“At the time, his shrieks were confined to the repetition of a single, mad word of all too obvious source: “Tekeli-li Tekeli-li”
A single enigmatic word that has such a huge meaning.
I had originally meant to only read two chapters and separate this blog into two different sections, but I just couldn’t stop reading, and there are so many ideas bouncing around that I decided to codify them all into this single blog.
Spoilers ahead, so if you don’t want to read them stop here.
We follow our narrator and Danforth out of the horrible city built by the Shoggoth for the Great Old Ones, and when they make it out they find the lost dog and the young Missing Gedney.
They catch a strange stench and they find a cave down to what the narrator calls the abyss. They follow it down and they find some strange blind albino penguins, and continue past them…until they find some more of the specimens that Lake found, these ones alive. Terrified they run, and they can tell that something large and terrible is following after them. They turn and see that they are being chased by a Shoggoth. Danforth ostensibly goes mad, but they eventually get out.
There are a few points I want to focus on here:
- The Poe connection
- The Blind Albino penguins and evolution
- Anthropomorphism of Star Spawn
- Physiognomy (or lack there of) of the Shoggoth
First lets talk the Poe connection. Tekeli-li is taken from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which Poe references when the narrator hears the cry echo in the abyss.
1.First and foremost, We know that Poe had a large influence on Lovecraft in general, but what is interesting about this is how the entire novella of At the Mountains of Madness is modeled after this story. Poe set out to write a “realistic” story about a sea voyage gone wrong. Poe being Poe, some really crazy things happen. We have Lovecraft here, who is writing the story from the perspective of a scientific expedition. Everything is very logical and adhering to the scientific method throughout, until the end which takes a creepy turn…the same way Poe did in Pym. On top of that, Poe wrote about a connection with the theory of the Hollow Earth. Basically the theory that the earth is hollow and there are vast spaces and potentially civilizations in the middle of the earth. Sound familiar? In Lovecraft’s story we actually see one of these massive civilizations, and it goes way farther than that when the narrator and Danforth go into what is called the abyss. Oh did I mention that both stories take place in Antarctica?
2.Next we have the blind albino penguins. When I started reading this section I wondered what the point was. Why involve these creatures? Was it just a creepy factor to try and scare? A large creature comes out of the cave! Oh…wait…its a blind penguin. It seemed almost laughable at first. Then the more I thought about it the more brilliant it seemed. These penguins were the foreshadowing of something horrible coming. They have lived here for centuries, and down here in the abyss. That accounts for the fact that they are albino, for they very rarely see the sun. Why are they so large? The Shoggoth are huge, so if the penguins never evolved they would just get crushed (which they do anyway when a Shoggoth was incensed). Ok so we can intuit why the penguins are large and albino, but why blind? Is it just because they live in the caves? That could be, but they would probably just have evolved to be able to see in the dark. I think there is a much more sinister reason. We’ll discuss this in the last section.
3.Next Trypophobia, otherwise known as the fear of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps, or honeycomb holes. Lovecraft describes the architecture and the creation of the tunnels to be honeycombed, and he’s doing this for a multitude of reasons. The first is that he wants to give a little preamble to what the Shoggoth are. What kind of nightmare creatures create that type of pattern on purpose? Why is that the aesthetic that they want to look at? Which leads into the second reason, it gives the reader unease. This strange, abnormal pattern leaves many people on edge, and I would purport that Lovecraft suffered from trypophobia as well, which is why he was inclined to include it. The last is that it solidifies these creatures as being cosmic, or otherworldly. That is the kind of shape that one would not want around, but it may be something that makes the Great Old Ones long for home. Yet another reason to instill madness.
4.The anthropomorphism of the Star Spawn in the bas-reliefs. The Shoggoth make these statues almost in a recognizable theme. Except why is that? The Great Old Ones created the Shoggoth on our world. Whenever something is created, the idea of how it looks is relegated to the mind of the creator. Thus when things are created they are generally created in the image of the creator. The Shoggoths are no different. At the end of the story, Danforth, who read The Necronomicon to completion, mentions Yog-Sothoth. Now this is the first mention of this name in any story I have thus read, but just before he mentions this name (which I know is some sort of god in the Lovecraftian pantheon) he mentions proto-Shoggoth. This makes me believe that Yog-Sothoth actually created the Shoggoth in it’s image. Switching to the Shoggoth themselves, they lived as servants for many years, until they finally rose up against the Great Old Ones. As they lived as servants the Shoggoth watched the evolution of the planet, and how the creatures of the land actually became human from primordial ooze. I propose that this is why the Shoggoth rose up, they saw how humanity grew and took out on their own, and they saw what they could be, instead of servants. They thus created the images on the massive underground city based around their uprising. That’s why such an alien culture was legible and understandable from a couple of scientists.
