This book is a terrific deal and steal for anyone interested in classic horror and sci-fi. I'd heard of HP Lovecraft and knew, generally, that he is one of the grandfathers of those two genres, but I'd never read him before. I'd seen somewhere recently that his story "Mountains of Madness" was the base upon which the movie "The Thing" was created. John Carpenter's 1980's remake was the first hardcore horror movie I ever saw as a kid, and still lives in a dark, shadowy, and very cold place in my memories.
"Mountains of Madness" was written in the '30s. The early 20th century represented a golden age of exploration and discovery. Both poles were "captured"; jungle pyramids and ancient hideaways were discovered galore. Newspapers, newsreels and books were filled with adventure and the promise of something new that tended to be very old. It's in this context that Lovecraft's narrator visits Antarctica and makes a discovery of something of incomparably ancient. It tells the previously untold story of an Antarctic scientific mission gone horribly wrong and is crafted from the perspective of a scientist who was involved in the mission and who's desperate to warn off future efforts to investigate the strange goings-on.
A fascination and passion with exploration and discovery comes clearly through Lovecraft's writing. Lovecraft repeatedly refers to the "Cyclopean" sized objects in the Antarctic...a term used by Hiram Bingham in describing the first Inca-carved stone blocks he discovered in Peru. He even compares one of the ancient discoveries as looking like Machu Picchu.
The richly detailed story is thick with mood- and scene-setting. The story builds slowly and Lovecraft incorporates well-timed and teasing foreshadowing that frames a downright creepy story. More than once, I found myself jumping with shock at a startling noise when reading the story alone at night.
This story collection also includes "Call of the Cthulhu" - another foundational story and theme from Lovecraft. "Mountains of Madness" is a longish short story...about 100 pages total. "Cthulhu" is much shorter, at only about 25 pages, but paints an amazing portrait of an ancient supernatural underwater beast come to life in modern times.
Both stories build extensive myths around fictional beings and religion. The ideas behind the myth-building are very realistic, and go a long way to feed the terrifically detailed stories. Both are presented from an investigative perspective, which builds the stories and characters well and includes deftly developed foreshadowing that intensifies the drama and tension while avoiding details that give too much away. They're creepy, moody and satisfyingly scary.