The Call of Cthulhu is probably H.P. Lovecraft’s most well-known work; Cthulhu’s tentacled visage has sparked inspiration for many from artists to mythologists. But personally I think The Mountains of Madness, written five years later, is a better story. While The Call of Cthulhu has spawned a character sure to endure in the pantheon of greatest literary creations, The Mountains of Madness may have had a more profound impact on American popular culture than even mighty Cthulhu could dream of.
“It is altogether against my will that I tell my reasons for opposing this contemplated invasion of the antarctic…” So William Dyer recounts his discovery of the enduring alien presence deep beneath a mountain range in the middle Antarctica. It all begins with the horrific slaughter of an entire expedition crew. Hours earlier, the leader of that expedition had radioed Dyer about an exciting archaeological find: “Matter of highest—I might say transcendent—importance.” A detailed description of supposedly fossilized alien beings follows, and Dyer enthusiastically heads out with his partner by plane to join the expedition. When they arrive, however, the campsite is in ruins with the butchered bodies of humans and dogs irreverently strewn about. But carefully buried upright in 9ft graves are six alien corpses—eight less than had been reported.
Spoilers in this paragraph. Skip if you haven’t read this story yet: Lovecraft’s tale of aliens living on Earth long before humans may have kicked off the whole idea of ancient astronauts. Indeed, At the Mountains of Madness was one of the first fiction narratives set on Antarctica, and may have even been the inspiration for other works such as Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, which was the basis for John Carpenter’s classic horror film The Thing.
So if you like horror and contemplating the mysterious, I highly recommend At the Mountains of Madness.