5.Shoggoths are these horrible creatures. What Lovecraft does so well is that he never actually describes the creatures. He mentions that the star spawn have tentacle mouths, and that the Shoggoth have many eyes and are spherical but that’s really it. One of the most interesting descriptions came when the two are running away from their Shoggoth pursuer. Danforth has started to go mad, and is mentioning subway stations. The narrator finally understands and says that the reason is, the Shoggoth looked like a passing train. The shoggoth looked like a blur of steel and windows. The thing that sticks the most here is the world blur. Despite the fact that the Shoggoth wasn’t moving particullarly fast (they were able to out run it), it still looked like a blur. Was this because it was so hideous that our minds couldn’t comprehend it? Or is it because their features move so quickly that they are completely amorphous? This is the true Lovecraft horror. This is why Lovecraft works so well. You have these creatures that if they are described, then we can begin to understand them. When you keep it a mystery, and our minds have trouble categorizing things then unease bleeds in and the horror begins.
What do you think?
Talk about a revelation! Chapter 7 of this story gives so much of what I was looking for! It’s like a primer for Lovecraft.
Our brave explorers continue on their trek through the ancient cosmic city and through the frescoes and sculptures they tell a story of the Great Old Ones who once lived in the city. I will eventually have to go back and read through this chapter because there was so much here to consume.
First off, lets talk Shoggoth. I had thought that this was an actual god, or species of god, or something along those lines. What we find here is that the Shoggoths are actually creations of the Great Old Ones. They were “protoplasmic masses” that were brought together by the Great Old Ones to have slave labor. They were used to create the amazing city that the narrator and Danforth are exploring. The Shoggoths eventually rise up against the Great Old Ones, but were eventually put back down.
We also see a little about Cthulhu and it’s minions. They come down from the cosmos and attack the Great Old Ones. The narrator mentions these creatures as the humanoid Cthulhu spawn. There was a great war, and eventually peace broke out and the Cthulhu spawn was given the land, and the Great Old Ones and the Shoggoth took to the Ocean floor. That is until the Pacific waters rose and the great cities of the Cthulhu spawn were swallowed by the sea. From what I’ve gathered from other stories, the great city R’lyeh, where “all the cosmic octopi” lived is also the prison of Cthulhu itself (from info from the Shadow over Innsmouth). So here we have the origin (at least origin from our worldly perspective) of Cthulhu.
Then, much later, after the war with the Cthulhu spawn and the uprising of the Shoggoth, there came the Mi-go, partially fungoid, partially crustacean creatures. They also came down from the cosmos, and it seems as though they defeated the Great Old Ones, because the Great Old Ones tried to flee, but found that after so long, they could not leave the earth’s atmosphere. They thus fled to all portions of the world.
What is significant to this, is that now we have an understanding of the Great Old One’s reach and some of their capabilities. We also have now two different races besides these creatures, the Cthulhu spawn, and the Mi-go.
The Cthulhu spawn seems to be in the pacific ocean, with their few cities, including the fantastic R’lyeh. So the stories containing them, have to be in the south towards the Antarctic.
Then we have the Mi-go, who began in the Antarctic, but are known in the Himalayas, so they must have migrated during the ice age. Since the only information we have about them is that they flourish in cold environs, we must guess that any mention of the Mi-go to be surrounded by sub-zero temperatures. I imagine this information will be important for investigation later.
SO ultimately, we have people being born from the Great Old Ones. It is implied that our race may have started in this Antarctic city that the expedition has found. However we still have those transformation ideas. Transforming into a fish person. Transforming into an Ape. And transforming into a beast.
Since the Great Old Ones have relegated themselves to the Depths, then it is apparent that they have a direct correlation to the Fish transformation. As of right now I would argue that they also have the Ape transformation under their wing as well. I’m not sure where the beast transformation comes from.
Also we know that Cthulhu is empirically, NOT a Great Old One. This was something I was hazy on. Though I’m assuming that Dagon is one of the children, or lesser Great Old Ones, I have not gotten a name for any others as of yet.
Loving the story thus far, and can’t wait to see if there is any more Mythos in here.
Is there anything I missed?
What do you think?
