Outside the Human Aquarium: The Fantastic Imagination of Clark Ashton Smith

Brian Stableford

Clark Ashton Smith was born in 1893 and died in 1961, having lived for almost all of his life on the outskirts of Auburn, California. He had three overlapping vocations, working as a poet, as a writer of fantastic short stories, and as a sculptor and graphic artist. These careers brought him relatively little financial reward; he probably made a significant income only from the second named, and that only for a few brief years in the 1930s, when he wrote fairly prolifically for two pulp magazines, Weird Tales and Wonder Stories.

The stories that Smith produced during this brief professional phase constitute one of the most remarkable oeuvres in imaginative literature. They were reprinted in a series of collections issued between 1942 and 1970 by the specialist publishing company, Arkham House, but they remained relatively esoteric until Lin Carter edited four paperback collections for the Ballantine "Adult Fantasy" series in the early 1970s. Though these volumes soon went out of print they helped to create an interest in Smiths work which has allowed various collations of his works to be issued at intervals since then. In addition, some amateur publishers have taken a considerable interest in Smith, publishing volumes of poetry, bibliographies, and memoirs of the man, and issuing such oddments as a volume of his collected essays, a volume of his art-work, and a reproduction of the working notebook in which he recorded story ideas during his prolific phase.

From the viewpoint of modern criticism and historians Smith is one of three writers associated with Weird Tales in its heyday whose work stands out as being possessed of extraordinary originality. The other two—H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard—both died in the late thirties, but despite the fact that Smith survived them by a quarter of a century he wrote very little after that period.

In a curious sense, Lovecrafts and Howards deaths did not inhibit the extrapolation of their careers, because other hands took over where they left off, completing story-fragments they left behind and writing pastiches as close as possible in style and spirit to the originals. Lovecraft stands as father-figure to his own sub-genre of weird fiction, his "Cthulhu Mythos" having been used as a background by many other writers, while Howard is one of the key figures in the tradition of "sword and sorcery" fiction, and his violent heroes—most notably Conan the Barbarian—have continued their adventures in the care of other chroniclers.

Smith has not been subject to necrophiliac attentions on anything like this scale, partly because he was always the least celebrated of the three writers and partly because his style is virtually inimitable. Though there are certain recurring patterns in his work it has not the kind of homogeneity and stereotypy which would be capable of mass-production.1

In terms of popular taste all three of these Weird Tales writers were ahead of their time. Their pioneering endeavors appealed in the first instance to a small corps of admirers, whose enthusiasm kept the work alive in the margins of the marketplace until the general evolution of fantastic fiction accustomed a much wider range of readers to the vocabulary of ideas with which they worked. The communicative efficacy of their work had to wait until an audience appeared whose context of understanding could be tuned in to their idiosyncrasies. There are still readers and critics who cannot abide one, two, or all three of them and who stigmatize key features of their work as evidences of bad writing. For this reason, Howard is often written off as a hack producer of fast-moving blood-and-thunder narratives; Lovecraft is taken to task for his stilted prose and piled-up adjectives; Smith is criticized for his love of exotic words and his highly ornamented descriptions.

Such accusations tend to miss the point of the characteristics in question, each of which is a necessary corollary of the particular virtue and virtuosity of the writers work. The pace and violence of Howards work, and the adjectival awkwardness of Lovecrafts, are part and parcel of their distinctive moral and existential contexts. Critics out of sympathy with Howards and Lovecrafts different varieties of quasi-paranoid world-view can hardly be expected to become connoisseurs of their literary development, but it is a pity that this has sometimes prevented the critics from recognizing that what they are seeing is unusual method rather than literary incompetence.

It is particularly necessary to make this point in discussing Smiths work, because although he too was extrapolating in his fiction a quasi-paranoid world-view he was the most unusual of the three writers. Lovecraft was extrapolating a particular kind of anxious consciousness that was already detectable in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and Robert W. Chambers, while Howard was offering a more hard-bitten version of a species of Romanticism already popularized by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Smith was not without literary forebears, and he was prepared to borrow from both Lovecraft and Howard, but his ambition was to go as far beyond his models as he possibly could. His phantasmagoric Romanticism was directed to the ultimate purpose of building dream-worlds stranger and more bizarre than had ever been described before. It was not enough for him to escape the mundane world; he wanted also to outdo in imaginative reach all the established mythologies of past and present.

Smith summed up this ambition in a prose-poem, "To the Daemon," where he offered up the following prayer to the fountainhead of his creativity:

Tell me many tales, O benign maleficent daemon, but tell me none that I have ever heard or have even dreamt of otherwise than obscurely or infrequently. Nay, tell me not of anything that lies within the bourne of time or the limits of space; for I am a little weary of all recorded years and chartered lands.

Tell me many tales, but let them be of things that are past the lore of legend and of which there are no myths in our world or any world adjoining. . . . Tell me tales of inconceivable fear and unimaginable love, in orbs whereto our sun is a nameless star or unto which its rays have never reached. (PP 38)

There is almost nothing in Smiths work of what is usually called "human interest." Those of his characters who live in the mundane world think of it as a drab and desolate place whose tedium is barely tolerable, and they are usually eager to take the opportunities which Smiths imagination offers them to cross thresholds into worlds where the bizarre and the inexplicable are commonplace. Many of these fantasy-worlds are dangerous in the extreme, but the fascination which they exert on his protagonists is irresistible.

In the jargon popularized by J. R. R. Tolkien, Smiths stories are mostly set in Secondary Worlds which have their own "inner consistency of reality," but the most ambitious of them do not seem to have the customary relationship with the Primary World that most imaginary worlds in fantasy fiction have. These milieux exhibit neither the heroic permissiveness of Howardesque sword and sorcery fiction, nor the moral crystallization of Tolkienesque fantasy. The excuses offered in Tolkiens famous apologia for fantasy, "On Fairy Tales"—that Secondary Worlds provide for Recovery, Escape and Consolation—are effectively scorned by Smith; there is no "eucatastrophe" in any of his most striking and heartfelt stories. His fiction is certainly escapist in its fashion, but the "freedom" which his protagonists win by their escape—and which is set to tantalize, by proxy, the reader—is freedom without security, strangeness without safety, and in many cases leads only to doom or bitter disappointment.

