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observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 4 April, 2016 01:41PM
Re-reading the Hyperborea cycle for an indeterminate number of times, it occurred to me that there is a finely expressed and subtle ambience that induces a mood in the reader that pervades each cycle.

I have always felt a bit uplifted and somewhat optimistic when reading the Hyperborea stories, while the Zothique stories leave me with a much more somber and resigned feeling--an ashen and impotent bitterness or hollowness. I think that the simple answer is that, due to the time frame of the settings, as regards Hyperborea, we, as the objective reader/observer, know that a significant part of recorded human history follows the coming and retreating of the ice sheet. In short, we know that there is, indeed, a future in the Hyperborean universe.

Contrasted to Zothique, we're constantly reminded by discernible signs that the world is old and essentially, running down. Entropy awaits, and it's not far off.

These are the most prominent sources of the two distinct and consistent impression I come away with when reading the collections, but I believe that there are other more subtle artistic and narrative elements that CAS uses to enhance this. I would enjoy a discussion of this topic, if any here are willing.

First off, do others feel essentially the same? Do they come away with similar moods/impressions/aesthetic "flavors". or am I just completely full of it, as I so often am.

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: deuce (IP Logged)
Date: 4 April, 2016 04:06PM
I absolutely agree. I always felt that the two settings allowed CAS to play with different themes. I love them both, but for different reasons.

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 6 April, 2016 09:53AM
I get quite the opposite feelings. I am uplifted by the Zothique stories, and feel depressed by the Hyperborea cycle.

In Hypeborea there is cold, primitive conditions, barbarian conflicts, and the future holds nothing in store but frustrating harsh struggles through ugly history, leading all the way up to sick modernity.

Zothique is warm, it offers glorious sunsets, rich, deep red, vintage wines. Rotting decadence and beautiful ruins. The herd mass is gone, there are few people to interfere with my strolls, no global banking, and no filthy barbarians left to flood my land.

The Poseidonis cycle is also inspiring. It gives the pleasure of longing back to a distant past time and place that is better than our present.

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 8 April, 2016 11:13AM
First, I thank you for your thoughtful response. It's hard to find discussion of authors I personally enjoy, CAS, of whom I'd never heard, forcing his way into the first rank of escapist enjoyment back when I by chance bought "Zothique" at the old Mithras Bookstore, in La Jolla, in 1970.

I still have that Ballentine paperback--falling apart, held together with tape, and have started re-reading for the 20+th time. I came to a new appreciation of Xeethra, it being one of my least favorite of the Zothique cycle.

If I may, I'd like to address your points individually, interleaved below:


Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I get quite the opposite feelings. I am uplifted
> by the Zothique stories, and feel depressed by the
> Hyperborea cycle.
>
> In Hypeborea there is cold, primitive conditions,
> barbarian conflicts, and the future holds nothing
> in store but frustrating harsh struggles through
> ugly history, leading all the way up to sick
> modernity.

Hah! We're seeing the same things, but our associated responses differ.

WRT Zothique, the entire continent, and likely the world as well, is dessicated. There's no evidence of any surplus moisture (not counting the oceans, which serve as a narrative device to isolate certain locales,thus providing a feeling remote helplessness, and also giving a bit of credence to certain behaviors of the inhabitants that would. perhaps, in a more cosmopolitan milieu, be less possible without interference. For example, Naat, or Uccastrog.

We've got to admit that most of the normal sensibilities of the main continent are pretty nihilistic, at best, but the practices prevalence on Uccastrog are extreme, even for the Zothique sensibility.

Then you've got the sun. What's with that, huh? :^) It's obviously in the process of becoming a red dwarf, and the sky, at noon and overhead, is described as blue-black.

So you've got a dim red sun in a blue-black sky, and what daily life must be like under those conditions, literally, would be funereal, to say the least.

Me, I tend not to envision the stories illuminated in the described fashion, for the simple reason that I cannot even imagine *how* much of the action might take place in a manner that would be visible to members of the human species--just would not be able to see most of that's supposed to be happening. So, I suspend disbelieve, and letting my imagination have its way, I default to something a lot like the Middle East, or maybe Egypt. Not accurate, but...

By contrast, in Hyperborea has plenty of moisture--and moisture commonly is linked with the idea of bountiful life, The flora is CAS's idea of primitive plant life, and the fauna include know extinct species, such as mastodons. etc.

As a rather exotic aside, articles of clothing and armor are sometimes described as being made of the skins of such beasts, and the implied hunts involved in obtaining these hides are, to me, inspiring and vital.

There is the odd contrast of the weather. Much of Hyperborea seems to be subtropical, but where the ice sheet descends, almost as a distinct line, it's cold--and this is at times portrayed as the result of enchantment.

Maybe the biggest contrast between Hyperborea and Zothique is the way cities are treated. In Zothique, many are deserted and ruinous; if one is abandoned, one might infer that no new population hub is established to handle the migrating mass of people. To that end, it certainly does appear that the human race is dying out.

