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Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: taoofjord (IP Logged)
Date: 19 April, 2014 09:47PM
You'd think that at some point fans of fantasy and horror would have discovered and fallen in love with Smith's stories (especially nowadays with Lovecraft's surge in popularity). I only discovered him a couple years ago myself so as someone who doesn't have a nostalgic attachment to him I believe his stories still feel fresh. Any ideas as to why he's way more in the background?



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 19 Apr 14 | 10:14PM by taoofjord.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 09:38AM
Who?

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 10:28AM
I think it is a matter of language. Lovecraft and Howard tend to use language more as a means to an end, but in Smith's work, the sound and rhythm of the words is at least as important as the plot. For many, this creates a barrier to his work - they become impatient with texture and simply want the author to get on with the plot. How many people read Milton for enjoyment any more? I read PARADISE LOST, Donne, and Keats in high school the same year I discovered Dunsany, Smith, Lovecraft, Machen, Eddison, and many others. There is an intoxication with language in the best work of all these writers, which transcends genre considerations, and it did not matter to me that one set was supposedly good for me, and another was not.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 10:43AM
Come on now. Smith is hardly obscure, having seen his work reprinted in numerous popular editions over the years. He even has a message board dedicated to him, unlike Lovecraft. In fact, he gets more attention now than I am entirely comfortable with. I do not want to see Smith turned into a role-playing franchise.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: taoofjord (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 12:44PM
I don't see CAS's prose being a barrier to entry for someone who enjoys Lovecraft. I've only read about a half dozen of Lovecraft's most popular stories but I've consistently found Smith's pacing to be far, far tighter. Lovecraft seems to go into too much unnecessary detail in my opinion. He also has really long monologues, like in The Shadow over Innsmouth, that come across as less than natural and quite a bit tedious. Smith's dialogue doesn't feel particularly organic but it's closer than Lovecraft's.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 20 Apr 14 | 12:45PM by taoofjord.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 01:03PM
As a guest panelist at the recent lovecraft film festival, I was thrilled by how many people were there who were simply
stunned to meet someone who had known Smith - his fan base may not be huge, but it is global, and thoroughly devoted -
I was there specifically because of Lovecraft's "adoration" for Smith's work - had an absolute ball.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 04:32PM
taoofjord Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> You'd think that at some point fans of fantasy and
> horror would have discovered and fallen in love
> with Smith's stories (especially nowadays with
> Lovecraft's surge in popularity). I only
> discovered him a couple years ago myself so as
> someone who doesn't have a nostalgic attachment to
> him I believe his stories still feel fresh. Any
> ideas as to why he's way more in the background?

If you read a story like The Chain of Aforgomon, you will find the answer. It was never his soul's intention to become widely known.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 06:39PM
Jim, I would disagree that, for HPL, language was simply "a means to an end"; else he would not have so agonized over the choice of each word, as his manuscripts show he most definitely did. (For that matter, his critical essays for the amateur journals go into this aspect of things quite a lot as well.) He was very concerned with choosing exactly the right word to convey not only sense, but varieties of implication, association, and ambiguity, and tone. He was not (in the main) a good poet, but he was very aware of the poetry of language, and his prose utilizes that to a very intense degree. Try reading his fiction aloud, and you'll find that he uses a number of poetic techniques to achieve a wide range of effects; and a fair amount of his prose is in itself quite poetic both in structure and sound.

As for his monologues -- more properly, in most cases, dialogues where we hear only one side -- some very perceptive pieces have been written on the effectiveness of these for conveying information in the most efficient way. Not only do they serve as (to use a hideous neologism) "infodump" in the usual sense, but the choice of dialect itself conveys a great deal about the characters and their milieu, and even about the very alienness of the setting -- e.g., the extreme archaism used in "The Picture in the House" or the manner of speech of the inhabitants of Dunwich, which in themselves convey the feeling of a place "out of time", where things have survived long beyond their proper time. These are places where time itself is "out of joint", and which are themselves a rupture with the natural order... all of which are conveyed without direct statement, but rather through the use of the particular vernacular chosen.

