At the Mountains of Madness

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At the Mountains of Madness is a 1936 novella by H.P. Lovecraft, serialized in Astounding Stories magazine. It revolves around the geologist William Dyer, leader of an expedition to Antarctica. While digging for ice cores, his team uncovers the frozen bodies of creatures of indeterminate origin; later, most of the expedition is mysteriously slaughtered. Dyer's party discovers the ruined camp, and he and a graduate student fly over the mountains into mystery to investigate further. They soon find themselves beyond massive mountain peaks, in the ancient ruins of a colossal city, completely alien in design...

A film adaptation, directed by Guillermo del Toro and produced by James Cameron, was in the works, but was cancelled after the failure of the Wolfman reboot.

It can be read here.


Tropes used in At the Mountains of Madness include:
  • Alien Blood
  • Alien Geometries
  • Ancient Astronauts
  • Apocalyptic Log
  • Badass Normal: And odd example, but the Old Ones certainly fit. Although not human by any means, they were carbon-based lifeforms that, without any supernatural powers or anything similar, waged a war against the Star Spawn and their god/priest Cthulhu, and won. Sure, it was more of a Pyrrhic Victory than anything else, but still...
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: The Elder Things traveled to Earth naked using their wings as living solar sails.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: And how! The Old Ones apparently had gills, lungs, tentacles, wings, and numerous mouths, among other things. They seem to reproduce asexually and have massive, if not indefinite, lifespans, in addition to massively resistant bodies and nigh-impossible endurance (since they survived having been frozen for aeons).
    • Note that, as far as Lovecraftian beasts go, they're stated to be a species of Badass Normals, since despite their biological superiority to humans, they made little or no use of magic (unlike the Deep Ones), were constrained by time (unlike the Race of Yith) and had bodies made of "regular" matter (while the Mi-Go and Star Spawn of Cthulhu were explicitly stated to be more exotic).
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: Flying through space with wings is apparently fine and dandy if you're an Elder Thing.
  • Blob Monster: The Shoggoths.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Many elements of previous stories in the Cthulhu Mythos are recast as being of extraterrestrial, as opposed to supernatural, origin.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Inverted]] in the case of these giant, blind flab-creatures.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Though "evil" isn't really the right term.
  • Harmless Freezing: The Elder Things were frozen for a long period of time. When they're thawed out they go on a murderous rampage. Justified in that they are described as being extremely tough in comparison with humans.
  • Human Popsicle: Very, very not human, but still the same idea.
  • Indy Escape
  • Late to the Party: All of the dying happens before the viewpoint characters arrive.
  • Madness Mantra: Tekeli-li!
    • Also Danforth's listing off subway stations while running from the Shoggoth.
  • Mysterious Antarctica
  • Mythos Nod: This story makes explicit references to many of Lovecraft's other narratives, and is one of the reasons why the Cthulhu Mythos are thought of as a single, coherent universe.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The terrible vision that only Danforth saw, just before he and Dyer flee back to their plane, which pushed him over the edge into madness.
    • Also notably, the narrator never sees the Elder Things alive and active, and there are no first-hand accounts of their actions in the story; only the consequences are visible, afterwards.
  • Not So Different: More or less explicitly stated of the Old Ones:

"Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn - whatever they had been, they were men!"

    • This is especially exceptional for Lovecraft's stories, where most things that are "different" are usually "wrong". The Elder Things are the most "human" and benign of the Mythos species. Aside from their strange biology and amazing toughness, they are made of mundane elements (compare with the Mi-go, or the partly-spectral flying polyps), they formed family units, and had an art-producing culture and an economy.
  • Panspermia: Of a sort: according to this story all life on Earth started with experiments the Old Ones let live out of apathy. So in other words, we're all the spawn of failed alien bioengineering.
  • Purple Prose: Like everything by Lovecraft.

The leathery, undeteriorative, and almost indestructible quality was an inherent attribute of the thing’s form of organization, and pertained to some paleogean cycle of invertebrate evolution utterly beyond our powers of speculation.