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Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 25 August, 2018 08:56PM
While reading Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, I came across a reference to a "necromancer", a white-haired old magician who uses his powers to divine the secrets of the distant past. Essentially, he is a device by Hawthorne to suggest a possible truth to a legend older than history might plausibly record.

I was reminded that the term "necromancer" once referred to what might also be called a "spiritualist" -- a diviner who communes with spirits.

In much modern fantasy, a "necromancer" is more likely to be a particularly morbid and ghoulish death-mage, who creates zombies and animates skeletons, and otherwise uses his magic to muck around with corpses.

The earliest stories I can think of that feature this modern type of "necromancer" are the stories of Clark Ashton Smith. And the earliest clear example of this, that I can think of, is "The Empire of the Necromancers", published 1932 - the first Zothique story. And of course there are more "necromancers", of the ghoulish, corpse-mage type, in future CAS stories, particularly those set in Zothique, such as "Necromancy in Naat".

Earlier CAS stories, such as "The Last Incantation" and "The Necromantic Tale", use the word in its more-or-less traditional sense.

The only precedent I can think of for this type of "necromancer" is Joseph Curwen from H.P. Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". However, Curwen, though he also mucks around with corpses, is called a "necromancer" for the more-or-less traditional reason that he communes with the dead in order to learn their secrets. Also, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" was not published until after Lovecraft's death; I am not clear if Clark Ashton Smith ever got a chance to read it.

Of course, HPL did invent the "Necronomicon", which might have helped influence Smith's ideas of "necromancy".

So, did CAS essentially invent the modern fantasy "necromancer" as a ghoulish, corpse-enchanting death mage? Or are there other precedents that I have overlooked?

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Ancient History (IP Logged)
Date: 25 August, 2018 09:13PM
Necromancy is a corruption of Nigromancy or "black magic" - it picked up its specific association with reanimation sometime later.

Raising the dead, whether animate or inanimate, has been a literary trope for a while before CAS. Zombies from the Pulps does note "Empire of the Necromancers" as a prominent early tale in the corpse reanimation tradition.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 26 August, 2018 03:07PM
Ancient History Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Necromancy is a corruption of Nigromancy or "black
> magic"

It's the other way around. At least, "nigromancy" from the Old French, originated as a corruption of nekromanteia, whish is from the Greek.

- it picked up its specific association
> with reanimation sometime later.
> Raising the dead, whether animate or inanimate,
> has been a literary trope for a while before CAS.

Sure, but stories about animating the dead don't necessarily associate this with the word "necromancer".

Again, the earliest examples I have so far are: "Empire of the Necromancers" (published 1932); and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (first published in abridged form in 1941, but written 1927).



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 26 Aug 18 | 03:34PM by Platypus.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Sodosma (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2018 03:36PM
I was wondering this as well--especially reading about forms of necromancy in the "western" and Mesopotamian/Near East tradition, where the closest thing to the modern fantasy necromancer is the use of a skull to embody the spirit you wish to contact.

Empire of the Necromancers is perhaps my favorite CAS tale, and it marks, as far as I'm aware, a true and full qualitative break with what the necromancer is, by tradition, and what he is believed to do.

Yet another facet of modern fantasy that is wholly indebted to CAS.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2018 05:59PM
The great sorcerer Sauron was also referred to as The Necromancer. Not sure when J. R. R. Tolkien put this down in note, but he began writing The Silmarillion as early as 1914.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2018 08:03PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The great sorcerer Sauron was also referred to as
> The Necromancer. Not sure when J. R. R. Tolkien
> put this down in note, but he began writing The
> Silmarillion as early as 1914.