As for Smith's lack of popularity... in large part, I would say it is because, even in his prose, he was chiefly a poet of an older, more traditional school who yet was influenced by many of the same things as brought about the Decadents; a peculiar combination, to say the least, and rather rarefied stuff for the average person raised on the post-Hemingway use of language so prevalent in America (and, to a lesser extent, the larger English-speaking world). As I've said before, there are a number of writers who have suffered from such a resistance because of this, such as Mervyn Peake, who so effectively used his language to build the structure of Gormenghast in the readers' mind. There the language becomes the very stones of the place, so that one feels the weight not only of all that sprawling bulk, but the centuries of strangling traditions and beliefs which are so much a part of its fabric.

So with Smith, albeit even more poetically. People in general have been out of touch with poetry since the Modernists, and even the older forms no longer have the recognition in the public at large that they once had. Combine all these elements, and Smith built for himself a rather restrictive (as far as popularity is concerned, though not the artistic possibilities) niche. Lovecraft, while using a peculiar idiom, actually struck a bit more broadly, I think, on this score, what with his poetic influence being combined with that of the classic essayists. He also was oddly forward-looking in his philosophical points where based on the implications of science and what they meant for society, which has fortuitously allowed his work to appeal to a broader modern audience.

Still, I do think Smith's appeal is growing, and I hope to see a much wider recognition of his abilities emerge over the next few decades. I won't be around to see a lot of it (most likely), but I think he, like Lovecraft, has been going through a period of eclipse for a long time, and is slowly emerging from that, so that his work will achieve a more just assessment; at which point I think he will be seen as a much more significant (not to mention better) writer than he has so far been given credit for being.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 07:50PM
I do not disagree with anything you have written, jd. I did not mean to imply that Lovecraft was indifferent to language, because it is quite clear from his essays, narrative prose and verse that he was quite conscious of how to use language, and I remarked earlier that the use the emergence of Cthulhu contains phrases worthy of Keats.

Nonetheless, with the possible exception of the monologues you mention and the earlier attempt near the end of "Rats in the Walls", I have never had the same sense that he was intoxicated with language in the same way as John Keats, Clark Ashton Smith, the Machen of ORNAMENTS IN JADE and "The White People", and others.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 08:51PM
My apologies if I misunderstood. On the latter point, I think I'd tend to agree with you. Such intoxication with language does show up here and there in his work, but is far less consistent than in the examples you cite. (I make exception, of course, for some of Smith's "scientifiction" stories, where such is much less apparent.)

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 20 April, 2014 09:43PM
No need to apologize - I obviously did not make myself clear.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: wilum pugmire (IP Logged)
Date: 7 May, 2014 12:30PM
I think that Lovecraft was far more interested in ideas than in language, although he is obsess'd with writing as an art form. I've been rereading ESSENTIAL SOLITUDE, and HPL continually emphasizes his preference for weird fiction that is "art," the word crops up continually. I was shocked to realise that Lovecraft thought so poorly of "The Rats in the Walls," one of his greatest stories. It seems that his disappointment in much of his own fiction is rooted in what he sees as his inability to use the language he desires in his fiction, that he feels he has been tainted by pulp standards. Personally, I find Lovecraft's writing excellent, exactly right for the tales he wanted to compose, effective and evocative.

"I'm a little girl."
--H. P. Lovecraft, Esq.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 7 May, 2014 01:17PM
wilum pugmire Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> HPL continually emphasizes
> his preference for weird fiction that is "art,"
> the word crops up continually.

Yes, Lovecraft suffered a great internal conflict between the pretentious twit and the professional pulp writer. I do not think his philosophizing about "art" should be taken very seriously.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: wilum pugmire (IP Logged)
Date: 7 May, 2014 02:44PM
Lovecraft was never pretentious, and his art is genuine and magnificent.

"I'm a little girl."
--H. P. Lovecraft, Esq.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 7 May, 2014 03:00PM
I try to make a habit of not allowing myself to be tricked into adopting absurd, extreme positions. I feel it makes me come off as "level-headed."

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