'Zothique' - Postscript

Will Murray

Perhaps it is only fitting that a story cycle so preoccupied with doom and loss would be haunted by the shades of lost and fugitive tales.

Ashton Smith maintained in his so-called Black Book a running list of stories entitled Tales of Zothique—his intended collection title—which lists several phantasmally elusive stories. In it is logged nearly every story written, started, or even contemplated for the series. It presents a knotty bibliographic problem in that Smith did not differentiate between these very different categories.

Between "The Voyage of King Euvoran" and "The Weaver in the Vault," Smith listed a tale called "The Madness of Chronomage." No such story or manuscript exists. Only the following plot germ survives:

A king who beholds a vision not shared by others, and passes into the vision in his hour of need.

The seventh item on the list is called "Camamagos," but was crossed out and a new seventh story, "The Weaver in the Vault," is substituted. Nothing more is known of this phantom. A tantalizing quote from a mystic work called The Testaments of Camamagos heads "Xeethra," however. It is a dark Necronomicon- like volume also mentioned in two non-Zothiquean tales, "The Treader of the Dust" and "The Infernal Star," the latter a fragment which mentions Zothique but is not of the cycle, and so is not included in this collection. In "The Treader of the Dust," Camamagos is an ancient Greek seer of evil repute. It is interesting to wonder if "The Treader of the Dust" may have been a Zothique conception culled from the series, just as "The Voyage of King Euvoran" was transplanted from the Hyperborea cycle.

In a letter to Lovecraft dated September 1,1933, CAS reiterated an intention previously made to Derleth: "With the completion of two more tales, 'The Madness of Chronomage' and 'Xeethra,' I shall have enough stories of Zothique for a volume. Nothing remains except to find a publisher—which, methinks, will be a contract!"

"Xeethra" was not written for another six months, however, and is entered in Smith's Zothique log as the ninth story. Subsequently, Smith expressed his satisfaction that the completion of "Xeethra" and "The Last Hieroglyph" gave him his needed quota of Zothique tales, suggesting he had completely abandoned any plan to pen "The Madness of Chronomage" once he had a more appropriate final tale. Certain thematic similarities between "Xeethra" and "The Madness of Chronomage" may have made the latter redundant.

Only two pages survive of the 1935 fragment "Shapes of Adamant," yet Smith claimed to have composed 1000 words, so we must assume two or three lost pages. A clue as to why Smith gave up on this story is suggested by a July 1937 comment to Robert H. Barlow: "There is small chance that any professional magazine would care for an opus of such mystical and fantastic nature, involving four avatars in a future continent... ." Smith had contemplated sending the story to Barlow's amateur magazine Leaves.

Another lost item is "The Alkahest," known to have been plotted and begun in August 1937. Only the plot survives:

Bithream, alchemist and magician, believes himself about to discover the alkahest. At this juncture, however, he is arrested with his pupils and arraigned before the inquisitors of the Goddess Kathruale, who accuse him of sorcery and the corruption of the young. By means of a chemical (concealed in a snuff-box on his person) that temporarily reduces the human body in size, he escapes through the barred window of his cell and releases his pupils. They escape from the inquisition into a strange cliff-walled valley that runs toward the outer unknown desert.

Not entered on this log is a plot dating from 1940-41, called "The Feet of Sidaiva," which follows:

Sidaiva, court-dancer of Urnmaus, famed throughout Zothique for the grace of her dancing and the beauty of her feet, incurs the jealousy of Princess Lunalia, daughter of King Phantur of Zylac.