Gandalf refers to "The Necromancer" a/k/a "that black sorcerer" in THE HOBBIT, including (I'm pretty sure) the 1937 version. He dwells in Dol Guldur (the "Hill of [Dark] Sorcery") in Mirkwood. However, we are told very little about him, other than that he is super-powerful and super-scary. So its hard to know what specific definition of "necromancy" Tolkien originally had in mind. "Guldur" apparently translates from Elvish as "dark magic"; and "necromancy" may be meant merely as a rough English translation

Sauron was also "the Necromancer" in certain non-final versions of the Silmarillion, but how early these were, I do not know. In THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1954) Gandalf discusses his discovery that the Necromancer of Dol Gulder is in fact Sauron.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 27 Aug 18 | 08:40PM by Platypus.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2018 08:32PM
In Robert E. Howard's HOUR OF THE DRAGON (1935-6), necromancy seems essentially synonymous with black magic ... magic taught by devils.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Gabriel (IP Logged)
Date: 27 August, 2018 09:02PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Knygatin Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > The great sorcerer Sauron was also referred to
> as
> > The Necromancer. Not sure when J. R. R. Tolkien
> > put this down in note, but he began writing The
> > Silmarillion as early as 1914.
>
> Gandalf refers to "The Necromancer" a/k/a "that
> black sorcerer" in THE HOBBIT, including (I'm
> pretty sure) the 1937 version. He dwells in Dol
> Guldur (the "Hill of Sorcery") in Mirkwood.
> However, we are told very little about him, other
> than that he is super-powerful and super-scary.
> So its hard to know what specific definition of
> "necromancy" Tolkien originally had in mind.
> "Guldur" apparently translates from Elvish as
> "dark magic"; and "necromancy" may be meant merely
> as a rough English translation
>
> Sauron was also "the Necromancer" in certain
> non-final versions of the Silmarillion, but how
> early these were, I do not know. In THE LORD OF
> THE RINGS (1954) Gandalf discusses his discovery
> that the Necromancer of Dol Gulder is in fact
> Sauron.

Tolkien's earliest use of "Necromancer" in relation to Thû (later renamed Sauron) is in the poem "Lay of Leithian", written in 1925.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 28 August, 2018 12:10PM
Neither CAS nor Tolkien nor any modern writer invented this. Necromancy goes way back to antiquity, ... and probably further. Smith merely picked up from the fantastic and horrible corners of reality.

Primitive sorcery and ritualistic cannibalism (to gain spiritual power from the victims) is widely practiced even today, in western Africa especially, in rituals of the Talmud Kabbalah, and among other primitive races in South America and in the Indonesian archipelago.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 28 August, 2018 04:39PM
Right but ... perhaps my question is a bit too narrow and semantic. "Invent" is too strong a word, perhaps, since what I'm suggesting he may have created was a link between a pre-existing word, and pre-existing concepts, thereby influencing the meaning of the word thereafter.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 28 August, 2018 05:08PM
Yes, ... he has certainly added color to the concept, through his great and unique imagination. And given it more visual detail than any historic text previously might have been able to paint.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 30 August, 2018 09:48AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Yes, ... he has certainly added color to the
> concept, through his great and unique imagination.
> And given it more visual detail than any historic
> text previously might have been able to paint.

My idea is more basic than that, and more independent of opinions of the quality of the work.

CAS is, AFAIK, the first fiction writer to draw a clear connection between the word "necromancy" and the concept of re-animating dead bodies.

HPL's "Charles Dexter Ward" does not really count. Joseph Curwen gets called a "necromancer" by the townsfolk for the more-or-less traditional reason that he is believed to talk to ghosts. Also, this text was published later.

Tolkien's "Necromancer" does not seem to count either. He is evidently called a Necromancer because he practices dark magic (the "nigromancer" sense of the word); and perhaps because he commands "hosts / of phantoms and wandering ghosts" in the Lay of Leithian. And again, these texts were published later.

In Haiti, there was a folk-belief that a witch could raise a person's corpse for slave labor as a "zombi". But I doubt that "necromancy" was the local term for it.

Re: Did CAS Invent the "Necromancer" of Modern Fantasy?
Posted by: Sodosma (IP Logged)
Date: 2 September, 2018 09:45PM
Before CAS, the closest thing I've come across, after thinking on it for a while, is the Thessalian witch Erichtho who, among other crazy powers (for instance, it's implied she holds the gods themselves hostage) demands from the underworld a spirit hovering over the mouth of oblivion, then, after treating a body with ointments and potions, forces the spirit into a dead soldier's body, after which he sits up straight and tells Sextus Pompeius that which he wishes to know.

Although this isn't 100% the modern necromancer, it's the closest I've heard of before CAS. Erichtho does say, however, that if she willed it, an army would rise at her command, though she does not exhibit this power.



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