Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Lovecraft & Roerich

In the Antarctic eldritch horror travelogue 'At the Mountains of Madness,' H. P. Lovecraft makes mention of the "strange and disturbing Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich" a total of seven times.  I didn't notice that in my first read-through in my tween years.  The story was full of bizarre references to the Miskatonic University, Edgar Allan Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the famed Plateau of Leng, and the Necronomicon - and I wasn't exactly sure what was real and what was not.

Admittedly, 'At the Mountains of Madness' was serialized in Astounding Stories in three issues, so some repetition is understandable, but still that leaves, on average, two mentions of this mysterious Nicholas Roerich per serial episode.  It was something H. P. Lovecraft expected his readers to know about.  So, during my most recent read through, I hit up Google in search of answers about this mysterious artist.

Well what do you know? Nicholas Roerich was real.  Per Wikipedia, he was a "Russian mystic, painter, philosopher, scientist, writer, traveler, and public figure."  As well as being a novelist and prolific painter, he also advocated protecting historical sites and institutions devoted to education, art, and science.  He was nominated several times for the Noble Prize.  The more I read about the guy, the more I like him, despite his somewhat grumpy appearance in photos and paintings.

The paintings Lovecraft mentions - well - Roerich spewed out art like a frantic machine.  Identifying the specific paintings is impossible becasue there are so many to choose from.

"Something about the scene reminded me of the strange and disturbing Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich, and of the still stranger and more disturbing descriptions of the evilly fabled plateau of Leng which occur in the dreaded Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"Odd formations on slopes of highest mountains. Great low square blocks with exactly vertical sides, and rectangular lines of low, vertical ramparts, like the old Asian castles clinging to steep mountains in Roerich’s paintings." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"It was young Danforth who drew our notice to the curious regularities of the higher mountain skyline - regularities like clinging fragments of perfect cubes, which Lake had mentioned in his messages, and which indeed justified his comparison with the dreamlike suggestions of primordial temple ruins, on cloudy Asian mountaintops so subtly and strangely painted by Roerich." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"There was indeed something hauntingly Roerich-like about this whole unearthly continent of mountainous mystery.  On some of the peaks, though, the regular cube and rampart formations were bolder and plainer, having doubly fantastic similitudes to Roerich-painted Asian hill ruins. The distribution of cryptical cave mouths on the black snow-denuded summits seemed roughly even as far as the range could be traced." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"As we drew near the forbidding peaks, dark and sinister above the line of crevasse-riven snow and interstitial glaciers, we noticed more and more the curiously regular formations clinging to the slopes; and thought again of the strange Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

"From these foothills the black, ruin-crusted slopes reared up starkly and hideously against the east, again reminding us of those strange Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich; and when we thought of the frightful amorphous entities that might have pushed their fetidly squirming way even to the topmost hollow pinnacles, we could not face without panic the prospect of again sailing by those suggestive skyward cave mouths where the wind made sounds like an evil musical piping over a wide range." - H. P. Lovecraft, 'At the Mountains of Madness'

There is a substantial quantity of Nicholas Roerich's work to see.  The Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York would probably be a great place to go visit, but you can take a virtual peek at the museum. Or you can aways Google your way to more art.

So go check out some of the art that inspired H. P. Lovecraft to be all freaky-deaky, and maybe add some freaky-deakiness to your campiagn afterwards.  Oh, and while the following images doesn't quite fit in with 'At the Mountains of Madness' - it still sets quite a mood:

- Ark


  1. Love that second one down - reminds me of the Tulku's monastery from The Shadow.

    And am I seeing things or is there a face on the mountainside in the fifth one?

  2. I have used some of his work (especially his earlier more Slavic art-noveau paintings) on the blog and in Borderlands. Beautiful, evocative stuff, good call for inspirational material.

    Word captcha: fartna

  3. These are great! I recently read the story for the first time, and I noticed the repetitive references as well, but I never thought to actually look them up. I'm glad you did!

  4. Ha! I was just looking at some of his stuff the other day.

    Having recently joined a game set in noisms' Yoon-Suin, I think these are particularly evocative of that setting.

  5. Wow, thanks for this research Ark! I read Mountains of Madness before the internet existed, and never thought to check this out.