Friday, 5 June 2015
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
There are other games where I've played characters out against overwhelming odds, with death on the line, and they haven't made me as upset. I don't know.
So because of that, I've steered far away from Lovecraft. I'm not good at horror at the best of times, and so this seemed safer if it were one of those places where my reading habits and this author never intersected.
Then I ran out of books on a weekend. Blew through all my library books. Had two days of the library being closed before I could get new ones. And my online SF book club on goodreads was reading At the Mountains of Madness. So I asked Bill if he thought I could handle it. He thought I could, and that I probably wouldn't find it scary at all. So I sat down and read this novella.
He was right. Not scary at all. Interesting, but with little sense of dread. I think I know why that is, but we'll get there in a bit.
In this book, explorers go to Antarctica and discover horrors, and the survivors are now trying to warn off another expedition. What they find there are the remnants of a lost civilization, inhuman, with still some monsters lurking in the deeps. And gigantic penguins.
This is most description, page upon page of description, and this is where I start to realize why I think it is that I'm not weirded out by this. Bill and I were talking as I was partway through, and he was saying that for him, the disturbing part is Lovecraft trying to describe the indescribable, and it's that leap where you can almost picture it but not quite that is so very unsettling.
The thing is, I am not a visual thinker. Most paragraphs of description, no matter how lush, result in no more than the shadowy edges of a picture, and more often stay as the pleasure of words. That leap where you can't quite picture it? That's me, pretty much all the time. So reading Lovecraft's descriptions is not that different from reading any author's descriptions. That sense of it remaining just outside your perception is entirely missing. Or far too present, I suppose, but I've made my peace with it.
So there was no sense of unease, just an adventure story with nasty monsters that never leaped to pictures in my brain because that just never happens. As such, I enjoyed it, and it didn't traumatize me, and I'm not feeling quite so wary of Lovecraft. Still, I won't be running out to play Call of Cthulhu again any time soon.