In Hyperborea, however, the cities are comparatively new, and should one be abandoned, as happens to Commoriom, a new one is built a distance away.

What could be more vital and vigorous than a populace, obviously expanding, founding new cities?

>
> Zothique is warm, it offers glorious sunsets,
> rich, deep red, vintage wines. Rotting decadence
> and beautiful ruins. The herd mass is gone, there
> are few people to interfere with my strolls, no
> global banking, and no filthy barbarians left to
> flood my land.
>
> The Poseidonis cycle is also inspiring. It gives
> the pleasure of longing back to a distant past
> time and place that is better than our present.

This is a sort of disconnect to me. It's hard to see why Hyperborea, an imaginary land set in the murky past, and Poseidonis, also imaginary and also set in the past would not evoke the same general response.

The single biggest difference between Hyperborea and Poseidonis that I can see is that Poseidonis is, like Zothique, doomed. It is the last remnant of Atlantis. But then, so it Hyperborea doomed; after all, like Poseidonis, we know that it, too, no longer exists (if we choose to suspend disbelief (and I do!) and accept that they ever existed, at all.

But the Hyperboreans fight the encroaching doom, while those on Poseidonis and in Zothique have essentially abandoned themselves to the inevitable.

Hah! In a way Zothiue "feels" to me like looking at an Aubrey Beardsley drawing. Each reeks of decadence and abandon.

ASIDE: For Poseidonis, what did you think of "A Vintage From Atlantis"? I really, really like this narrative. So vivid! And the POV, being a sort of ruffian Puritan--great stuff to get your head around!!!

Thanks again for the exchange! I would welcome further exploration!

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 13 April, 2016 04:12PM
My comment wasn't so well thought through, as your detailed observations. It was more a spontaneous impression about how I feel for Zothique and Hyperborea.

Of course, you're right. Weather and geology on Zothique is likely hellish, for most part. Too hot to grow grapes. But, I think I could still find some old casks and wine bottles left in the deep cellars of abandoned castles. Wines red and dark with disastrous sunsets of lost years. Drinking, of which give no feeling of warmth in the veins thereafter, but a chill as of hemlock mounting slowly toward the heart. Eh?! ... Cheerio!

Atlantis offers the pleasure of a past society that was both scientifically and socially more advanced than ours. And it suddenly stopped, unlike barbarian Hyperborea, which forced its people further south to long harsh struggles through the centuries.
Perhaps Atlantis's sinking wasn't the final end after all, if you have read A. Merritt's "The Face in the Abyss" and "The Snake Mother", according to which remnants from Atlantis (and even also some very special genes from Hyperborea!) moved into hidden recesses of the Andean mountain range.

It was long ago I read "A Vintage From Atlantis". I only remember that I liked it very much, but can not remember what it was about. One single impression I have with me; that of swans lustily drinking sparkling yellow wine from a pool (or something similar like that). I have meant to reread it, but many other wonderful books have come between.

Good to see you back on the forum, Sawfish! And I see your blazing enthusiasm has not cooled down one single degree, or become bitter and tainted with the passing of long years. Inspiring.

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 14 April, 2016 11:31AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> My comment wasn't so well thought through, as your
> detailed observations. It was more a spontaneous
> impression about how I feel for Zothique and
> Hyperborea.
>
> Of course, you're right. Weather and geology on
> Zothique is likely hellish, for most part. Too hot
> to grow grapes. But, I think I could still find
> some old casks and wine bottles left in the deep
> cellars of abandoned castles. Wines red and dark
> with disastrous sunsets of lost years. Drinking,
> of which give no feeling of warmth in the veins
> thereafter, but a chill as of hemlock mounting
> slowly toward the heart. Eh?! ... Cheerio!

Hah! Exactly! The image of potable wines that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old, is itself mystic and compelling.

>
> Atlantis offers the pleasure of a past society
> that was both scientifically and socially more
> advanced than ours. And it suddenly stopped,
> unlike barbarian Hyperborea, which forced its
> people further south to long harsh struggles
> through the centuries.
> Perhaps Atlantis's sinking wasn't the final end
> after all, if you have read A. Merritt's "The Face
> in the Abyss" and "The Snake Mother",

No, but I'll do this now. Thanks for the references. I'm looking for new things to read, being retired now.

> according to
> which remnants from Atlantis (and even also some
> very special genes from Hyperborea!) moved into
> hidden recesses of the Andean mountain range.
>
> It was long ago I read "A Vintage From Atlantis".
> I only remember that I liked it very much, but can
> not remember what it was about. One single
> impression I have with me; that of swans lustily
> drinking sparkling yellow wine from a pool (or
> something similar like that). I have meant to
> reread it, but many other wonderful books have
> come between.

Lucky you!

>
> Good to see you back on the forum, Sawfish! And I
> see your blazing enthusiasm has not cooled down
> one single degree, or become bitter and tainted
> with the passing of long years. Inspiring.