Smith did back up his work with a measure of aesthetic theory. He was prepared to defend in articulate fashion, the notion that it was entirely proper for a writer to be unconcerned with the human world, or with such issues as careful characterization and the conventions of narrative realism. In a letter to Amazing Stories published in the issue for October 1932 he proposed that:

Literature can be, and does, many things; and one of its most glorious prerogatives is the exercise of imagination on things that lie beyond human experience—the adventuring of fantasy into the awful, sublime and infinite cosmos outside the human aquarium. . . . For many people . . . imaginative stories offer a welcome and salutary release from the somewhat oppressive tyranny of the homocentric, and help to correct the deeply introverted, ingrowing values that are fostered by present-day "humanism" and realistic literature with its unhealthy materialism and earth-bound trend. Science fiction, at its best, is akin to sublime and exalted poetry, in its evocation of tremendous, non-anthropomorphic imageries. (PD 14-5)

It is not obvious, however, that the kind of escape offered by Smiths fantasies is really all that "salutary and welcome," and its grimness is something which may invite further explanation. If a case is to be made out for there being special merit in Smiths work then his fiction may require an apology more far-reaching than those usually offered for fantastic fictions. Smiths fantasy lies, for the most part, beyond the range of Tolkiens apologia just as its exoticism extends beyond that of more conventional fiction. In order to pave the way for any such explanation and apology, it is necessary to look more closely at the nature, history, and sources of inspiration of Smiths work.

What we know of Smiths life, from memoirs penned by people who met him and from short biographies compiled by L. Sprague de Camp and Donald Sidney-Fryer, suggests that it was remarkable for its uneventfulness.2

Apart from his art-work Smith had no career, though financial necessity drove him to many short periods of casual labor. His parents were relatively elderly when he was born—his father was nearly forty and his mother some years older—and he lived with them until they died, his mother in 1935 and his father in 1937. He did not marry until he was in his sixties, though his biographers suggest that he had earlier love affairs, perhaps with married women. Once the family moved into the small house which his father built on lonely Boulder Ridge in 1907 Smith very rarely left it until he married-- visits to friends who lived further away than Auburn seem to have been very few and far between. Although he was highly intelligent, and read voraciously, Smith never attended high school or college, preferring to educate himself.

Despite this virtual isolation, however, there was nothing parochial about Smiths view of the world. In his correspondence he gave every indication that he loathed Auburn, and longed to be elsewhere, and yet he never left it. When he was in his twenties his health broke down, and for eight years between 1913 and 1921 he was unwell, suffering from various aches and pains and from periodic bouts of fever. A local doctor tentatively diagnosed tuberculosis, but de Camp considers this diagnosis to have been unreliable. By the time he had regained his health (and he recovered it sufficiently to undertake some hard manual labors in subsequent years) Smith may have felt that he was bound to Boulder Ridge by the aging of his parents, who needed to be looked after, but it is not easy to say why he did not leave Auburn once they were dead—or, for that matter, why he accomplished almost nothing during the remaining quarter-century of his life. Almost all of his best poetry, and all of his best fiction, was written before 1935.

Smiths interest in the exotic began, it appears, at an early age. He was a precocious child, and records in his brief autobiographical statements (written for the pulp magazines in the 1930s) that he began to write in his early teens, producing many oriental fantasies. His interest in the Orient had apparently been provoked by reading the Thousand-and-One Nights at the age of eleven. At the age of thirteen his interest in the exotic was further encouraged by his discovery of Edgar Allan Poe, whose poetry was an important early influence on his own. At fifteen he discovered the work of the California poet. George Sterling. who was to become an important influence and eventually a friend.

Though George Sterling is almost forgotten today he published frequently in the popular middlebrow magazines of his day and was a celebrity on the west coast; his major collections were each reprinted several times during the 1900s. Smith sent some of his poems to Sterling in 1911, at the suggestion of a schoolteacher friend, and began a correspondence which led to a meeting in 1912. At that time Smith stayed with Sterling in Carmel for about a month, and met other admirers who had formed a kind of Coterie around him. Shortly afterwards Smith came briefly under the wing of a would-be patron of the arts, Boutwell Dunlap, who took him to San Francisco and introduced him to the publisher, A. M. Robinson, who issued Smiths first book, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912). This brief venture into the wider world was never repeated, perhaps because of Smiths health troubles. He continued, though, to correspond with Sterling and several other writers, building up a network of pen-friends which was eventually to include H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.

George Sterling wrote prefaces for Smiths self-financed second and third volumes of poetry, Odes and Sonnets (1918) and Ebony and Crystal (1922), but he ceased to exercise any direct influence on Smith when he died in 1926, having taken poison—though Smith apparently doubted that he had really committed suicide.

There is a sense in which some of Smiths work takes over where Sterling left off, and Smith was influenced in particular by two of Sterlings poems: "A Wine of Wizardry" and "The Testimony of the Suns." The former poem, which first drew Smiths attention to Sterling when it was published in Cosmopolitan in 1907, describes in a fashion made literal by its mode of presentation a flight of Fancy, which takes her at hectic pace through various mythological scenarios of dark and Satanic character until she quits the earth entirely and sets forth for a distant star. At the end of the peculiar odyssey the poet, despite the fact that his vision has shown him that the world of the imagination is redolent with sinister and malignant figures, declares himself content to have indulged in its intoxication. "The Testimony of the Suns" had been the title poem of a collection first issued in 1903; it ventures even further into distant realms of the imagination, and Smith wrote that it contained:

lines that evoke the silence of infinitude, verses in which one hears the crash of gliding planets, verses that are clarion-calls in the immemorial war of suns and systems, and others that are like the cadences of some sidereal requiem, chanted by seraphim over a world that is "stone and night." (PD 5)

Though these two poems are exceptional in Sterlings canon they are not entirely without echoes in the work of other California poets. The work of another sometime resident of Carmel, Edwin Markham (a much older man than Sterling, having been born in 1852), includes much religious poetry of a visionary nature, and Markham was ultimately to produce a spectacular supernatural odyssey of his own in "The Ballad of the Gallows" - published in the American Mercury in 1925. This long poem includes a transit of Hell and is replete with morbid imagery, as when skeletons erupt from their graves. These poems remind us that Smiths work—though undeniably extraordinary—is by no means entirely disconnected from the culture of its place and time.

Sterling knew Markham well (Markham wrote the poem "Sarpedon" in Sterlings memory) and he was also well acquainted with Ambrose Bierce, the most famous of all the Californian writers of the day, to whom he showed some of Smiths poetry. Both Markham and Bierce must be counted among Sterlings influences, and hence among Smiths. Of greater importance, however, in determining the shape of Smiths career as a poet were more distant influences upon "A Wine of Wizardry" which Sterling called to Smiths attention: influences from French literature.

