At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of Madness

Cover of Astounding Stories, February 1936
Author H. P. Lovecraft
Cover artist Howard V. Brown
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction, Horror
Published February–April 1936 (Astounding Stories)
Media type Print (Periodical)
Text At the Mountains of Madness at Wikisource

At the Mountains of Madness is a novella by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, written in February/March 1931 and rejected that year by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright on the grounds of its length.[1] It was originally serialized in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Astounding Stories. It has been reproduced in numerous collections.

The story details the events of a disastrous expedition to the Antarctic continent in September 1930, and what was found there by a group of explorers led by the narrator, Dr. William Dyer of Miskatonic University. Throughout the story, Dyer details a series of previously untold events in the hope of deterring another group of explorers who wish to return to the continent.

The novella's title is derived from a line in "The Hashish Man," a short story by fantasy writer Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany: "And we came at last to those ivory hills that are named the Mountains of Madness..."[2]

The story has inadvertently popularized the concept of ancient astronauts, as well as Antarctica's place in the "ancient astronaut mythology".[3]

Plot summary

The story is told in a first-person perspective, by the geologist William Dyer, a professor at Miskatonic University, in the hope to prevent an important and much publicized scientific-expedition to Antarctica. Throughout the course of his explanation, Dyer relates on how he led a group of scholars, from Arkham's Miskatonic University, on a previous expedition to Antarctica, during which they discovered ancient ruins and a dangerous secret, beyond a range of mountains higher than the Himalayas. A smaller advance group, led by Professor Lake, soon discovered the remains of fourteen prehistoric life-forms, previously unknown to science, and also unidentifiable as either plants or animals. Six of the specimens were badly damaged, while the eight surviving specimens are pristine; whereas their stratum places them on the geologic time scale, much too early for their features to evolve. Some fossils of Cambrian age show signs of the use of tools to cut the specimen for food.

When the main expedition loses contact with Lake's party, Dyer and his colleagues investigate. Lake's camp is devastated, with the majority of men and dogs slaughtered, while a man named Gedney and one of the dogs are absent. Near the expedition's campsite, they find six star-shaped snow mounds, and one specimen under each. They also discover that the better preserved life-forms have vanished, and that some form of dissection experiment has been done on both an unnamed man and a dog.The missing man is suspected of having gone utterly insane and having killed & mutilated all the others.

Dyer and a graduate student, named Danforth, fly an airplane across the mountains, which they identify as the outer walls of a vast abandoned stone-city, alien to any human architecture. For their resemblance to creatures of myth mentioned in the Necronomicon, the builders of this lost civilization are dubbed the "Elder Things". By exploring these fantastic structures, the men learn through hieroglyphic murals that the Elder Things first came to Earth shortly after the Moon took form, and built their cities with the help of "Shoggoths" — biological entities created to perform any task, assume any form, and reflect any thought.There is a hint that all earthly life evolved from cellular material left over from the creation of the shoggoths.

As more buildings are explored, the explorers witness the Elder Things' conflict with both the Star-spawn of Cthulhu and the Mi-go, who arrived on Earth shortly afterwards. The images also reflect a degradation of their civilization, once the Shoggoths gain independence. As more resources are applied in maintaining order, the etchings become haphazard and primitive. The murals also allude to an unnamed evil, lurking within an even larger mountain range located beyond the city.This mountain range rose in one night and certain phenomena & incidents deterred the Elder Things from exploring it. When Antarctica became uninhabitable, even for the Elder Things, they soon migrated into a large, subterranean ocean.

Dyer and Danforth eventually realize that the Elder Things missing from the advance party's camp had somehow returned to life and, after slaughtering the explorers, have returned to their city. Dyer and Danforth also discover traces of the Elder Things' earlier exploration, as well as sledges containing the corpses of both Gedney and his missing dog. They are ultimately drawn towards the entrance of a tunnel, into the subterranean region depicted in the murals. Here, they find evidence of various Elder Things killed in a brutal struggle, and blind six-foot-tall penguins wandering placidly, apparently used as livestock. They are then confronted by a black, bubbling mass, which they identify as a Shoggoth, and escape. As he flees the Shoggoth, Danforth shows signs of insanity. Aboard the plane, high above the plateau, Danforth looks back and sees something which causes him to lose his own sanity, implied to be the unnamed evil itself. Dyer concludes that the Elder Things slaughtered the survivors and dogs only out of self-defense or scientific curiosity, that their civilization was eventually destroyed by the Shoggoths, and that this further entity has preyed on the enormous penguins. He warns the planners of the next proposed Antarctic expedition to stay distant from the site.