Thanks for remembering me. I'm greatly surprised--but pleasantly so.

I would like to post to the forum more, and probably will. There are aspects of CAS' style and execution, details, really--that I think would make for great exchanges.

One of these is the readily apparent difference between CAS's "commitment" to a narrative when he was fully engaged--inspired, really--and when it appears he was punching the clock, going for a paycheck. Right now I don't have ready examples, but will provide them if anyone wants to engage. I'll say that generally speaking, the first thing to go is his dialog, which is never his strong suit *except* when using archaic language in the context of the narrative.

This to say that stories like Vulthoom, set on Mars, with the narrative centered around 1930s adventurers of the sort that might be featured in a pulp magazine--and B movie dialog--as opposed to Weaver in the Vault, a Zothique story, appear to me to be commercially, rather than aesthetically, inspired.

It was marketing brilliance to let Lin Carter select and arrange the first few 1970s Ballantine revivals of CAS' work. He started with the strongest stories; in my opinion, these were generally Zothique and Hyperborea. The level of narrative and thematic commitment (there's that word again, huh?) is truly impressive, and becomes even more clear upon widely spaced re-readings. He obviously felt that he had something to tell, and it was neither preachy, nor alarmist, nor grounded in conventional moral sensibilities. Indeed, it seemed fatalistic--stoic, even. And this lack of a morally judgmental authorial overview is one of the most appealing aspects of CAS' narrative universe.

Again, thanks for the kind words, and I hope to have many pleasant conversations with you in the future.

(NOTE: I would like to state overtly: about being "right" or in error, this does not matter to me. I don't care about "being right"; I only want to "get it right" and if interlocutors make compelling points I what to change my default worldview to accommodate the newer, stronger, information.

I say this now because I'm painfully aware that I can be like "taking a drink from a firehose"--and this can come off as pushy. It's merely my impatience and frustration with trying to clearly express my observations and thoughts.)

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 18 April, 2016 11:57AM
Knygatin Wrote:
"Drinking, of which give no feeling of warmth in the veins
hereafter, but a chill as of hemlock mounting
slowly toward the heart.""

Hah! Sounded familiar and I just stumbled over it in "The Dark Eidolon" last night.

Excellent and appropriate reference!

BTW, that section of The Dark Eidolon, the feast, is perhaps the very best example of the term "phantasmagorical" that one might ever encounter. I am struck again by the density of his description--both of settring and of character--and attention to very small narrative details that are not essential to the advancement of the story, but add texture and a sense of the uncanny.

E.g., the ultimate resolution of the narrative does not require that we know of Obexah's ill-fated shipwrecked lover, and yet, knowing this about her enhances the tale, making Obexah seem a fitting subject for an Aubrey Beardsley drawing who inhabits a world in which the worst sorts of debauchery and self-indulgence are so commonplace as to be unworthy of special note.

Too, while she is deeply impressed, repulsed, and frankly, frightened by Namirrha, she still finds time to "wonder what manner of man he was in his intercourse with women." This, while being escorted by re-animated mummies to her place in the dining hall!

These are superb character details that stack upon the setting and action, and give us a fully-formed and complete (and what's more, credible) universe, that, in the hands of a less capable, less personally committed author, would be a mere cautionary fairy tale.

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 14 August, 2016 03:18AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It was long ago I read "A Vintage From Atlantis".
> I only remember that I liked it very much, but can
> not remember what it was about. One single
> impression I have with me; that of swans lustily
> drinking sparkling yellow wine from a pool (or
> something similar like that).

Hmmm!!! Sorry! I meant "Symposium of the Gorgon" of course! I had these two different titles mixed up in my memory. I especially liked the imagery of "Symposium of the Gorgon" very much, which has the scene described above.

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 August, 2016 09:49PM
It was a great, light-hearted version of CAS! Very bohemian in flavor!

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 20 August, 2016 01:33AM
Yes!

I also much agree with your admiration for "The Dark Eidolon". It is my favorite among his tales. Never have I elsewhere in the world of literature read as great prose as in the descriptions of that feast, and in the power of the story as a whole.

And yet, C. A. Smith is virtually unknown among the wider public?!! It amounts to a literary intellectual scandal, or shamefully limited condition of the human mind. It at least says something of the idiocy of the masses (and that is why I have much withdrawn from participating in mass-culture, including consumption of anything these days that comes out of Hollywood).
And also, another possible reason for his limited fame, there is a sorcery in his writing that may be intentionally (or subconsciously) self-obliterating.

I am rambling. I have been much sidetracked and busy with chores lately, if that may excuse my restrained mental focus.

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 20 August, 2016 03:39AM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It was a great, light-hearted version of CAS! Very
> bohemian in flavor!


A celebration of wine!

Re: observations of contrasting moods for Hyperborea and Zothique story cycles
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 24 August, 2016 10:42PM
Intriguing thoughts are never ramblings!



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