Lovecraft's Mountains of Madness, illustrated by Baranger - Review

Lovecraft's Mountains of Madness, illustrated by Baranger - Review
Colossal work that is part of the legendary Cthulhu Cycle, The Mountains of Madness is one of Lovecraft's most important and popular writings, a classic of American horror literature capable of sketching with explosive imaginative power a situation bordering on credibility, blurring demarcation between the realm of the fantastic and possibilism. Forerunner of a specific sub-genre of stories set in the polar regions and immense source of inspiration for films (Carpenter's The Thing is one of the shining examples), literary works and video games, The Mountains of Madness could not fail to attract artists and illustrators as well .

The Mountains of Madness, a key work

Over the years many have tried to offer interpretations, clear images and interpretations of Lovecraft's dark and gloomy fantasy; a legacy first imprinted on paper and then in the minds of those who have been overwhelmed by the cosmic and unfathomable horrors of an undisputed genius of literature. And on balance it is a challenge that continues today, because Lovecraft's writing, although hypertrophic and articulated, often travels in images. On the other hand, to really work the horror needs to be suggested and never revealed in front of the reader or viewer; it must creep under the skin and invigorate the imagination with the constancy of a pulsating doubt, concealing itself from view or allowing itself fleeting and fleeting apparitions. That is why at the idea of ​​having to talk about a volume that presents the images with undoubted creative force, some questions arose spontaneously. However, curiosity was paired with doubt, because if it is true that Fran├žois Baranger is historically an all-round artist, it is also true that he is in particular a visionary and formidable concept artist.

His concepts are part of an important team effort that has given rise to blockbusters such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Sea of ​​Monsters, Beauty and The Beast, but also to the popular video games by David Cage Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, just to name some of the most significant works he has collaborated on. The only common denominator: an immediately recognizable style and an admirable ability to make his art malleable, current and never banal. Illustrating The Mountains of Madness is a dream come true for Baranger, because for a long time he had the desire to offer the public his personal interpretation of the Lovecraftian horrors: he has already done so with The Call of Cthulhu, and he does so today with the first of two volumes dedicated to what for the genre it belongs to is a work of capital importance.

The product of Free League Publishing, perhaps not to be outdone by the greatness of the author, is presented in really very generous dimensions: 262 x 350 mm of pure hallucinated delusions, which give life to that madness in the ice that still today is able to generate a terrified reverence for the unknown that lurks in the caves of Antarctica, where something of ancient it remained buried in the permafrost. The elegant dust jacket of the hardcover brings to the fore, on the front, the unknown and mammoth architecture that stands out among the perennial snows, while two men are walking on the perilous slopes of the great white that envelops everything; on the back, on the other hand, there is one of the key illustrations of the volume, that is the exact moment in which the shocking discovery of an unknown form of life takes place inside a natural rocky tunnel.

The rebirth of terror with Baranger's art

It is almost ironic to think that The Mountains of Madness almost never saw the light. Repeatedly rejected and published only in a reworked form five years after its writing, the poor success of the short novel threw Lovecraft into total discomfort, who had come a step away from hanging up his pen. Even more absurd is to think that such a brilliant writing, a pioneer of a new way of understanding horror, and even a forerunner of some valid and even nothing far-fetched theories, could get lost in thin air due to the blindness of the publishers of that period.

The Mountains of Madness tells of an expedition to the South Pole that went down the drain, of men who stumble upon something much greater than themselves, of a discovery that probably no scientist would ever believe, even in the face to the evidence of photographic finds.

The first part of the volume is not brutally interrupted, but rather manages to generate sincere curiosity in those who are not familiar with or sufficient knowledge of Lovecraft's writing. The splendid tables by Baranger contribute to this result, laid on a double page as a background, with the text that frames them without ever presenting impertinent flaring designed to partially obscure the details, demonstrating the very good layout and the excellent work done as regards the organization of spaces. And this is by no means something to be taken for granted, because the tables in which dazzling white takes over are many, thus offering the possibility of a greater relaxation of the text. Instead there is always an orderly balance in the composition of the image, as if the two forms of art enter into symbiosis, returning a result where the perfect integration between writing and images takes place.

Although Baranger's work is never out of focus, it must be admitted that not all illustrations manage to bewitch as they should: some are rather subdued, and in this sense it should also be emphasized a certain objective difficulty in being able to underline parts of the story in which, in fact, there is a little to highlight. In the central part of the volume, which coincides with the most descriptive moments of the operations of the team involved in the expedition, there are no particular flashes capable of hitting the mark, and unfortunately there is the same incredible desolation that only the aseptic whiteness of perennial snows is able to emanate. However, these are a couple of isolated cases, a really short qualitative depression, which never repeats itself and which is indeed counterbalanced by peaks that occur especially when Baranger is called upon to give his best to emphasize the most of relief.

In this regard, take a look at the colossal structures of ancient civilization and the way in which the ruins have been reproduced in great detail, and how during the reconnaissance phases on the plane the topography of that boundless territory that is lost in the ice. And again, observe with what taste the creatures discovered in the cave are painted, with their clumsy and grotesque forms, their swollen and apparently pregnant bellies; and those misshapen heads with long, soft outgrowths like partially developed gills jutting out into space. It is here that Baranger shows all his creative verve, alternating it with tables in which you notice a wise use of warm colors in the interiors or in dying sunsets, almost as if to mitigate the dazzling white that erases the thought, preparing it for visions that will torment anyone. has the unfortunate fate of going too far with the mental images (and the real ones of Baranger) that only Lovecraft can instill with so much skill.

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