Sterling apparently introduced Smith to Baudelaires Fleurs du Mal in English translation—in 1912, and impressed him sufficiently to inspire him eventually to learn French in order to be able to translate such works for himself. It is not entirely clear how extensive Smiths acquaintance with French literature became, but the Arkham House volume of his Selected Poems includes, along with thirty translations and "paraphrases" of Baudelaire, translations from several other writers, including Paul Verlaine, Victor Hugo, José-Maria de Heredia, and Charles Leconte de Lisle (as well as some fake "translations" which are actually Smiths own pseudonymous work).

Although one can only guess how much French poetry and prose Smith read, and when, it is worth considering his affinities with French Romanticism fairly carefully. Even if much of the apparent kinship between his work and the work of certain French authors owes nothing to direct influence, one may still obtain some insight into Smiths world-view by considering the influences that produced similar world-views in France. A similar kinship had already been discovered by the French writers themselves in their adulation for Poe, whose work appeared rather more significant in the context of the French literary tradition than in its own native context.

Like Smith, many French writers had a profound fascination for Orientalia—a fascination which drove many of them actually to undertake eastward voyages (though few got any further than North Africa). Supernatural poetry also abounds in nineteenth-century French literature, where the influence of Poe was supplemented by the influence of such English writers as Edward Young (whose Night Thoughts, translated by Letourneur in 1769, had been very popular) and Lord Byron. A "genre macabre" was extrapolated from collections by Théophile Gautier—notably La Comedie de Ia Mort (1838)—into the work of Baudelaire and Petrus Borel, culminating in Gerard de Nervals "supernaturaliste" poems. Less fevered writers, including the Parnassjan Leconte de Lisle also made abundant use of mythological material, and Leconte de Lisle added to this a broad cosmic perspective strongly influenced by the evolutionist ideas of the day. Many of the French Romantic writers were inspired by delirium, whether they suffered it by accidents of fate (like Alfred de Musset and Gerard de Nerval) or induced it by experiments with opium and cannabis (like Baudelaire, Gautier, and Rimbaud).

All of this is echoed in Smiths work, though he certainly came by his interest in Oriental and supernatural exoticism independently, and almost certainly did not use drugs (though it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he had some medicinal acquaintance with the opiates which, in preanalgesic days, were widely used as painkillers and sleeping draughts).

Orientalism, a fascination with the macabre, and an interest in hallucinatory experience, are only surface features of the French literature under consideration. There is an underlying context which also requires attention. It is relevant to remark that nineteenth-century France was a country very much aware of its Catholic traditions (always under stress after the revolution of 1789) and the atheists among the above-named writers formed their atheism in opposition to Catholic theology. In most cases this made their decadence seem more self-consciously daring—and in one or two instances led writers back from their literary flirtations with evil to a reunion with Mother Church; Vetlaine and Joris-Karl Huysmans are the outstanding examples.

But it was not merely Catholicism whose mythology provided the metaphysical context of this work—it was a Catholicism heavily influenced, thanks to Pascal, Racine, and Alfred de Vigny, by the desolate world-view of Jansenism. Jansenisrs believed that man had been abandoned by an indifferent God, so that all that a cosmic voyage of the imagination could possibly reveal was a bleak and impassive universe, empty of any real comfort. Here is the real union of attitude between Clark Ashton Smith and the French tradition whose archetypal expression was to be found in Baudelaire. Though Smith had no apparent links with the Catholic faith (interestingly, Sterling had—his parents had tried unsuccessfully to bring him up in the faith) he certainly acquired from somewhere a world-view which corresponded closely to a Romanticized Jansenist pessimism.

In his own poems, Smith sent his Fancy on more extended flights than Sterlings ever took, into the remoter regions of the imagined universe, where it found a multitude of monstrous and baleful apparitions, and an illimitable cold indifference which could offer no comfort to mankind. In "Nero," which led off his first collection, Smith imagines the Roman emperor wishing that he were a god, so that he could supervise the conflict of Chaos and Creation, and play with the stars so as to "tear out the eyes of light." Though such a god is hardly the quiet, hidden God of the Jansenists it is certainly a deity which offers cold comfort to mankind. In the title poem of that first collection, "The Star-Treader," the dreaming narrator is given a similar gods-eye view of the universe, and finds a similarly bleak awe in its rapt contemplation. Cosmic perspectives which reduce the earth and its inhabitants to insignificance are offered also in the "Ode on Imagination" and "The Song of a Comet."

In Ebony and Crystal this interest in cosmic perspectives—and particularly in the lushness and bizarreness of the visions available to such perspectives—reaches fuller flower. Its most extended development is to be found in Smiths longest, and perhaps finest, poem, "The Hashish-Eater; or The Apocalypse of Evil," which begins with the memorable lines:

Bow down. I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-colored sun
Of secret worlds incredible, and take
Their trailing skies for vestment when I soar,
Thinned on the mountain zenith, and illumine
The spaceward-flown horizon infinite.

The intoxicating wine of wizardry which dispatched George Sterlings Fancy clearly had less impetus than the hashish which impelled Smiths emperor of dreams. Sterlings vision is essentially a syncretic amalgam of Earthly myths; to this Smith adds a breadth borrowed from the discoveries of astronomy and speculations of cosmogony, but he adds too a particular viewpoint in which the extremism of the vision is both necessary and inadequate to answer the pangs of imaginative suffocation and stultification. The violent and macabre elements of Smiths vision-- its decadent dalliance with satanic imagery—are provocations to an imagination which (it is implied) could not be drawn to awe by any lesser stimulus. For Smith, conventional appeals to the imagination are effete and jejune. This is where Smith found his intellectual kinship with Baudelaire and Rimbaud; for them too the ultimate enemy of the human soul was not evil but ennui, and they too sought release from spiritual anesthesia in magniloquence of vision and cultivation of mordant exoticism.

The influence of Baudelaire is most clearly seen in the twenty-nine poems in prose which Smith published in Ebony and Crystal. Indeed, the first of these to be published (in The Smart Set in 1918) is entitled "Ennui" like "Nero" it features an emperor for whom earthly pleasures are inadequate to secure any spiritual release. Hence, though, the emperor is brought to momentary sensation not by dreams of godhood but by a close brush with death.

These poems in prose contain the seeds of much of Smiths later fantastic fiction. It is not just that some of his stories are built around images recapitulated from the prose-poems ("The Demon of the Flower" around "The Flower-Devil" and "The Planet of the Dead" around "From the Crypts of Memory") but that it was in the prose-poems that he cultivated the tone and world-view of so much of his later prose fiction.

