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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."

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: wilum pugmire (IP Logged)
Date: 7 May, 2014 03:11PM
Truth is never extreme or absurd. Happily, to counter the critics who shew perverse prejudice or grotesque ignorance, we now have some really superb studies of Lovecraft from scholars who understand Lovecraft's brilliance of imagination, the perfection of his prose, the depths and layers of genius in his fiction. What a joy it was to finally meet Robert H. Waugh at NecronomiCon and thank him for his outstanding books on Lovecraft, and then to shake hands with Steven J. Mariconda and thank him for the excellent H. P. LOVECRAFT--ART, ARTIFICE, AND REALITY. And it is fantastic to see J. D. come into his own as an extremely perceptive critic of Lovecraft's poetry and prose. And we have much to look forward to, as future scholars study both Lovecraft and CAS with keen insight.

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



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 7 May 14 | 03:12PM by wilum pugmire.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 1 June, 2014 05:45AM
Excellent photo of a young CAS, that I have not seen before:

[www.ebay.com]

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 2 June, 2014 07:19PM
It sure is strange how such an individual, from unremarkable, isolated, poor conditions, could develope intuitively a so colorful and refined artistic sense of planets, stars, and the cosmos, and also call forth atmospheric scenes from long gone distant ages. It is uncanny. I wonder where it germinated from.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Kipling (IP Logged)
Date: 2 August, 2016 12:24PM
I don't think that Lovecraft "agonized" over the vocabulary to the extent that Smith did. A comparison of Joshi's edition with Thomas Olive Mabbott's 2-volume edition of Poe's Tales And Sketches shows that Poe revised his diction far more carefully than did Lovecraft. HPL's inconsistency with "shew" vrs. "show" for example-- there are over 20 examples of "show" appearing in both the auto-manuscript and typescript copies. He has 4 characters using both forms in "Pickman's Model" and "The Whisperer in Darkness". The premise that he always preferred "shew" is not a strong one. Although the only real mistakes in this regard would be in "From Beyond", and "Pickman's Model," where HPL clearly chose to use "show" when the central character is actually speaking-- Crawford Tillinghast and Richard Upton Pickman respectively. But it remains an open question since the typescripts all use "show". It is also easier to form the letter e after the letter h than to form an o after h, a consideration favoring the premise that his conversions to "show" in his typescripts were not just "to accommodate his publishers". Inconclusive, and in any case one can easily change those verbs from shew to show, showed, shown, and so on with a pencil. To get back to the subject of the primacy of vocabulary in Smith's works as mentioned by Rockhill, I agree that many readers find this an impediment to their enjoyment of his stories, but Smith's use of esoteric diction is designed to service the plot development as well. The psychology of terror and disorientation to environment is a key element as it was in Poe (see Michael Duda's preface to A Vintage From Atlantis in this regard), and certain words, while unfamiliar to most readers, can be seen as furthering this artistic goal.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: wilum pugmire (IP Logged)
Date: 2 August, 2016 02:52PM
I keep hoping that we will see more Clark Ashton Smith books publish'd and in bookstores, but it doesn't seem to happen. I no longer go to bookstores, since driving is difficult and Amazon makes buying books at home so simple; so I have no clue if there are any editions of CAS available in bookstores these days. There's a wonderful bloke in our University Book Store who is into HPL and CAS &c, and he usually makes certain there are titles stocked. Perhaps once the volumes from Night Sahde are reprinted in soft cover there will be a resurgence of interest.

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

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Kipling (IP Logged)
Date: 5 August, 2016 12:24PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It sure is strange how such an individual, from
> unremarkable, isolated, poor conditions, could
> develope intuitively a so colorful and refined
> artistic sense of planets, stars, and the cosmos,
> and also call forth atmospheric scenes from long
> gone distant ages. It is uncanny. I wonder where
> it germinated from.


The conditions he grew up in might be described as isolated and unremarkable, but were actually quite the opposite. Jack Koblas once said that he thought Lovecraft was more the natural storyteller than Smith, which I suppose was in reference to the longer stories of the Lovecraft mythos, but I wouldn't say so.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 24 August, 2016 09:58AM
This was a very well considered comparison, in my opinion. I would like to add three minor points:

1) Smith's quality ranged wildly; if he wrote perhaps 100 stories, of 20 were brilliant--inspired, truly--the Muse was upon him; 20 were quite good; and another 20 (at least) were clearly attempts to get a paycheck. Off the top of my head, I'd say that the Zothique/Hyperborea stories were examples of the first third, while the "spaceman" stories, in which two 1930s pulp adventures, complete with tinny, hard-boiled dialog and are on Mars or Venus, were of the last third.

Lovecraft, on the other hand, seems to be more consistent, more studied, in his approach. He seems to be more deliberate, while Smith, when good, was more inspired--or perhaps more spontaneously inspired. I enjoyed even Lovecraft's ghostwritten tales, like those for Zealia Bishop, they were that consistent.

2) This is trivial, but I think it has some minor validity. There's that name, "Lovecraft". Near-Freudian in implication, it is easily recognizable--and combined with Lovecraft's consistency of output, established what amounts to an easily recognizable "brand".

3) There's the Mythos. It is well-developed and extensive. It created a sort of Dungeon and Dragons cosmos for the reader to occupy. Others did this as well, but perhaps Lovecraft's was the most pervasive and convincing--in part because it was conceptual, intangible, and hinted at still more arcane depths.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 22 August, 2017 11:08AM
Here I am, late to the party, and writing something that perhaps no one will ever read...

Your mention of Smith's <i>A Vintage from Atlantis</i> displays one of Smith's greatest strengths: the selection of a narrative point of view, and the development of its character traits.

The story of a drunken pirate debauch, much like, and anticipating, a Hell's Angels beach party, is told as seen thru the eyes of a tea-totaling, self-described Puritan and "staunch Rechabite". The fact that he is a voluntary member of the crew, having participated in multiple instances of looting and blood-letting adds a further bit of ironic tension. "What in the world is a religious man, a Puritan, doing sailing with one of the most rapacious and bloodthirsty pirates of the era? How can this be?" runs thru the reader's mind.

In using this device, Smith establishes a sort of narrative objectivity that would be much less believable had the story been told by a stock pirate character. There is artistic room for Smith to introduce diction and erudition that would plainly be unbelievable were it to be spoken by a common seaman.

Re: Why isn't CAS more popular?
Posted by: Ancient History (IP Logged)
Date: 26 August, 2017 11:36AM
Well, cf. Bartholomew Roberts. Teetotaling pirates might not have been the norm, but not unheard of.



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