Lovecraft’s Inspiration for At the Mountains of Madness: The Paintings of Nicholas Roerich

roerich Icy SphinxOne of Lovecraft’s most famous works of literature, and certainly his longest, is the magnificent novelette At the Mountains of Madness. This work is one of the best examples of a particular facet of the Cthulhu Mythos: the survival of intelligent and powerful creatures of a time before the coming of Man. In this theme we see the invalidation of our conceptions permanence and safety. If such societies could have existed, and fallen, then so can we humans. Such ancient cultures, if revived, could pose an existential threat to humanity as a whole, or at least our dominance over this planet. In At the Mountains of Madness, this theme is explored through the devise of an expedition to the south pole. There the narrator, William Dyer, along with his research team of fellow scientists and explorers, uncover an ancient city – along with the improbable survival of a few members of the ancient race which built it. Frequent readers of this blog may remember my horrified lament at the failure of James Cameron’s attempts to film this particular work; listeners to the podcast may recall our gushing over this story in our readers guide to the Cthulhu Mythos.

Frequently throughout the beginning of the tale the art of Nicholas Roerich is referenced. Nicholas Roerich was a Russian painter, philosopher, archaeologist and orientalist who led several expeditions in the period between the two world wars to central Asia and Manchuria. You can clearly see in his paintings his love of the mysterious, the ancient and arcane. In the paintings below you can detect a similar atmosphere as that which pervades much of Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness: the massive, cold austerity of the mountains, along with survivals from a mysterious past. It is clear that Lovecraft was taken with his works, and must have drawn great inspiration from them. Consider the following:

roerich Great Spirit of the Himalayasroerich atlantisRoerich Most SacredRoerich’s work can be seen at the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York, the International Centre of the Roerichs and the Estonian Roerich Society. A discussion of At the Mountains of Madness can be found at the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast.

About Paul

Cuchulain (otherwise known as Paul) has been playing roleplaying games since he was 10 years old. Although he'll play any game under the sun, he prefers characterisation and plot over tactics and mechanics. He is never happier than when playing in or mastering a horror campaign - preferably with heavy Cthulhu Mythos overtones or theme.
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