The way in which Smith developed his poetry in prose has both significant similarities and important contrasts to the way that French prose-poetry developed from Aloysius Bertrands Gas pard de Ia Nuit through Baudelaires Petit Poemes en Prose to Rimbauds Illuminations. Bertrands medievalism gave way to the more varied exoticism of Baudelaire, and Baudelaire also began to produce more extended prose-poems, notably "L'Invitation au Voyage", whose theme is recapitulated by Smith in "In Cocaigne." Rimbaud was not much concerned with the further development of Baudelaires exoticism, but he did import a special kind of fervor into the form, seen especially in some of the most memorable passages of the extended prose-poem, Une Saison a kind of horrified rage which ultimately comes to delight in delirium and celebrate "the alchemy of the word."

The manner in which Smiths work sets off in a different direction is to do with his adoption of a rather different mythos, which draws upon the fantasies of science. It was not simply the largeness of the cosmic perspective which impressed him, but also the detachment and clinicality of the scientific outlook, and its calmness in confrontation with the alien and unimaginable. In this respect he is a distinctly twentieth-century writer and though the work he did for the science-fiction pulps is mostly weak by comparison with his Weird Tales stories he nevertheless drew something important from the scientific world-view. For most pulp science-fiction writers (and, for that matter, most scientists) the modern world-view simply invalidated all the fabulous beings of ancient mythology, and so science-fiction writers developed their own distinct vocabulary of ideas; for Smith, though, it was only the attitude of mind which one adopted to demons, sorcerors, satyrs, and the like which needed to be transformed; he could achieve a remarkable synthesis of scepticism and credulity, which is one of the unique features of his work.

In discovering this new direction, Smith was of course aided by one of his American literary heroes, Edgar Allan Poe, whose own poems in prose presumably influenced Baudelaire too. Like Smith, Poe had also imbibed something of the scientific world-view, and was himself given to cosmic visions, but in Poe there is no synthesis—such works as "A Mesmeric Revelation" and Eureka remain quite distinct from his tales of the supernatural. Only in the extended prose-poem, "The Masque of the Red Death," do we find in Poes work a real precursor of Smiths fiction.

What Smith does share with the French tradition, though, is his notion of the goad which drives the imagination to construct rhapsodies in prose, one of whose facets is ennui, another spleen. One may borrow (taking it, admittedly, out of context) Rimbauds reference to the "alchemy of the word" to describe Smiths method, because he was a great exponent of the alchemy of words. He used his vocabulary to transform descriptions into incantations directly evoking a sense of the strange, a distortion of attitude and feeling. Smiths prose is geared to apply to the reader, an experiential wrench or jolt, to permit the relief of "seeing" worlds of the imagination-- which might otherwise have gone stale along with the hopeless world of mundanity—through a new linguistic lens. This is what his best prose fiction intends to accomplish.

Smiths earliest ventures in the marketing of prose fiction were tales of the Orient written in his late teens. Four were published in The Black Cat and The Overland Monthly during 1910--12. A longer Oriental adventure story, As it is Written, which seems to be Smiths (though the manuscript is pseudonymous), was acquired by The Thrill Book before its demise in 1919 but remained unpublished until 1982, after its rediscovery in an archive.

Some ten years later Smith began writing light contemporary fiction aimed at "sophisticated" magazines, but the only one known to have sold was "Something New" in 10 Story Book in 1924. His earliest experiments with extended poems in prose, the brief but highly ornate fantasies "Sadastor" and "The Abominations of Yondo," were produced soon afterwards, in 1925. Both were submitted to Weird Tales but rejected by editor Farnsworth Wright. "The Abominations of Yondo" appeared in The Overland Monthly in 1926.

Smith did try his hand at material in a more orthodox Weird Tales vein, selling "The Ninth Skeleton" to Wright in 1928, but it was not until 1929 that he established a better working relationship with the editor which encouraged him to produce more adventurous material. In 1930 Smith had five stories in Weird Tales (including "Sadastor"), and also placed two stories with Hugo Gernsbacks science-fiction pulps. Thus began Smiths prolific phase, which lasted from the autumn of 1929 until the spring of 1934 (though the stories continued to appear in print for some years thereafter).

"Sadastor" and "The Abominations of Yondo" both prefigure clearly the direction in which Smiths work would develop. The first begins as an Oriental tale, with a demon telling a story to amuse a fretful lamia, but the story concerns a "forgotten and dying planet" set "among the remoter galaxies." The same ambition is confirmed in the opening lines of "The Abominations of Yondo":

The sand of the desert of Yondo is not as the sand of other deserts; for Yondo lies nearest of all to the worlds rim; and strange winds, blowing from a gulf no astronomer may hope to fathom, have sown its ruinous fields with the gray dust of corroding planets, the black ashes of extinguished suns. The dark orblike mountains which rise from its wrinkled and pitted plain are not all its own, for some are fallen asteroids half-buried in that abysmal sand. Things have crept in from nether space, whose incursion is forbid by the gods of all proper and well-ordered lands; but there are no such gods in Yondo, where live the hoary genii of stars abolished, and decrepit demons left homeless by the destruction of antiquated hells. (AY 55)

This passage might serve as an introduction to Smiths work in general, promising as it does a blending of the notions of the satanic and the alien.

The location of Yondo in space and time is vague, and in his early days Smith had some difficulty finding an appropriate milieu for his fiction. "The End of the Story" (1930) was the first of numerous stories which Smith set in the imaginary French province of Averoigne. It is a standardized story of a young mans seduction by a lamia, and of his determination to return to her embraces even after he has been "saved" from her attentions by an older and wise man. It echoes the theme of Keatss "Lamia" and several stories by Theophile Gautier (especially "Clarimonde" and "Arria Marcella"), and has an outlook similar to Gautiers tales, which celebrate the superiority of deliciously dangerous supernatural consorts over mere mundane women.

In his subsequent tales of Averoigne Smith was able to recapitulate his enthusiasm for French Romanticism, sometimes coming close to pastiche. He is frequently close to the spirit of Anatole Frances tales in The Well of St. Clare—especially "San Satiro"—and "The Disinterment of Venus" seems to have been inspired by Prosper Merimees "The Venus of Ille." An imaginary French province was, however too close to home to accommodate Smiths wilder imaginings, even when he imported an alien invader (in "The Beast of Averoigne," 1933). Only in "The Colossus of Ylourgne" (1934) was his taste for the bizarre allowed full rein, though "The Holiness of Azedarac" (1933) shows off his sense of irony to good advantage in a tale which borrows from Robert W. Chambers's "La Demoiselle d'Ys" and from H. P Lovecraft.

