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Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; At The Mountains of Madness; Conclusion

“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:

  1.  The Poe connection
  2. The Blind Albino penguins and evolution
  3. Trypophobia
  4. Anthropomorphism of Star Spawn
  5. 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?

One response

  1. Pingback: Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Pt. 1 | Sean McBride

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