By far the most difficult items are the four titles that follow "The Garden of Adompha." As Smith listed them they are:

18. Morthylla
19. The Two Necromancies
20. The Scarlet Succubus
21. The Infernal Companions

Smith apparently neglected to log "The Master of the Crabs" (finished August 1947) and a play The Dead Will Cuckold You (1950-51; revised 1956), both of which supposedly predate "Morthylla," which he is known to have worked on as early as 1951 and completed in the autumn of 1952. As Andrew Smith pointed out in his article "The Dead Will Cuckold You, in Print and Manuscript, and an Additional Observation" (The Dark Eidolon #3, Winter 1993), Smith's original title for the play was "The Double Necromancy"—which is so close to "The Two Necromancies" as to suggest they are one and the same.

This is certainly plausible from a chronological point of view, if one allows for the possibility that "Morthylla" was logged at the time of conception, not composition, much the way "Shapes of Adamant" and "The Alkahest" were. Another possibility is that Smith subsequently adapted the unproduced play as a now-lost short story called "The Two Necromancies," as he once suggested he might do in a 1952 letter to de Camp.

What then is "The Infernal Companions?" No such story or plot or fragment exists anywhere else in Smith's papers, nor do his extant letters mention such a tale. An undated list of stories includes it in a context that suggests a date prior to 1953.

Two possibilities exist. The first is that this is a lost story. Smith lost several manuscripts during an early 1950s cabin fire, including the original draft to The Dead WillCudcold You — forcing him to borrow a copy from correspondent Roy Squires, which he then revised in summer 1956 to produce the final draft. "The Infernal Companions" could be another of these paper victims. If this is so, then Smith's final tale of Zothique is lost forever.

However, a more elegant theory posits "The Infernal Companions" as a working title for the unlogged "The Master of the Crabs." For this to be the case, Smith would have had to begun writing "Morthylla"-- or at least conceived it — prior to September 1947. It's certainly possible, and would explain his silence concerning "The Infernal Companions" in his letters. The story title might well refer to the wizard's attending crabs. Of the surviving story plots, one is untitled while another bears the working title "The Crabs of Iribos."

Whatever the case, "The Infernal Companions" is either the final Zothique story, or the last one Smith conceived. We will never know the truth.

As it now stands, given the placement of "The Two Necromancies" after what is the final surviving Zothique tale, "Morthylla," as well as the fact that as far as is known the 1956 revision of The Dead WillCudcold You represents the last time Smith took pen to a tale of Zothique, it concludes this collection.

The final fragment, "Mandor's Enemy," is impossible to date with accuracy. Given that the title appears in Smith's Black Book prior to the "Morthylla" plot, we have placed it accordingly, despite the notorious unreliability of the loose-leaf Black Book for such purposes. It may postdate "Morthylla."

Perhaps the greatest loss to the Zothique cycle is "The Scarlet Succubus," which Smith described in a 1953 letter to L. Sprague de Camp as "a projected short novel of Zothique, which I'm carrying in my head. The conception takes a hint from Balzac's terrific yarn, 'The Succubus,' in The Droll Stories, and will exploit the imaginative and mystic possibilities of sex—an angle that seems rather neglected in this day of raw and mundane realism."

Although entered on his master log of Zothique stories. Smith is not known to have commenced writing what might have been his ultimate chronicle of earth's last continent. If ever started, this promising story must have been lost in the same tragic fire that conceivably consumed "The Infernal Companions," if not "The Two Necromancies."

No plot survives, but inasmuch as Smith first spoke of "The Scarlet Succubus" as early as June 1945, this date lends a measure of chronological credence to the theory that "The Master of the Crabs" and "The Infernal Companions" are identical.

Beyond those dim ghosts, only tatterdemalion rags remain.

A couplet, possibly a false start to a second poem of Zothique, is found late in Smith's Black Book:

Where, xanthic-sailed, on whitening waters ran
Some xebec blown from Yoros toward Ayair.

Lastly, also from the Black Book comes an epigram—perhaps the final Zothiquean lines ever penned—with which, as Smith himself might say, it seems meet to close this volume:

Said Smygo, the iconoclast of Zothique: "Bear a hammer with thee always, and break down any terminus on which is written: 'So far shalt thou pass, but no farther go."'

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