The other scenario used in an early tale which was to be further explored was Atlantis, featured in "The Last Incantation" (1930). This is another extended poem in prose, in which the sorceror Malygris, suffering from ennui, conjures up an image of a lost love, but cannot recover the innocence of viewpoint which made the girl so beautiful in the sight of his earlier self. "The Uncharted Isle" (1930) is a timeslip story which also seems to feature a fragment of an Atlantean civilization, though this is not stated. "A Voyage to Sfanomok" (1931) is an interplanetary story which begins in Atlantis, but the exoticism of Atlantean sorcery is only displayed to its fullest advantage in "The Double Shadow" (1933) and "The Death of Malygris" (1934), which are both stories in which curious supernatural dooms claim the main characters—a favorite Smith formula.

In order to find more open imaginative territory Smith borrowed another mythical civilization from Greek mythology: Hyperborea, which he first featured in "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" in 1931. This is the story of two thieves who attempt to plunder a shrine erected to the dark god Tsathoggua in a city which now lies in ruins; they are unwisely undaunted by the evil reputation which the place has. The protagonist escapes, though not intact, after seeing his companion horribly killed. The characterization of the evil god in this story owes something to H. P. Lovecraft, to whose Cthulhu Mythos Tsathoggua is sometimes attached. The formula of following the fortunes of characters who invite awful supernatural judgment with their recklessness is here rendered in a sarcastic vein, and this appears to reflect the fact that—as in many of the Averoigne stories—wherever Smith consciously borrowed from other writers his tone tended to become more ironic, and sometimes rather flippant, his auctorial voice being distanced from the substance of the tale.

The irony of the Hyperborean tales (in the first of his Arkham House collections, Out of Space and Time, they are aptly dubbed "Hyperborean Grotesques" was something which Smith chose to conserve and exaggerate when he used the setting further. "The Door to Saturn" (1932) describes how the priest Morghi pursues the sorceror Eibon through a doorway to another world, where they combine forces in order to explore until they find a place to settle down. This is one of the least violent and most sardonic of all Smiths stories. It also includes some of his most tongue-wrenching nomenclature—a trend continued in "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan" (1932), which follows the familiar pattern of reckless greed leading to macabre extinction, as do "The Ice-Demon" (1933) and the magnificently bizarre "The Coming of the White Worm" (1941).

Less irony is to be found in "Ubbo-Sathla" (1933), the most Lovecraftian of the Hyperborean stories, in which a modern occultist finds a magic lens which unites him with the personality of its wizard owner, and allows him to share that owners visionary quest to find the parent of all Earthly life, in which is incarnate Smiths typical blend of the evil and the alien:

There, in the gray beginning of Earth, the formless mass that was Ubbo-Sathla reposed amid the slime and the vapors. Headless, without organs or members, it sloughed from its oozy sides, in a slow, ceaseless wave, the amebic forms that were the archetypes of earthly life. Horrible it was, if there had been aught to apprehend the horror; and loathsome, if there had been any to feel loathing. About it, prone or tilted in the mire, there lay the mighty tablets of star-quarried stone that were writ with the inconceivable wisdom of the premundane gods. (OS 299)

By contrast, the most savagely ironic of the Hyperborean tales is "The Testament of Athammaus" (1932), told by a hapless headsman who is called upon to execute a demonic bandit. Each time the task is complete the bandit miraculously rises from the dead, and each time his head is struck from his shoulders he becomes more loathsome, until his hideousness forbids further interference. Like "Ubbo-Sathla" this is essentially a tale of devolution-- a regression from order toward chaos a (devolution which is, in a sense, implicit in the very nature of the stories as they use a modern viewpoint to look back at a more disturbed and rough-hewn era).

All these chief elements of the Hyperborean tales are combined in the best of them all, "The Seven Geases" (1934). Here the vainglorious magistrate Ralibar Vooz goes hunting for extraordinary prey but falls prey him- self to the wrath of the sorceror Ezdagor after venturing into a strange underworld. Ezdagor places him under a geas which requires him to descend further into the Tartarean realm to present himself as a blood-offering to Tsathoggua. But Tsathoggua has no need of him, and so sends him further on, and the pattern repeats. In the company of the bird-demon, Raphtontis, Ralibar Vooz delivers himself in turn to the web of the spider-god AtlachNacha, to the palace of the "antehuman sorceror," Haon-Dor, to the Cavern of the Archetypes, and to the slimy gulf of Abhoth, "father and mother of all cosmic uncleanliness":

Here, it seemed, was the ultimate source of all miscreation and abomination. For the gray mass quobbed and quivered, and swelled perpetually, and from it, in manifold fission, were spawned the anatomies that crept away on every side through the grotto. There were things like bodiless legs or arms that flailed in the slime, or heads that rolled, or floundering bellies with fishes fins, and all manner of things malformed and monstrous, that grew in size as they departed from the neighborhood of Abhoth. And those that swam not swiftly ashore when they fell into the pool from Abhoth, were devoured by mouths that gaped in the parent bulk. (LW 63)

By this time, though, the magistrate is in a realm so remote that his own ordered world is known only by vile rumor, so Abhoth can think of no more awful place to send him than home. Alas, the journey back is fraught with far too many dangers for it to be safely made, so Ralibar Vooz, who is too puerile even to be worth devouring, cannot capitalize on the good fortune of his insignificance.

Here, despite the ironic voice with which the story opens, Smith is clearly carried away by the impetus of his constructed nightmare, and this is a key story in his oeuvre. The descent into the underworld is a fine representation of the metempirical reality in which Smith embeds his fantastic tales. The revelation that the ultimate reality is utterly loathsome is, of course, something which Smith echoes from Lovecrafts tales, but Smiths version is far more elaborate and far more colorful. Lovecraft is essentially a monochrome writer, but Smiths imagination is lush and fecund—his universe is not simply a horrific one, but a multitudinously populous one, in which there are not merely more things than are dreamt of in the Lovecraftian philosophy, but more things than ate dreamt of in any philosophy.

This can be seen well enough in Smiths work for the science-fiction pulps. It is surprising, in a way, that Gernsback made room in his magazines for a writer so ill-fitted to his declared manifesto (to the effect that science fiction was a futurological species of fiction which would anticipate technological developments), but Smith did have an imaginative verve which enlivened the pages of Wonder Stories quite considerably. His first story there, "Marooned in Andromeda" (1930), set the pattern for many others, featuring an odyssey across an alien landscape replete with strange life-forms.