Lovecraft had a lifelong interest in Antarctic exploration. "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," biographer S. T. Joshi wrote.[6] At about the age of 9, inspired by W. Clark Russell's 1887 book The Frozen Pirate, Lovecraft had written "several yarns" set in Antarctica.[7]

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 could exercise his imagination in filling them in...with little fear of immediate contradiction."[8]

The first expedition of Richard E. 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".[9] In fact, Miskatonic University's expedition was modelled after that of Byrd.[10]

In Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos Lin Carter suggests that one inspiration for At the Mountains of Madness was Lovecraft's own hypersensitivity to cold, as evidenced by an incident where the writer "collapsed in the street and was carried unconscious into a drug store" because the temperature dropped from 60 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees to -1 degree Celsius). "The loathing and horror that extreme cold evoked in him was carried over into his writing," Carter wrote, "and the pages of Madness convey the blighting, blasting, stifling sensation caused by sub-zero temperatures in a way that even Poe could not suggest."[11] S.T. Joshi has called this theory "facile."[12]

Joshi further cites as Lovecraft's most obvious literary source for At the Mountains of Madness Edgar Allan Poe's only 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 cry Tekeli-li from Poe's work. In a letter to August Derleth, Lovecraft wrote that he was trying to achieve with his ending an effect similar to what Poe accomplished in Pym.[13]

Another proposed inspiration for At the Mountains of Madness is Edgar Rice Burroughs' At the Earth's Core (1914), a novel that posits a highly intelligent reptilian race, the Mahar, living in a hollow Earth. "Consider the similarity of Burroughs' Mahar to Lovecraft's Old Ones, both of whom are presented sympathetically despite their ill-treatment of man," writes critic William Fulwiler. "[B]oth are winged, web-footed, dominant races; both are scientific scholarly races with a talent for genetics, engineering, and architecture; and both races use men as cattle." Both stories, Fulwiler points out, involve radical new drilling techniques; in both stories, humans are vivisected by nonhuman scientists. Burroughs' Mahar even employ a species of servants known as Sagoths, possibly the source of Lovecraft's Shoggoth.[14]

Other possible sources include A. Merritt's "The People of the Pit", whose description of an underground city in the Yukon bears some resemblance to that of Lovecraft's Elder Things, and Katharine Metcalf Roof's "A Million Years After", a story about dinosaurs hatching from eggs millions of years old that appeared in the November 1930 edition Weird Tales.[15] In a letter to Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft declared Metcalf Roof's story to be a "rotten", "cheap", and "puerile" version of an idea he had come up with years earlier, and his dissatisfaction may have provoked him to write his own tale of "the awakening of entities from the dim reaches of Earth's history."[16]

An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia suggest that the long scope of history recounted in the story may have been inspired by Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. Some details of the story may also have been taken from M. P. Shiel's 1901 Arctic exploration novel, The Purple Cloud, which was republished in 1930.[17]

The title is derived from a line in Lord Dunsany's short story "The Hashish Man": "And we came at last to those ivory hills that are named the Mountains of Madness...".

Lovecraft's own "The Nameless City" (1921), which also deals with the exploration of an ancient underground city apparently abandoned by its nonhuman builders, sets a precedent for At the Mountains of Madness. In both stories, the explorers use the nonhumans' artwork to deduce the history of their species.[18] Lovecraft had also used this device in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1927)

As for details of the Antarctic setting, the author's description of some of the scenery is in part inspired by the Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich, and the illustrations of Gustave Doré, both of whom are referenced by the story's narrator multiple times.


