I can only tell from my memory, as I do not have the book here at the moment.

In the end the two protagonists leave the ancient city in the airplane. The companion of the narrator looks back at the mountains behind the city one last time and screams "tekeli-li". What did he see? Why did he scream in the language of the elder ones? It is their language, right? And what was in that mountains?

I guess Lovecraft never told, but are there hints in other works?

  • 1
    Spoiler alert! D: Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 21:14
  • true! I change it. However - the question title itself should indicate a spoiler.
    – Till B
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 21:16
  • 2
    Maybe something like this? :)
    – Tom Zych
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 0:49
  • 4
    It's a lovecraft story. The main character dies or goes mad (or both).
    – Jeff
    Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 22:07
  • @TomZych Classic...
    – TGnat
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 17:26

6 Answers 6


Well, as Lovecraft liked to do, it's not laid out explicitly, but, here's how Wikipedia describes it:

As the two progress further into the city, they are ultimately drawn to a massive, ominous entrance which is the opening of a tunnel which they believe leads into the subterranean region described in the murals. Compulsively they are drawn in, finding further horrors: evidence of dead Elder Things caught in a brutal struggle and blind six-foot-tall penguins wandering around placidly. They are confronted with an immense, ululating horror in the form of a black, bubbling mass, which they identify as a Shoggoth. They escape with their lives using luck and diversion. On the plane high above the plateau, Danforth looks back and sees something that causes him to lose his sanity. He refuses to tell anyone (even Dyer) what he saw, though it is implied that it has something to do with what lies beyond the larger mountain range that even the Elder Things feared.

Professor Dyer concludes that the Elder Things and their civilization were destroyed by the Shoggoths they created and that this entity has sustained itself on the enormous penguins since eons past. He begs the planners of the next proposed Antarctic expedition to stay away from things that should not be loosed on this Earth.

You can read it free, btw, via WikiSource, as well as a few other places, as I believe it's entered the public domain..

Here's the text, though, with what IS available in the story about what he saw:

All that Danforth has ever hinted is that the final horror was a mirage. It was not, he declares, anything connected with the cubes and caves of those echoing, vaporous, wormily-honeycombed mountains of madness which we crossed; but a single fantastic, demoniac glimpse, among the churning zenith clouds, of what lay back of those other violet westward mountains which the Old Ones had shunned and feared. It is very probable that the thing was a sheer delusion born of the previous stresses we had passed through, and of the actual though unrecognized mirage of the dead transmontane city experienced near Lake's camp the day before; but it was so real to Danforth that he suffers from it still.

He has on rare occasions whispered disjointed and irresponsible things about "The black pit," "the carven rim," "the protoShoggoths," "the windowless solids with five dimensions," "the nameless cylinder," "the elder Pharos," "Yog-Sothoth," "the primal white jelly," "the color out of space," "the wings," "the eyes in darkness," "the moon-ladder," "the original, the eternal, the undying," and other bizarre conceptions; but when he is fully himself he repudiates all this and attributes it to his curious and macabre reading of earlier years.

  • My reading of it was that the Shoggoth were mimicking the old one's forms, and had started to become a crude proto-version of them. Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 11:55

The tekeli-li cry comes from one of Poe's works: The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. His only novel, and an interesting read, the book theorizes that the earth is actually hollow, with portals, so to speak, at the poles. The Narrative was a direct influence on The Mountains of Madness.


The most frightening part of a horror story is what you don't show. The reader is supposed to conjure up whatever Danforth thought he saw "back of" (which means behind or beyond) the mountains. The narrator misses it because the clouds shift, and that only adds to the mystery, because Danforth couldn't have gotten more than a distant, indistinct glimpse. HPL thoughtfully provides a list of triggers.


We know that Dyer and Danforth encounter the bodies of the Old Ones killed by a shoggoth, and then witness the shoggoth itself and flee the city afterwards. Then, having escaped the city and taken off in their aircraft, Danforth sees, or thinks he does, something. It seems that even Lovecraft himself was not completely satisfied or certain about this something though. In a letter to August Derleth on 16 May 1931, he wrote:

"Now as to the end of the thing -- of course I'm not satisfied myself, but I am very oddly unable whether more or less definiteness is needed. Remember Arthur Gordon Pym. In my tale the shoggoth provides a concrete & tangible climax -- & what I wished to add was merely a vague hint of further spiritual horrors -- as Poe hinted with his white birds screaming "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!" I wanted to leave the actuality of the glimpse very unsettled, so that it might easily pass off as an hallucination. Possibly I ought to have left it vaguer still -- & then again I had an idea that the thing ought to be developed at full length -- perhaps as a sequel to the present thing, or perhaps as an expansion of that thing to full book length .... with the Simon & Schuster request, received last January, in mind. What the thing was supposed to be, of course, was a region containing vestiges of some utterly primal cosmic force or process ruling or occupying the earth (among other planets) even before its solidification, & upheaved from the sea-bottom when the great Antarctic land mass arose. Lack of interest in the world beyond the inner mountains would account of its non-reconquest of the sphere. But then again, there may have been no such thing! Those Others may well have had their superstitions -- & of course Danforth was strangely read, nervously organised, & fresh from a terrific shock.... Anyhow, what I did set down was a sort of weak compromise betwist the two ways I vaguely & ineffectively thought it ought to be."

A shame that HPL never wrote the sequel he refers to in the quotation above!


Personally, I always assumed that he saw one or more Elder Things flying towards the plane. It is hinted that there are still some Elder things alive (or at least in cryogenics) that come back and rescue their dead. The horror comes from the fact that man is not alone and is just a small part in a large horrible universe that will eventually eat him. This is why Danforth goes insane.

  • 1
    Those Elder Things were all dead by then, killed by Shoggoths. The implication is that Danforth saw something worse than all the horrors they'd gone through already that drove him mad.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 23:16
  • 2
    The Elder Things or Old Ones appear no longer as scary towards the end of the story, but are in fact greatly respected ("They were men"). So they don't work as a scare at the end of the story.
    – Erik Hart
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 19:24

He probably saw one of the Outer Gods, or a portion of one of them in this plane. Most of them cause insanity just by seeing them. I doubt we'll ever know exactly which one, but I think most people believe it to be Yog-Sothoth.

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