Some of these stories of strange alien life-forms are hard to distinguish from his horror stories of vile godlings and devolved protoplasmic entities-- "The Immeasurable Horror" (1931) and "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" (1932) both appeared in Weird Tales despite being notionally science fiction, and "The Dweller in Martian Depths" (Wonder Stories 1933) might have been better suited to Weird Tales—but others are content to rejoice in their representations of the exotic. The best are those which deal with radical transfigurations of space and time, particularly "The Eternal World" (1932) and "The Dimension of Chance" (1932).

It is clear that Smith found some of these science-fictional tales impossible to take seriously, and some—like "Flight into Super-Time" (1932) and "The Monster of the Prophecy" (1932)—decay into uneasy satire. The seductive attraction of the exotic, however, was something which Smith was capable of taking very seriously indeed, and his best science-fiction stories are pure celebrations of that allure. The most famous of them is "The City of the Singing Flame" (1931), which is combined in most book versions with its sequel, "Beyond the Singing Flame" (1931). The narrator of this story discovers on a lonely Californian ridge (effectively identical to the one where Smith lived) a gateway to a parallel world, where an assortment of alien creatures trek in pilgrimage to a fabulous city in order to achieve ecstatic immolation in a fountain of flame which attracts them with mesmeric music. Like some of the stories of A. Merritt (especially "The Moon Pool"), this story presents an archetypal image of the irresistible temptation of the imagination.

"Beyond the Singing Flame" is a much weaker story, and does the original one no favors when combined with it, because the passage through the flame (which turns out to be a multidimensional gateway to other modes of existence) cannot help but be a de-mystification, and hence an anticlimax. The science-fictional imagination is inextricably involved with such de-mystifications and disenchantments, because it must deal in pretended possibilities. For this reason Smith could not find science fiction a satisfactory genre in which to work—the problem is just as obvious in "The Light from Beyond" (1934) as it is in "Beyond the Singing Flame"—but he was enthusiastic to borrow some elements of the science-fictional imagination, in order to add a more grandiose sweep to his fantasies. Two of his most gaudy and fanciful fantasies, "The Maze of the Enchanter" (1933) and "The Flower-Women" (1935), take advantage of an extraterrestrial setting to increase their exoticism.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Smith developed the most dramatically appropriate of all his imaginary milieux by placing it not in the remote past but in the farthest imaginable future. This was Zothique, "the worlds last continent," in which decadence could be allowed unchallenged sway. The name may be derived from Rimbauds Album dit "Zutique," which title involves a fanciful piece of wordplay on the French expletive zut!—which might be paralleled (appropriately, if this is indeed where Smith got the name Zothique from) by some such English expression as "to hell with you." Because Hyperborea existed in earths past, the viewpoint of stories set there had to accept the implication that Order would ultimately oust Chaos, but in Zothique the implied future is empty; science and civilization are gone and utterly forgotten, and all that happens there is but part of a prelude to annihilation.

The first Zothique story was "The Empire of the Necromancers" (1932), a marvelous extravaganza in which two magicians conjure themselves an empire out of the dust of the ages and the corpses of the ancient dead, but then reap a just reward after the rebellion of their subjects. This is one of the most graphic of all Smiths horror stories, and its tone is pure nightmare:

All that night, and during the blood-dark day that followed, by wavering torches or the light of the failing sun, an endless army of plague-eaten liches, of tattered skeletons, poured in a ghastly torrent through the streets of Yethlyreom and along the palace-hall where Hestaiyon stood guard above the slain necromancers. Unpausing, with vague, fixed eyes, they went on like driven shadows, to seek the subterranean vaults below the palace, to pass through the open door where Illeiro waited in the last vault, and then to wend downwards by a thousand steps to the verge of that gulf in which boiled the ebbing fires of earth. There, from the verge, they flung themselves to a second death and the clean annihilation of the bottomless flames. (LW 169)

Not all the Zothique stories have this intensity of feeling. Some are ironic in the vein of the Hyperborean grotesques, most notably the excellent "The Voyage of King Euvoran" (1933), whose eponymous hero offends a necromancer and is punished by the loss of his remarkable crown, which is carried away by the re-animated fabulous bird that topped it. Misled by an apparently favorable oracle, the king goes in quest of his lost crown, but finds instead a peculiarly apt humiliation.

Nor are all of the Zothique stories entirely original--"The Isle of the Torturers" (1933) has echoes of Poes "Masque of the Red Death" and Villiers de lIsle Adams "Torture of Hope" embedded in its account of a sadistic orgy whose victim eventually wins a Pyrrhic victory over his tornlenmrs. In general, though, the best of the Zothique stories are each possessed of an unparalleled dramatic surge which carries them helter-skelter through a mass of bizarre detail to a devastating conclusion.

The Zothique stories frequently contain erotic elements, but consummation is usually denied, and the seductive sorceresses who feature in "The Witchcraft of Ulua" (1934) and "The Death of Ilalotha" (1937) are certainly not treated with the same sentimental affection as the sorceresses and lamias of the tales of Averoigne—the Gautieresque touches of "The End of the Story," "The Holiness of Azederac," and "The Enchantress of Sylaire" (1941)—are nowhere to be seen. Necrophilia is a theme which crops up several times, most strikingly in "The Death of Ilalotha" and "The Charnel God" (1934). This repellent eroticism exists side by side with savage cruelty; torture is a commonplace in Zothique and sadism is the norm. These quasi-pornographic features are not evidences of any depravity on the part of the authoi but rather represent a determined effort to confront and make manageable the most nightmarish products of the imagination. Here, the most awful and terrifying creations of delirium and anxiety are submitted to the command of a rigorous literary imagination. The characters usually move in quasi-ritual step toward their predestined dooms, sometimes taking entire cities with them, as in "The Witchcraft of Ulua" and the very violent "The Dark Eidolon" (1935). The latter story, concerning a sorceror who defies his supernatural protector in order to carry forward his vendetta against a king who abused him in his youth, features a literal feast of horrors:

In the wide intervals between the tables, the familiars of Namirrha and his other servants went to and fro incessantly, as if a fantasmagoria of ill dreams were embodied before the emperor. Kingly cadavers in robes of time-rotten brocade, with worms seething in their eye-pits, poured a blood-like wine into cups of opalescent horn of unicorns. Lamias, trident-tailed, and four-breasted chimeras, came in with fuming platters lifted high by their brazen claws. Dog-headed devils,tongued with lolling flames, ran forward to offer themselves as ushers for the company. And before Zotulla and Obexah, there appeared a curious being with the full-fleshed lower limbs and hips of a great black woman and the clean-picked bones of some titanic ape from there upward. And this monster signified by certain indescribable becks of its finger-bones that the emperor and his odalisque were to follow it. (OS 164)

The background against which these stories are set is described in terms as far from naturalistic as the mechanics of their plots. Idiosyncrasy is displayed with unashamed extravagance, as in the opening paragraph of "The Witchcraft of Ulua":

Sabmon the anchorite was famed no less for his piety than for his prophetic wisdom and knowledge of the dark art of sorcery. He had dwelt alone for two generations in a curious house on the rim of the northern desert of Tasuun; a house whose floor and walls were built from the large bones of dromedaries, and whose roof was a wattling composed of the smaller bones of wild dogs and men and hyenas. These ossuary relics, chosen for their whiteness and symmetry, were bound securely together with well-tanned thongs, and were joined and fitted with marvellous closeness, leaving no space for the blown sand to penetrate. This house was the pride of Sabmon, who swept it daily with a besom of mummys hair, till it shone immaculate as polished ivory both within and without. (AY 21)

In stories such as these the possibility of a happy ending is simply out of the question. For this reason they cannot be considered tragedies, or even simple horror stories, for no fate can really be considered tragic or horrific if it cannot possibly be avoided. Indeed, such is the inversion of values permitted by these stories that it is the echoes of affection and success which resound therein which seem in the end to be the most awful things of all. This can be seen in what are perhaps the finest of the tales of Zothique, "Necromancy in Naat" (1936) and "Xeethra" (1934).

In "Necromancy in Naat" a ship carrying a prince who is searching for his lost love (who has been carried off by slavers) is caught by a black current and wrecked near the island of Naat. The prince is the sole survivor, but finds himself reunited with the drowned crew of the ship—and with his loved one, also dead but reanimated—in the service of a family of necromancers, whose intention is to feed him to their vampiric familiar. He avoids this fate by joining in a plot to help the two sons murder their father, but in the hideous conflict which follows, in which the intended victim will not be still despite mortal wounds, he is killed. The sole surviving necromancer commits suicide, leaving the resurrected servants to find a "ghostly comfort" in their liberation:

The quick despair that had racked him aforetime, and the long torments of desire and separation, were as things faded and forgot; and he shared with Dalili a shadowy love and a dim contentment. (LW 213)

In "Xeethra" a goat-boy strays into the underworld realm of the dark god Thasaidon, where he eats fruit which recall to him consciousness of a former existence as a king. He sets off to find his kingdom, but after a long journey finds it desolate and inhabited by lepers. He sells his soul to enter a dream in which the kingdoms lost glory is restored to him, agreeing to surrender it if ever he regrets his estate. Thasaidon eventually sends a dark piper to him in a time of strife, to seduce that all-important moment of regret. Xeethra becomes a goat-boy again, but the real horror of his fate is that Thasaidon does not need to snatch him away into some infernal region, because the anguish of his loss is hell enough for him, and the "dark empire" of Thasaidon is now within his soul.

It is in these images of special suffering, of death-in-life or hell-in-life, that Smith reaches the true culmination of all his trafficking with nightmares. In these two denouements more than in any of his myriad tales which end with ugly death, he achieves a true moment of climax. If his quest into the farthest and strangest reaches of the imagination can be said to have reached a destination, this was surely it.

"Necromancy in Naat" was published two years after Smiths major phase of writing activity had petered out. Three more Zothique stories-- "The Death of Ilalotha," "The Garden of Adompha" (1938), and "The Master of the Crabs" (l948)—were yet to appear, and a handful of other stories left over from the prolific phase filtered into print over the years, but Smith was never able to get back into the writing of prose on any significant scale. Those stories which seem to have been written at a much later date--"Schizoid Creator" (1953), "A Prophecy of Monsters" (1954), and "The Symposium of the Gorgon" (1958)—are brief literary jokes, manifesting none of the authors earlier fascinations. This abrupt draining away of inspiration is in its way as remarkable as what his inspiration produced while Smith was possessed by it. It implies some essential change in Smith, whether in his personality or his environment. He offered no explanation himself, and was presumably unconscious of any reason.

One can only speculate about the possible psychodynamics of his literary endeavors and their frustrating conclusion, and such speculations are inevitably hazardous. Any conjecture remains untestable. There is, however, evidence in Smiths work of the motive force which carried him away to such far-flung fantasy worlds, and contemplation of this motive force does encourage certain hypotheses regarding possible reasons for its decline.

None of Smiths stories are in any straightforward sense autobiographical, but they do contain several pen-portraits of characters imbued with an escapist fervor which bears metaphorical comparison with his own. The writer Philip Hastane is a character who appears in several stories. He relays the manuscript which forms the story of "The City of the Singing Flame," and then becomes the protagonist of "Beyond the Singing Flame." He is also the narrator of two Lovecraftian tales, "The Devotee of Evil" (1933) and "The Hunters from Beyond" (1932), which is strongly reminiscent of Lovecrafts story, "Pickmans Model."

In these stories it is not Hastane who is the focus of interest but the characters to whom things happen: the writer Giles Angarth, the sculptor Cyprian Sincaul, and the occultist Jean Averaud. Each of these three is seduced by the allure of the extraordinary into an encounter which destroys them (Angarth actually survives but expresses the wish that he were dead). Averauds fate is the most graphic; he builds a machine to put himself in touch with the ultimate evil, whose emanations apparently extend through all Creation, and is petrified by the possessive force of that evil. Although he is only a witness, Hastane too is touched and changed by this exposure:

Vainly, through delirious months and madness-ridden years, I have tried to shake off the infrangible obsession of my memories. But there is a fatal numbness in my brain, as if it too had been charred and blackened a little in that moment of overpowering nearness to the dark ray that came from pits beyond the universe. On my mind, as upon the face of the black statue that was Jean Averaud, the impress of awful and forbidden things has been set like an everlasting seal. (AY 42)

To some extent, this must be seen simply as the kind of conclusion which a Lovecraftian story demands; the genre is characterized by its emphasis of the awfulness of moments of revelation which reveal the hideousness of the hidden order of the universe. But the lessons which Hastane learns from these encounters with men similar to himself seem to be accepted with real feeling.