Lovecraft submitted the story to Weird Tales but it was rejected by the editor Farnsworth Wright in July 1931.[19] Lovecraft took the rejection badly and put the story to one side.[19] It was eventually submitted by Lovecraft's literary agent Julius Schwartz in 1935 to F. Orlin Tremaine, the editor of Astounding Stories.[19] It was serialized in the February, March, and April 1936 issues, and Lovecraft received $315—the most he had ever received for a story.[20] The story was however, harshly edited, with alterations to spellings, punctuation, and paragraphing, and the end of the story had several lengthy passages omitted.[19] Lovecraft was outraged and called Tremaine "that god-damn'd dung of a hyaena [sic]".[19] Lovecraft's own hand-corrected copies of Astounding Stories formed the basis for the first Arkham House edition, but this still contained over a thousand errors, and a fully restored text wasn't published until 1985.[19]

Critical reception

Theodore Sturgeon described the novella as "perfect Lovecraft" and "a good deal more lucid than much of the master's work," as well as "first-water, true-blue science fiction."[21]

Connections to other Lovecraft stories

At the Mountains of Madness has numerous connections to other Lovecraft stories. A few include:


The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society[24] produced a 1930s-style radio drama of the story, featuring a full cast, original music and sound effects. It is packaged with photos from the expedition, newspaper clippings and other feelies.

The psychedelic rock group H. P. Lovecraft wrote and recorded a song titled "At the Mountains of Madness", which was based on the novella. The song appears on the band's second album H. P. Lovecraft II and a live performance of it, recorded at The Fillmore, is included on their Live May 11, 1968 album.

The Mountains of Madness is a musical adaptation of Lovecraft's stories by Alexander Hacke, Danielle de Picciotto and The Tiger Lillies.

In October and November 2010, BBC7 broadcast an abridged reading in five half-hour episodes performed by Richard Coyle.[25] This was repeated on BBC Radio4 Extra in March 2013, and again in August 2015. A radio adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness was also created by the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company.

In 2009, Atlas Games published The Antarctic Express by Kenneth Hite and Christina Rodriguez, part of the Mini-Mythos line of books from Atlas Games (ISBN 1589781112). It is a parody of The Polar Express, telling the story of young Danforth who boards a mysterious plane with Professor Dyer. They travel to Antarctica to the city of the Elder Things and flee when pursued by Shoggoths.

At the Mountains of Madness was adapted into a graphic novel created by I. N. J. Culbard and published in 2010 by SelfMadeHero as part of their Eye Classics line (ISBN 9781906838126).[26][27] The book was named The Observer Graphic Novel of the Month.[28]

In 2011, Cerasus Media released a hidden object game titled Mystery Stories: Mountains of Madness, with Danforth being replaced by an original female character named Lynn Morgan, who accompanies Dyer on the exploration while Danforth himself becomes the injured pilot of their aircraft and still goes insane from the experience.[29]

At the Mountains of Madness was adapted into a black metal album titled Tekeli-li by the band The Great Old Ones in 2014.[30]


Director Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins wrote a screenplay based on Lovecraft's story in 2006, but had trouble getting Warner Bros. to finance the project. Del Toro wrote, "The studio is very nervous about the cost and it not having a love story or a happy ending, but it's impossible to do either in the Lovecraft universe."[31] In July 2010 it was announced that the film would be made in 3D and that James Cameron would become producer,[32] and Tom Cruise was attached to star.[33] This "was a startling prospect considering Lovecraft's tale had long been considered unfilmable."[33] Del Toro confirmed that the film would begin production as early as May 2011 and start filming in June.[34] However, in March 2011, it was announced that "Universal Studios refused to greenlight the project due to del Toro's insistence that it be released with an R rating rather than a PG-13."[33] According to, "Universal wants to hold onto the project in the event that it changes its mind and decides to make it later, either as an R or PG-13 movie. But del Toro is already trying to set up Mountains at another studio (possibly 20th Century Fox).[33] However, in April 2012, del Toro posted that, due to the resemblance in premise with the Ridley Scott film Prometheus, the project would probably face a "long pause—if not demise".[35][36] In January 2013, del Toro stated in an interview that he would try one more time to get the picture made.[37]

Unofficial sequels

Prisoner of Ice

Prisoner of Ice is a 1995 adventure video game by Infogrames Entertainment, SA that tells a story set in the aftermath of the expedition.[38]

A Colder War

A Colder War is a loose sequel to At the Mountains of Madness written by Charles Stross in 1997, where the secrets from beyond the Mountains of Madness are used by the Cold War superpowers to dreadful effect.

Beyond the Mountains of Madness

Chaosium Games released a campaign book titled Beyond the Mountains of Madness for their Call of Cthulhu role-playing game in 1999. This book details the Starkweather-Moore expedition return to the ice to discover the truth about the Miskatonic Expedition. The book incorporates many of the aspects of the original Lovecraft story, including references to the Poe story, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Nicholas Roerich, Danforth and Dyer.

