science (-fiction) approach to explain the rise and fall of the ancient god, and especially the elder ones. The story is written in first-person perspective by the geologist William Dyer, a professor from Miskatonic University (one of the institutions that possess a copy of the forbidden Necronomicon).

A geological Antarctica-expedition discovers first strange fossils, eons of years older then all other signs of life on our planet, and finally a mountain range, much higher and darker then the Himalaya in the remotest corner of this frozen world. But after a carefully investigation at the borders of the mountain range of more strange fossils, contact get lost with the team, and the narrator makes his way to discover what happened at the Mountains of Madness.

Lovecraft had a lifelong interest in the exploration of the Antarctic continent. The biographer S. T. Joshi notes, that "Lovecraft had been fascinated with the Antarctic continent since he was at least 12 years old, when he had written several small treatises on early Antarctic explorers.

By the 1920s Antarctica was one of the last unexplored regions of the earth, where large stretches of territory had never seen the tread of human feet. Contemporary maps of the continent show a number of provocative blanks, and Lovecraft – as a writer- could exercise his imagination in filling them in. In fact the first expedition of Richard Evelyn Byrd took place in 1928-1930, the period just before the novella was written, and Lovecraft mentioned the explorer repeatedly in his letters, remarking at one point on "geologists of the Byrd expedition having found many fossils indicating a tropical past".

Lovecraft's was not only a passionate autodidact in geology, but also in American classic literature. Most obvious literary source for At the Mountains of Madness is Edgar Allan Poe's lone novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, whose concluding section is set in Antarctica. Lovecraft twice cites Poe's "disturbing and enigmatic" story in his text, and explicitly borrows the mysterious phrase "Tekeli-li" from Poe's work. Also, a graduate student, seeing at the arrival of the expedition on the McMurdo-Sund the active volcano Mt. Erebus, cites poetry by E.A. Poe to describe the scenery.

Many of the first Lovecraft's stories involve features that appear to be supernatural, such as monsters, demons and the occult, without clear explanation from where they come, or what they are. However, Mountains appears to explain the origins of such elements like the occult symbols or to "gods" such as Cthulhu in rational terms, by terrifying scientific facts - like the fossils, or inscriptions found on cyclopic walls of a sunken city. Mountains explains many elements of the "Cthulhu Mythos" and the origin of the crinoid-like very, very old elder ones .
Lovecraft with this story not only presents a weird tale, but also insights of the geological conceptions nearby 120 years ago - worth to be known by ever geologist to dare to approach the outer limits of geomadness.


  1. I found the geology in Mountains of Madness quite better than most of that in recent blockbuster movies…

  2. Haha . .I agree ;)
    It´s a own science debunking modern "science" movies - have you seen the review - series by Jim Lehane about "Armageddon" ? It´s excellent

    There are also some interesting considerations abot Lovecraft and Palaeontology, maybe a future post worth


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