H.P. Lovecraft: Geologist and Antarctic Explorer

One of the most impressive components of At the Mountains of Madness was Lovecraft’s current (for the time) knowledge on geology and the history of life on Earth.  It is one of the many factors that makes the story so impressive and entertaining; HPL was an expert at incorporating real science, history and archeology into his mythos, making his stories all the more realistic and interesting.

Map of Antarctica (www.wikipedia.com)

Not only did HPL incorporate the most up-to-date scientific information in his stories but he actually modified stories based on new scientific research and data that were made available to the public.

It was hypothesized by a few in the 19th century that Antarctica was composed of two separate land masses.  This idea was held by Sir James Clark Ross, a famous Artic and Antarctic explorer of the 19th century who HPL must have read about.   HPL believed this multiple-land mass hypothesis as well and referred to this in the original text of At the Mountains of Madness (The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi; 1997).  In the original text HPL made a specific reference to more than one Antarctic land mass; he referred to the two land masses being separate by a frozen junction of Ross and Weddell Seas.  As shown in the map above, it appears as if there are two land masses; a smaller West Antarctica and a larger East Antarctica.

However, after it was confirmed through additional expeditions that Antarctica is one large land mass, HPL actually went out his way to make sure that this fact was corrected in the story.  In fact, the updated text states, “-which we then thought to form a separate and smaller continent divided from the large one by a frozen junction of Ross and Weddell Seas, though Byrd has since disproved the hypothesis” (S.T. Joshi, 1997).  It is interesting that HPL went through his literary agent Julius Schwartz to get Astounding Stories to change that particular passage to coincide with the most up-to-date scientific data on Antarctica.  However, as Joshi cited, in spite of correcting the statement, that Antarctica is not made up of two land masses but one, HPL was still in error about who disproved the hypothesis.  It was not Richard E. Byrd but instead Lincoln Ellsworth and Herbert Hollick-Kenyon who disproved it by flying completely over the continent from the Weddell to the Ross Sea (Joshi, 1007).

Astounding Stories from 1936

While HPL mistakenly credited Byrd for disproving the two-land mass Antarctic hypothesis , the fact that he went out of his way to correct text before his story was published, to agree with the most up-to-date facts, is impressive.  It once again demonstrates how HPL appreciated and cared for science as a means of investing and modeling reality.  It certainly identifies how adept he was at integrating science and fiction into an incredible story.

Next time the discussion will focus on the Spawn of Cthulhu.  Thank you.


Tibet, Himalayas by Nikolai Roerich (Roerich’s paintings certainly influenced Lovecraft in developing At the Mountains of Madness)


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