Call of Cthulhu: Beyond the Mountains of Madness

Call of Cthulhu: Beyond the Mountains of Madness was a cancelled action-adventure video game by Headfirst Productions, announced in 2002. It featured a Miskatonic University archaeologist named Robert Naples attempting to stop the Nazi occult search for the Elder City.[39]


In 2005, Elder Signs Press published Hive by Tim Curran.[40] In the story, set in the present, the Plateau of Leng has crumbled under the ice and snow due to geological changes, the Shoggoths are non-existent (with Dyer's accounts of them overthrowing the Elder Things having been chalked up to stress and madness), and the Elder Things, both living and ethereal, still exist under the Antarctic ice. The plot deals with a group of American explorers unearthing an Elder Things' tomb and citadel. A parallel plot also deals with an expedition using an experimental submersible to breach Lake Vostok, which is named as the location of the underwater city to which the Elder Things fled.


  1. Joshi, S. T. (2001). A dreamer and a visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in his time. Liverpool University Press, 302. ISBN 0-85323-946-0
  2. Plunkett, Edward (1910). A Dreamer's Tales: Hashish Man. Modern Library.
  3. Jason Colavito, The Cthulhu Comparison
  4. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness, p. 4.
  5. H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. V, p. 228; Joshi, p. 181.
  6. S. T. Joshi, The Annotated Lovecraft, p. 175.
  7. Joshi and Schultz, p. 132.
  8. Joshi, p. 18.
  9. H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. 3, p. 144; cited in Joshi, p. 183; see also Joshi, p. 186.
  10. Manhire, Bill (2004). The wide white page: writers imagine Antarctica. Victoria University Press, p. 315. ISBN 0-86473-485-9
  11. Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, p. 84.
  12. Annotated Lovecraft, pp. 17-18.
  13. H. P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, May 16, 1931; cited in Joshi, pp. 329-330.
  14. William Fulwiler, "E.R.B. and H.P.L.", Black Forbidden Things, p. 64.
  15. Joshi and Schultz, p. 11.
  16. H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters Vol. III, p. 186; Joshi, p. 175.
  17. Joshi and Schultz, pp. 10-11.
  18. H. P. Lovecraft, "The Nameless City", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, pp. 104-105; cited in Joshi, pp. 264-265.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Joshi, S. T.; Schultz, David E. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Greenwood Press. p. 12. ISBN 0313315787.
  20. Bleiler, E. F. (1999). "H. P. Lovecraft". In Bleiler, Richard. Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 479. ISBN 0684805936.
  21. "Book Review", Astounding Science Fiction, November 1948, pp.105-06.
  22. Anthony Pearsall, The Lovecraft Lexicon, p. 326.
  23. Anthony Pearsall, The Lovecraft Lexicon, p. 146.
  24. "HPLHS"
  25. BBC Radio Page for the series
  26. At The Mountains of Madness product page, SelfMadeHero
  27. Croonenborghs, Bart (January 26, 2011). "At the Mountains of Madness with H.P. Lovecraft". The Comics Journal.
  28. Cooke, Rachel (November 14, 2010). "At the Mountains of Madness by Lovecraft/Culbard – review". The Observer.
  30. Tekeli-li by The Great Old Ones
  31. Guillermo Del Toro Films, At the Mountains of Madness Archived November 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  32. "Guillermo Del Toro Finally Arrives 'At The Mountains Of Madness'! Best Movie News Of The Year?"
  33. 1 2 3 4 Zoller Seitz, Matt (2011-03-08) The amazing del Toro movie that just got spiked Archived March 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.,
  34. Matt Goldberg (2010-02-09). "Universal Looking at James McAvoy to Star in AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, but Guillermo Del Toro Wants Tom Cruise". Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  35. PROMETHEUS / MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS Archived May 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  36. Entertainment Weekly, June 10, 2012, "So is del Toro's dream of adapting At the Mountains of Madness really dead? Maybe. Maybe not."
  37. First Showing, January 7, 2013, "Del Toro Will Try 'Mountains of Madness' Again, Cruise Still Attached"
  38. Prisoner of Ice - Call of Cthulhu: Prisoner of Ice - Review - Adventure Classic Gaming
  39. Call of Cthulhu Trilogy XBOX - Cancelled | Unseen 64
  40. HorrorScope: Review: Hive by Tim Curran



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