Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Taste of Antarctica

A day such as this one, with the crisp brilliance of a harsh sun over the windswept unshifting snow, always brings to my mind polar landscapes, forlorn yet majestic, and ice shelves bathed by freezing seas of exotic names, and mind sweeping mysteries forever buried in the cold.

It’s all the more suiting that I’ve just finished reading H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” the story of the Antarctic expedition that discovers strange fossils and unbelievable terror. Although I have known of this Master of horror for a long time, this is my first encounter with his work, prompted – I must gratefully say- by some of the comments that my story “A Harvest of the Deep” has received on this blog. How I wish I were a “real” part of that Miskatonic Expedition, and flew over those gigantic mountains, and stepped onto the stones of that Cyclopean city...

Aksel Karcher at www.splutterfish.com

"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 things--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."

There are certain books that do this to me, books that, beyond any reasonable explanation, will always represent a never-ending fascination to me. Books that I HAVE to have, and keep close to me, and read again and again, or just touch and relish in the comfort of their presence. This is and will remain now one of them.

Another of these books is “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” by Edgar Allan Poe, this overwhelming genius and one of my most beloved authors, and often mentioned by Lovecraft in “At the Mountains of Madness.” And its sequel of course, Jules Verne’s “Le sphinx des glaces” (“The Sphinx of the Ice Fields” – translated as “An Antarctic Mystery”). Those of you who have read Pym might remember its haunting ending.

"And now we rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where a chasm threw itself open to receive us. But there arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow."

This is where Jules Verne picks up from and expands, bringing to the fantastic and the horror of Poe the rational quality of his science fiction.

"One day I witnessed the departure of an albatross, saluted by the very best croaks of the penguins, no doubt as a friend whom they were to see no more. Those powerful birds can fly for two hundred leagues without resting for a moment, and with such rapidity that they sweep through vast spaces in a few hours. The departing albatross sat motionless upon a high rock, at the end of the bay of Christmas Harbour, looking at the waves as they dashed violently against the beach.

Suddenly, the bird rose with a great sweep into the air, its claws folded beneath it, its head stretched out like the prow of a ship, uttering its shrill cry: a few moments later it was reduced to a black speck in the vast height and disappeared behind the misty curtain of the south."


Fantastic expeditions in frozen lands, thus was my daydreaming on this frigid January day...

15 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

At the Mountains of madness. That takes me back. This one and the Narrative of Pym are both quite similar to me too. There's something very eerie about them. I bet you will like Lovecraft's dream city stories.

Charles Gramlich said...

Check out the collection called "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath."

the walking man said...

No need to read...just step outside the door if you wish to visit the vast frozen desert. North America is captured in the hateful cold claws of winter...Vesper, I'll put this post down to winter madness ({:-P})and shelve these works until July when the heat is there to make them seem less real.

BernardL said...

Intriguing review and contemplation, Vesper.

Taffiny said...

I haven't read any of those books, but I get a shiver just thinking about it.

I love when I feel that way about a story...

"There are certain books that do this to me, books that, beyond any reasonable explanation, will always represent a never-ending fascination to me. Books that I HAVE to have, and keep close to me, and read again and again, or just touch and relish in the comfort of their presence."

I love that feeling. When something you find outside of yourself, connects with something inside. And are somehow part of each other.

Rick said...

Hello Vesper! We just got our contracts for "Tales Out of Miskatonic University," so when the book is released this year you just might be able to participate in the activities of that venerable institution of higher learning! Have you ever read Dracula? If you haven't had the pleasure, I think you'll find it both interesting and instructive. It's a bit different than the movies, but all the more interesting because of it.

Vesper said...

Eerie they are, Charles, and I like that. Thanks for the title of the collection. Unfortunately the book is not available at amazon.ca but I found them free at gutenberg, along with many others.

Yes, Mark, a little (pleasant) madness... :-) :-) :-) I look outside and I read, and that makes it even better... :-)

Thanks, Bernard.

Taffiny, yes, it's a wonderful feeling, the promise (or illusion) of great treasure to be found in a book.

Hello Rick! Thank you, I'm looking forward to it. Dracula ranks very high among those books I was mentioning. It might even be THE book. :-)

laughingwolf said...

good choices, v... i'm a huge fan of these three, too :D

~PakKaramu~ said...

a path way leading to better tomorrows

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

I love the way you are contemplating the polar landscapes, the ice shelves bathed by freezing seas - and oh, those mysteries! I guess looking outside on a day like today - puts one in mind of such frosty literary pursuits!

I must admit, I have only read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. (loved the ending, so many didn't) I am a huge Poe fan, as well. I worked one summer as a tour guide at the Poe Museum in Richmond, VA. (a little trivia)

Thanks for this finely written review, Vesper. And - stay warm!
brrrrrrrrr ;)

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Aren't those words just so wonderfully rich - an icy, devastating evocative tapestry of place.
Lovely post, Vesper, perfection reflections for mid winter.
xxx

Jon M said...

I read the Lovecraft many years ago, chilling stuff!

Vesper said...

Thanks, LW, I was sure you were... :-)

Let's all hope for better tomorrows, ~PakKaramu~.

It always puts me in such a mind, K.... :-) Thank you!
The Poe Museum - I'd like very much to visit that!

Thank you, Vanilla! :-) You are physically so much closer to those places... xoxoxo

Jon, I just LOVE his chilling stories!

Sarah Hina said...

I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm not familiar with any of these works, but you make me wish I was! :) Thanks for highlighting some of the books you love. I can see what attracts you to them.

And yes, a nice day for escaping...

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