Continuing the journey into the mountains of madness (chapters five and six). Our narrator and his cohort Danforth head out over the mountains to search out the mysteries of this strange antarctic world. There are sprawling descriptions of the landscape as they fly over it, but they eventually turn the corner and come across a terrible “Cyclopean city”. In this meaning that it is a huge city, all made from stones laid together, not using mortar. This adds to the mystery of the strange civilization, now abandoned. They eventually land down where they can and head into this strange and massive city.
They take samples of the stones, showing that the city is incredibly old, older than any known civilization. Older than the dinosaurs even. This is an interesting perspective for a geologist like our narrator is. If we take out all the horror aspect of this notion, it means an incredible find. Somehow there was a civilization of intelligent creatures, long before we have known to be evolved from apes.
This brings up an interesting notion of transformation to me. There have been many stories where the people in the stories have transformed into fish people, and ape people. A strange juxtaposition. As a writer, Lovecraft is probably trying to find transformative creatures that are terrifying, but if this is indeed the case why not transform people into crabs or some such? Or even Octopus people to give the tentacle nightmares of Cthulhu?
I think there is something deeper that Lovecraft is going for, which is coming to light through the reading of this story. People are descendants from apes, and even farther back, all life has developed from one celled organisms that transformed into amphibious creatures. Is Lovecraft saying with this story that we are all descendant from the Old Ones? Or is it that the Old Ones are transforming people back to the known quantity of what they knew when they had prevalence on our world?
If it’s the latter than there are potentially two different influences. Which of these beings were around during the time we were amphibious and which of them were around when we were Apes?
This story seems to be about the “Great Old Ones” (of which I’m sure will come to light the farther I get in the story, though there is already mention of them), and this was their city before us. Thus the Great Old Ones are beings like Dagon, and Cthulhu, because they are sea dwelling and such.
The strange thing is, this city is huge, but most of the rooms are small. Which means that despite the fact that the narrator talks about how the Great Old Ones came from the stars and the moon, there were other beings here as well. The beings that would house the 30 by 30 rooms that were no larger than 20 feet (Lovecraft goes into specific detail describing the layout of the city)…beings our size. Is it possible that in that ancient civilization there were mortal beings from another planet? Is the end game of this story to presuppose how Human’s came to be on the planet?
I’m over half way through the story with six chapters left, which means three more blogs (unless I get crazy into it and ignore work for a while). I’m excited to see if any of these theories come to light.
What do you think?
This is the first of the novellas by Lovecraft, that I’ve gone into. The organization and tentative handling of the pacing is an interesting elongation of what the short stories experience. This blind read recap comes from chapters 3 and 4, which basically covers the insinuation of something happening.
The crew goes to the destroyed encampment of Lake and they find that it has been completely devastated. It seems like it may have been from a weather event, but things are stranger than they seem. Plus there is a missing expedition member, Gedney, and a missing dog as well. Everyone else was killed, some in what looked like weather, though the circumstances are suspect, but there are some far greater horrors in store.
Many of the expedition members and dogs, were cut up with strange and horrible precision. Doctor precision.
The group makes a search for Gedney, and fly over the strange igneous rock, which doesn’t seem quite normal. In fact Lovecraft describes them as being like paintings of Nicholas Roerich. There is a strange feeling in the air.
Danforth and our narrator eventually go out over these peaks, frequently referred to as Mountains of Madness, and they come upon an “elder and utterly alien earth”.
To the best of my knowledge, these are the first real cliffhanger endings. Every chapter so far has left the reader with something to chew on, and come back to. This type of cliffhanger chapter end, has come into more prominence in writers like Dan Brown and James Patterson, and it’s interesting to see Lovecraft developing something like a 1930’s movie ending. It almost seems like when Flash Gordon is in the car and goes over the cliff, just to find next week, that he jumped out of the car at the last second. Lovecraft is just using his weird horror to elicit those feelings. Truly a master of atmosphere.
The chapters at times feel a bit plodding, but they slowly develop into one serious and terrifying event to end them. It almost feels like each chapter is a book to itself, and the whole novella is part of a series.
It is also interesting to see the narrator be an archaeologist, because the utterly alien horrors that are inherent to Lovecraft are coming from a place of empirical thought, which gives the horror a little more credence when it happens.
I’m going to read through two more chapters on Friday which will take me over halfway through the novella, so if you want to join me feel free!
Also a great way to get through this if you’re new to Lovecraft is to listen to Will Hart’s podcast of it: