'The Book of Hyperborea' - Postscript

Will Murray

It is doubtless poetic that the dark Ashton Smith story cycle most rich in irony should itself be bedeviled by what the author himself sardonically called "the demon of irony."

Consider: While the overwhelming majority of the Hyperborean tales were first published in Weird Tales, all but a handful were actually first submitted to other magazines. 'The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" was actually sent to Amazing Stories before it was shown to Farnsworth Wright. And while only "The Door to Saturn" actually appeared in Strange Tates of Mystery and Terror, every Hyperborean story between "The Testament of Athammaus" and "The Ice-Demon" was initially offered to that magazine. The only submission Weird Tales accepted on first try, "The Weird ofAvoosI Wuthoqquan," was dismissed by Smith himself as a "filler."

Perhaps the most unfortunate consequence of the repeated rejections the Hyperborea cycle met with from pulp editors was the virtual abandonment of the series in 1933. The cancellation of Strange Tates late in 1932, and Wright's relentless rejections of these stories, apparently compelled Smith to focus on the Zothique series, which was met with greater favor by the editor of the Unique Magazine.

This itself is high irony, inasmuch as the Zothique cycle is utterly devoid of the very mythos elements popular with Weird Tales readers, while Hyperborea abounds in such trappings.

By his own account, Smith's planned Book of Hyperborea languished unfinished. At the time he was working on "The Coming of the White Worm" and "The Seven Geases" in September, 1933, Smith told August Derleth:

"My Averoigne series . . . lacks about two more tales to bring it to book-size; and the Hyperborea and Atlantean suites are perhaps half-finished."

Sadly, Smith would not write the next Hyperborea tale for twenty years, and it would be his last. The Book of Hyperborea is therefore not as long as Smith foresaw, but given the episodic nature of the cycle there is no reason to believe any critical Hyperborean events or stories are necessarily absent.

Although he blamed the tone of these stories for the cool editorial receptions they received, Smith allowed other reasons. The illnesses of his mother and father respectively temporarily curtailed his prose output, aborting "The House of Haon-Dor," among other works.

The loss of "The House of Haon-Dor" is not particularly tragic, inasmuch as it was only peripherally related to the series. Yet Smith logged it in his Black Book as a Hyperborean tale, and for that reason the fragment is included in this collection.

Writing to August Derleth on July 22, 1933, Smith spoke of the story's inspiration:

"I . . . am working desultorily on The House of Haon-Dor, a fantastic horror which uses the old hydraulic mining countly above Aubum for a base of departure into submundane and infra-spatial depths of nightmare. It is partially based on a yarn retailed to me by a correspondent, concerning a shack supposed to be the home office of the black magicians and the vestibule of an immense immaterial edifice haunted by fiends. The actual locale of this shack is Oceanside, with which I am not familiar at first hand; but I thought the old hydraulic diggings would serve equally well; and I have the advantage of knowing them thoroughly."

Smith went on to mention a chance encounter with a rattlesnake, which seems to have found its way into the story matrix, according to the surviving plot recorded in his Black Book:

The House of Haon-Dor
A tumbledown cabin on the verge of the deep hydraulic diggings at Cougar Hollow, which some believe to be deserted, and others say is haunted or inhabited. A youth named Robert Farway, living for the summer near the diggings, and prospecting for his health, enters the cabin in spite of the warnings he has received from the members of a society of occultists, the Brotherhood of the Sun, who have their establishment in the neighborhood. He comes out an utterly different person, and it becomes evident that some alien and demonic entity has taken possession of him. When he attempts an act of vampirism, the nature of the entity is obvious. The narrator, Wiley Hastane, uncle of the youth, and the head of the colony of occultists, one Antonius Meria, follow the youth to the cabin in an effort to rescue him—and entering at night, find themselves in a vast, fiend-haunted edifice of which the cabin is merely the vestibule. Here, beleaguered by elements, opposed by unthinkable monstrosities, they fight their way from depth to depth in search of the master of the house, the evil magician Haon-Dor, who has ensouled the youth with one of his attendant vampires, and has confined the youth's soul in a monstrous form. Haon-Dor, in the shape of a fifteen-foot rattlesnake, guards the ultimate vault of abominations and vampire corpse, and a terrible struggle ensues between the snake and the white master, Antonius. With the vanquishing of the serpent, the vampire leaves the youth, and returns to its own body, that of a prehistoric mummy.

Despite numerous discouraging circumstances, CAS had not consciously or deliberately abandoned his magically sardonic boreal ' realm. Writing to Barlow on September 10, 1934, CAS asserted, "Yes, I hope to continue The Book of Eibon. ( . . . ) It is worthy of record . . . that Knygathin Zhaum, the half-breed Voormi, reverted to the most primitive ancestral characteristic following the stress of his numerous decapitations. I have yet to translate the dire and abominable legend telling how a certain doughty denizen of Commoriom (not Athammaus) returned to the city after its public evacuation and found that it was peopled most execrably and innumerably by the fissional spawn of Knygathin Zhaum, which retained no vestige of anything earthly."

Another planned story, undated and not mentioned in the Black Book, was called "The Hyperborean City." Fortunately, its plot does survive:

The Hyperborean City A lost explorer who is freezing to death in the Arctic falls into a dream, in which he lives through a long drama that takes place in some ancient Hyperborean city, before the Ice Age. He is aroused by his companions at the moment when, in his dream, he is about to wed the lovely princess Alactyssa. Still possessed by the vision, which he cannot throw off. He wanders forth again in the snows, and is lost this time forever.

Smith's Black Book lists his Hyperborean tales chronologically, but the order diverges from the established sequence of composition, as well as the order of publication, as a collation of the Black Book entries with publication information attests.

The Book of Hyperborea
1. The Tale of Satampra Zeiros Weird Tales, Nov. 1931
2. The Testament of Athammaus Weird Tales, Oct. 1932
3. The Door to Saturn Strange Tates, Jan. 1932
4. The Weird of Avoosi Wuthoqquan Weird Tales, June 1932
5. Ubbo-SathIa Weird Tales, July 1933
6. The Ice-Demon Weird Tales, April 1933
7. The White Sybil Science & Fantasy Booklet, July 1932
8. The Voyage of King Euvoran [deleted]
8. The Ninth Chapter of Eibon Stirring Science Stories, April 1941
9. The Seven Geases Weird Tales, October 1934
10. The House of Haon-Dor
11. The Shadow from the Sarcophagus

"The Shadow from the Sarcophagus" appears to be an unwritten tale whose plot is recorded in Black Book under that title and an earlier variant, "The Ancient Shadow." It is impossible to date, except to note that while It recounts another misadventure of the thief Satampra Zeiros, it is not the same story as "The Theft of the Thirty- Nine Girdles," nor does it appear to have inspired it in any way. Inasmuch as Smith often entered stories in his log$ while they were still in plot or fragmentary form, there is no reason to think that "Shadow" was ever committed to paper—although several house fires in the early 1950s did consume certain unidentified manuscripts.

The surviving plot gives a tantalizing glimpse into the unwritten adventure:

The Ancient Shadow The Shadow from the Sarcophagus Satampra Zeiros and Tirouv Omphallios, noted Hyperborean thieves and burglars, are hired by Ruul-Vash, high-priest of the moon-god, to enter the tomb of the ancient prehuman sorcerer Hurun. Then they are to break open the stone sarcophagus of Hurun and bring to Ruul-Vash certain magic talismans said to have been Interred with the wizard; these talismans are of fabulous potency. The ghoulish task is not to the liking of the thieves, but perforce they are constrained to serve Ruul-Vash, who is veiy powerful and moreover possesses damnatoly evidence concerning many of their crimes. Ruul-Vash assures them that, owing to the immense antiquity of the corpse, there will be little left of Hurun except dust, Satampra Zeiros and his companion go forth by night to the ancient tomb, which is now but a grass-and-tree-grown mound with a cave-like entrance little larger than a jackal's burrow. The door of the vault has rusted away, and the inner tomb has long been a lairing-place of beasts. The sarcophagus, however, is intact, and is opened with some difficulty by the thieves, who, obeying Ruul-Vash's instructions, chisel away certain mysterious cyphers engraved on the lid. Within, to their mingled relief and disappointment, they find no trace of the wizard's body or the talismans—only a few pinches of fine brown powder from which a faint ghostly odor exhales and quickly evaporates. Satampra Zeiros, however, sees, or imagines he sees, a small Indistinct shadow like that of a somewhat-human homunculus, which slides down the side of the stone box in the light of the wavering torch held by his companion, and vanishes in the gloom. The two return to Ruul-Vash, who refuses to believe that they found the sarcophagus empty, and charges them with secreting the magic talismans. On this charge, they are thrown into the dungeon beneath the temple of the moon-god, and are threatened with dire tortures by Ruul-Vash and his acolytes. Lashed to the frames of certain instruments of torture, they see on the dungeon-floor the same shadow that had seemed to emerge from the sarcophagus. The shadow falls across the feet of Ruul-Vash, who has ordered the torturers to t)egin their operations. Ruul-Vash falls in agony, his feet crumbling to dust fine as that of some ancient mummy. The shadow, increasing in size, covers his legs—and the legs also crumble. Soon there is nothing left of the high-priest, except the fine dust. The torturers flee; and the shadow, now grown to human size but with non-human form, touches with it? hands the bonds of Satampra Zeiros and his companion. The bonds dissolve, leaving the burglars free to escape from the temple dungeon.

All that can be said of "Shadow" for certain is that it was conceived after 1933, and its plot suggests that the core idea might have been diverted to the 1935 tale "The Treader of the Dust."

Perhaps the second most regrettable loss to the series was the unwritten version of "The Voyage of King Euvoran." Smith initially conceived this as an entry in his planned The Book of Hyperborea but expunged it from the log, writing the story instead as part of his Zothique series, where Its Hyperboreal humor was markedly out of place. It would surely have made a better addition to the Hyperborea cycle than it did to the mordant chronicles of dying Zothique.

It is a mystery why Smith felt compelled to carry over a Hyperborean tone to the Zothiquean version of "Euvoran." Perhaps he felt Weird Tales would be more amenable to taking the stoiy as envisioned if it were divorced from the troubled series. Curiously, no Hyberborean plot for "Euvoran" seems to exist. In fact, no manuscript of any version survives.

Immediately upon its rejection by Farnsworth Wright in February 1933, Smith wrote August Derieth: "Wright. . . sent back King Euvoran, saying that he had enjoyed it greatly himself, but feared that it would not have enough plot and suspense for many of his readers. I agree, in a way—it's hardly a magazine story, but is more like a narrative poem in prose. If I print a pamphlet, I may include it for variety."

Surely, if it had been penned as a Hyperborean tale, CAS would have self-published it in The Double Shadow as such.

It is interesting to speculate, but ultimately undiscoverable, whether the geographical analogue to King Euvoran of Ustaim's capital city of Aramoam might not have been, in a theoretical Hyperborean version, either storied Commoriom or thriving Uzuldaroum.

Although he penned no further Hyperborean tales for nearly twenty years, Smith made repeated and largely fruitless attempts to place the unprofessionally published entries in paying markets. "The Coming of The White Worm," accepted for the fanzine Unusual Tales but a casualty of its cancellation, finally saw print in Stirring Science Stories via agent Robert A. W. "Doc" Lowndes. "The White Sybil," another Unusual Tales casually, seemed unsalable however. It shared the privately printed Science & Fantasy Booklet Number One with David H. teller's "Men ofAvaton" in 1932. It was replaced by "The Treader of the Dust" in the Arkham House anthology Lost Worlds, and was rejected by Famous Fantastic Mysteries, among others. As late as 1944, Smith lamented to Arkham publisher August Derleth, "It will surprise me, though, if The White Sybil ever sells to any magazine."

