H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (written 1931; published 1936) and John W. Campbell's Who Goes There? (1938) are both stories about prehistoric extraterrestrials discovered frozen in the Antarctic. Published just two years apart, the stories seem to share a common DNA despite the obvious differences in plot. Lovecraft's story uses its spare plotting to frame a lengthy disquisition on the history of the extraterrestrial Elder Things and their civilization, while Campbell takes a very similar premise and instead takes it in an action-thriller direction, telling a story of paranoia and fear later made into the movies The Thing from Another World and The Thing. To close the loop, in making The Thing director John Carpenter drew on Lovecraftian influences from At the Mountains of Madness.
Scholars have been divided on whether Campbell's story was inspired by Lovecraft's or whether the two hit upon the same premise independently or from a common source. Madness was published in 1936 in Astounding Stories, and Campbell became the editor of that magazine the next year, when it was renamed Astounding Science-Fiction. In that magazine he published Who Goes There? Given this, it seems to me likely that Campbell was familiar with Lovecraft's story--what editor doesn't review back issues when taking over?
A comparison of specific details from the stories show just how similar they are beneath the differences in style, pacing, and plotting.
I don't think Campbell was copying Lovecraft or meant anything nefarious; I think he was probably inspired by Lovecraft's story and made his own faster-paced, more commercial version. I can't say whether this was done purposely or was the result of an unconscious influence. The underlying similarities, though, suggest a connection that is probably more than coincidence.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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