Even in Smiths most romantic and sentimental stories, though there is nothing in their formula which demands it, there is nothing really to be gained from visionary experience. Among the least horrific of all Smiths stories is "The Planet of the Dead" (1932), which features a much inure kindly vision, and a much more gentle visionary:

By profession, Francis Melchior was a dealer in antiques; by avocation, he was an astronomer. Thus he contrived to placate, if not to satisfy, two needs of a somewhat complex and unusual temperament. Through his occupation, he gratified in a measure his craving for all things that have been steeped in the mortuary shadows of dead ages, in the dusky amber flames of long-sunken suns; all things that have about them the irresoluble mystery of departed time. And through his avocation, he found a ready path to exotic realms in further space, to the only spheres where his fancy could dwell in freedom and his dreams could know contentment. For Melchjor was one of those who were born with an immedicable distaste for all that is present or near at hand; one of those who have drunk too lightly of oblivion and have not wholly forgotten the transcendent glories of other eons, and the worlds from which they were exiled into human birth; so that their furtive, restless thoughts and dim, unquenchable longings return obscurely toward the vanishing shores of a lost heritage. The earth is too narrow for such, and the compass of mortal time is too brief; and paucity and barrenness are everywhere; and in all places their lot is a never-ending weariness. (LW 296)

Melchior—whose situation is surely a fanciful transfiguration of Smiths own—shares for a while the consciousness of the poet Antarion, and his idyllic love affair with the lovely Thameera, a love affair brought to its conclusion by the death of the sun which lit their world. Though it is something to be treasured, Melchiors vision leaves him unhappier than ever, possessed by a "dull regret that he should ever have awakened."

These stories exemplify the most constant and oft-repeated pattern in Smiths work. No good ever really comes of dalliance with the supernatural. Very rarely is a character invigorated by it, and the exceptions belong to works in the flippant and satirical vein. The metempirical order of things is always either hostile or pregnant with doom. In most of his horror stories Smiths assumptions are very like those of H. P. Lovecraft or William Hope Hodgson, both of whom supposed that anything godlike must be inplacably opposed to man, essentially evil. But Smiths version of this world-view does not concentrate on the evil nature of these hypothetical forces-- even when, as in "The Devotee of Evil," such a case is made explicitly. His emphasis is on the utter irrelevance and insignificance of man, and the sheer helplessness of human ambition in the face of cosmic processes which render human efforts meaningless and absurd. Thus, in "The Planet of the Dead," human affection is impotent in the face of cosmic catastrophe, just as in the Zothique stories everything is overshadowed by the impending end of earth. This sensibility is what links Smith to the Jansenist influenced aspects of French Romanticism. Where can it have come from?

All Smiths notable fiction was written before the spring of 1934. His parents were then in their eighties, and both were soon to die. It seems highly probable that the problem of caring for them in a lonely cabin with no electricity and no running water became increasingly difficult, and that Smith was ultimately forced to stop writing largely because of the necessity of devoting his attention wholly to his parents needs. His mother eventually died in September 1935 and his father in December 1937. One might expect that this would have freed him to begin writing again, but it did not, and this must surely make us wonder whether it was actually the situation of living with his aged parents, and the continually escalating strain which that situation put upon him, which is distortively reflected in his fantasies. The preoccupation with the inevitability of extinction, the idea that such inevitability made the longings of human affection impotent and absurd, and the constant emphasis on the sheer claustrophobia of real-world experience could all be linked in this way. If this is true, then the culmination of Smiths wilder stories in images of hell-in-life reflects no mere ennui or spleen but rather a terrible anguish.

The memoirs written of Smith suggest that he was a very devoted son, and that he loved his parents dearly. If he was imprisoned on Boulder Ridge, it was by honest affection rather than by force. It is surely not too difficult to understand how the paradoxical character of such an imprisonment might lend itself well to expression in such paradoxical fantasies as Smiths. If the escapism of his fiction is to be seen as the "escape of the prisoner" rather than "the desertion of the soldier," then it was an escape which brought him very little in the way of consolation, perhaps because he was never quite able to see it that way himself. It might make more sense to see his creative burst of the early 1930s not so much as an escape but as an expulsion—in which case his fantasy worlds were not so much places for him to visit as places into which he could pour the constructed phantoms of his resentments, his frustrations, and his fears—none of which would have been easy to accommodate or express in any other way. If one sees the creative period as a special purgation, then it may no longer be puzzling to ask why, once it was finished, it was finished for good.

To read and appreciate the work of Clark Ashton Smith requires more than a broad vocabulary and a sympathy for stylistic ornamentation. It requires the possibility of identifying with the curious world-view enshrined in that work: With a determination to get as far away from mundanity as language and the imagination can take one, and yet be content to discover there a universe utterly alien and inhumane, and to find in that revelation a sense of propriety which outweighs in value any mere comfort or pleasure. This may make Smith a difficult writer to enjoy, but it should not detract at all from the respect to which he is entitled.

An imagination which is bound by the aim of wish-fulfilment, as in much romantic and heroic fantasy, could not begin to match Smiths achievement. Nor could an imagination narrowly directed to the production of the thrill of horror or disgust, as displayed in most horror stories. Smiths work is more exploratory in character, though it would not be confined, either by the boundaries of scientific possibility which the science-fictional imagination respects. No other writer has been able to match him (including his own later self), not because none could master such an esoteric vocabulary or equal his teratological ingenuity, but because none has ever found that same combination of motive force and attitude, that same determined "alchemy of the word." As with all true experiments in alchemy, Smiths literary work remains unique.

Foot Notes

  1. Smiths books, cited in the text with abbreviations, include Out fo Space and Time [OS] (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1942); Lost Worlds [LW] (Arkham House, 1944); Genius Loci and Other Tales [GL] (Arkham House, 1948); The Abominations of Yondo [AY] (Arkham House, 1960); Tales of Science and Sorcery [TSS] (Arkham House, 1964); Other Dimensions [OD] (Arkham House, 1970); Poems in Prose [PP] (Arkham House, 1964); Planets and Dimensions [PD] (Baltimore: Mirage Press, 1973); The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith [BB] (Arkham House, 1979).
  2. See L. Sprague de Camp, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerors: The Makers of Modern Heroic Fantasy (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1976); Donald Sidney-Fryer, et al., Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (West Kingston, RI: Donald M. Grant, 1978); and Jack L. Chalker, ed., In Memoriam: Clark Ashton Smith (Baltimore: Anthem, 1963).

Originally published in American Supernatural Fiction: From Edith Wharton to the Weird Tales Writers, edited by Douglas Robillard (New York and London: Garland Publishing Company,1996).

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