“Distant mountains floated in the sky as enchanted cities, and often the whole world would dissolve into a gold, silver, and scarlet land of Dunsanian dreams and adventurous expectancy under the magic of the low midnight sun, On cloudy days we had considerable trouble in flying owning to the tendency of snowy earth and sky to merge into one mystical opalescent void with no visible horizon to mark the junction of the two.”
My vacation reading has included a selection of Lovecraft stories. I hadn’t read anything by him since my teens/early twenties, when I devoured everything I could get hold of. And I’m now embarrassed to admit that I had subscribed to the commonly held idea that the world building was the thing and that he wasn’t a particularly good writer of prose.
Upon rereading a good chunk of the latter, I am now ready to jettison that view entirely. There’s a marvelous rythm to his writing, almost as if its written in poetic metre, and although he consistently flaunts conventions about repetition, layering of adjectives, and what might be considered hyperbole, his baroque language is so beautifully wrought, so assertive in its own aesthetic logic, that I now cannot see how one might separate it from his fictional cosmography. His language is the at times monolithic, at times evanescent architecture by which his world achieves its logic.
“The sailor Larsen was first to spy the jagged line of witch-like cones and pinnacles ahead, and his shouts sent everyone to the windows of the great cabined plane. Despite our speed, they were very slow in gaining prominence; hence we knew that they must be infinitely far off, and visible only because of their abnormal height. Little by little, however, they rose grimly into the western sky; allowing us to distinguish various bare, bleak, blackish summits, and to catch the curious sense of fantasy which they inspired as seen in the reddish antarctic light against the provocative background of iridescent ice-dust clouds. In the whole spectacle there was a persistent, pervasive hint of stupendous secrecy and potential revelation. It was as if these stark, nightmare spires marked the pylons of a frightful gateway into forbidden spheres of dream, and complex gulfs of remote time, space, and ultra-dimensionality. I could not help feeling that they were evil thingsâ€”mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss. That seething, half-luminous cloud background held ineffable suggestions of a vague, ethereal beyondness far more than terrestrially spatial, and gave appalling reminders of the utter remoteness, separateness, desolation, and aeon-long death of this untrodden and unfathomed austral world.”
Both quotes are from At the Mountains of Madness (1931). Image by Gutalin.