All anthology appearances over the last fifty years of "The Coming of the White Worm" have followed the 1941 text. In this present collection, however, we have favored the original unaltered text for much the same reasons that our previous Tates of Zothique favored 'The Voyage of King Euvoran" over the stripped-down Weird Tales version, "Quest of the Gazolba." Many times, Smith revised his stories to meet Farnsworth Wright's fussy demands, often improving them. The Necronomicon Press editions of Clark Ashton Smith rely on the original manuscripts for their text to ensure textual purity. In most cases we have Smith's written opinions of his drafts to guide us toward his preferred versions.

In the case of "Worm," Smith expressed no discoverable preference, but a careful collation of the two manuscripts shows that the second is merely a pruning, not a true revision, and in all probability was undertaken to wring a sale out of an otherwise unplaceable story. Thus, we include the original version in its rightful order within the Hyperborea series, while relegating the previously-accepted text to an appendix for its historic value. Previously, the first version had appeared only in the 1989 Greenwood Press collection of Smith miscellany, Strange Shadows.

We have also included, for the sake of completeness, the prose poem called "The Muse of Hyperborea" despite some confusion over whether its subject is the Clark Ashton Smith Hyperborea, or the Greek. Since the work was written less than a month after "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros," the former theory seems most likely. It first saw print in The Fantasy Fan, June 1934.

Two decades passed before Smith committed to paper the second tale of Satampra Zeiros, and the final entry in his Book of Hyperborea. According to Smith's records, it was begun in 1952 but not completed until 1957, whereupon Smith sent it to the new Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which refused it. It was subsequently accepted by Donald A. Wollheim, who had taken "The Coming of the White Worm" a decade earlier for Stirring Science Stories, and published in Saturn Science and Fantasy as "The Powder of Hyperborea."

Earlier drafts were headed by a poem, "Lament for Vixeela," subsequently excised, which for the sake of completeness has been placed before "Theft" in this collection, but not attached to the story, as per Smith's final revision.

Preliminary versions and fragments of the poem are sufficiently different to warrant transcribing here:

O dauntless child of beauty and of dross,
My verdant love enzones thy lonely tomb.
Like some eternal sunset brave with gold,
The perils and the glamour shared of old
Outsoars corruption and the restless mould.

    —Petlain's Elegy for Vixeela.

O dauntless child of beauty and of dross,
My verdant love surrounds thy lonely tomb
With secret, proud fluorescence and perfume.
Like some delaying sunset, brave with gold,
The glamour and the perils shared of old
Outsoars the shrunken empire of the mould.

    -Elegy for Vixeela.

Thy name, an invocation, calls to light
Dead moons, and draws from long, outdated night,
The rosy-breasted spectre of delight.

Thy name, an incantation, calls to light
Lost glories from the catafalques of night
And many a crimson spectre of delight.

The penultimate version was identical to the version included in this collection except that it was titled "Elegy of Satampra Zeiros for Vixeela" and the first line, "Vixeela, daughter of beauty and of doom!" was excised.

The omission of "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles" from Smith's "Book of Hyperborea" log is not in itself of much significance. The Zothique and Averoigne logs also fail to list their terminal entries. If anything, it suggests that Clark Ashton Smith, who for many years revisited his manuscripts, touching them up with an eye for the book publication he dreamed of, had finally despaired of seeing The Book of Hyperborea and other themed collections a reality.

If so, the evangelist of Tsathoggua gave up prematurely. This is the final expression of Smith's demon of irony.

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