Lovecraft as a Biologist

While biology was not Lovecraft’s favorite scientific discipline, that obviously was astronomy, he still would have made a decent biologist.  Since seafood made him sick to his stomach he certainly would not have made a good marine biologist.  However, his knowledge on fossil organisms (particularly invertebrates) relative to what was known at the time of Earth’s geologic timeline is very impressive.  This knowledge comes out beautifully in At the Mountains of Madness; so much so that he would have made a decent paleontologist or evolutionary biologist.

It should also be noted that Lovecraft’s incredible level of detail in describing the Elder Ones makes him a worthy candidate for being a taxonomist.  I will not provide a full quote of Lovecraft’s description of the Elder Ones.  For that, please see  the radio transmission’s Lake provided in Chapter 2.  There are paragraphs upon paragraphs described what the Elder Ones look like.  Reading the story for the first time in Middle School, as a young budding biologist myself, I was extremely impressed by the description.  Lovecraft goes into such detail that you actual feel like a biologist is giving a detailed description of this ancient “fossil”.  The only very minor point I thought was odd was that measurements were given in English and not metric.  Still, this level of detail for something that was “otherworldly” blew my mind and give the story that sense of realism.

Specimens by Oliver Specht from the Art of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos (edited by P. Harrigan and B. Wood)
Specimens by Oliver Specht from the Art of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos(edited by P. Harrigan and B. Wood)

This high level of detail Lovecraft provided in describing the Elder Ones conveyed a high amount of realism within the context of the story.  This reminds me of an audio commentary for the movie The Abominable Snowman, a Hammer Film directed by Val Guest.  Unlike most Hammer Films that featured gothic horror stories of vampires or werewolves, this film was more of a semi-serious expedition to the Himalayas to find and capture a yeti.  I highly recommend this film.

In any event, Val Guest, in his director’s commentary, stated that Peter Cushing who starred in the movie always did tiny little improv moves when he played a scientist.  In one scene he was examining a yeti tooth and pulls measuring tape out of his pocket to measure its length.  It was not in the script nor in Mr. Guest’s direction but Mr. Cushing always did little things like that to emphasize that he is a real scientist.  It is the accumulation of those “little touches” that help to create the mood and atmosphere of an effective weird tale and that is successfully accomplished by Lovecraft in At the Mountains of Madness.

Next time I will go back to the original idea of discussing Elder One society and history.  Thank you – Fred


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