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Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 April, 2020 07:18PM
"The Isle of the Torturers" aroused, in me, not so much horror as disgust, though the evidently complete extinction of the Torturers at the end offers some satisfaction of the sense of justice, and, so doing, reminded me of Mel Gibson's movie Apocalypto, where too you have a civilization founded on cruelty that at last is about to meet a well-deserved destruction.

I don't suppose Smith was thinking of the way the Spanish brought disease and violence to the depraved Aztecs, but there's some similarity between that and the way Fulbra brings from his realm the death that will obliterate the civilization of the Torturers.

Of course, "The Masque of the Red Death" will occur to Smith's readers too.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 8 Apr 20 | 07:21PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: kojootti (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 04:00AM
In response to Platypus, thank you for your thoughts! I agree that "The Gorgon" isn't Smith's best, and now that I've read "He", I wonder how much Smith might have consciously or unconsciously borrowed from Lovecraft! I think Lovecraft's tale is more concise, better paced, and emotionally convincing, but I admit that Smith's tale entices me more with its disturbing sense of awe, once it reaches the mansion. It's a personal favorite.

In response to Dale, I agree that "Double Shadow" felt slightly imbalanced in that it focused on one monstrous element amid so many of them. I remember it more for its descriptions of the wizards' mansion rather than their fate. It's not one of my favorites, but one which I highly respect. Perhaps I'm too young and easily impressed, but I'm captivated by Smith's kaleidoscopic tendencies. It's extremely rare for a fantasy tale to mesmerize my senses, to set me loose in a world of weirdness upon weirdness that can still feel real to me. That's not to say I look down on other forms of writing. Machen and Tolkien are immersive without being lavish or haunted by hashish-demons, and I feel a deeper connection with the humble, earthy elements of the Kalevala. Smith simply appeals to my strange imagination in the most potent way.

Thanks a lot for that Opium-Eater passage. I'm immediately hooked by its psychedelic plunge! I appreciate how it begins with a realistic world, flows into emotionally disturbed rambling, and then finally dives into progressively weird imagery, changing from exoticism to utterly demonic stuff. It's like each moment was nestled in the last, like a set of bizarre nesting dolls. It's definitely different from how Smith normally approached the weird side of life, even when he mentions drugs.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 9 Apr 20 | 04:04AM by kojootti.

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 12:53PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> For me,”The Double Shadow” was, beneath the
> lush prose, a familiar story, of the gradual
> overtaking of a curious person(s) by a gruesome
> fate. The story is so lavishly furnished with
> monstrous sights that the prospect of one more
> horrible manifestation is not very impressive.
> This is a characteristic of many Smith stories, it
> seems to me.
>
> He too obviously wants to conjure an exotic
> phantasmagoria and to make your flesh creep.
>
> When de Quincey wrote of the horrors of opium
> nightmares, he set the most fantastic of them in
> the context of other details.


The idea that one's ultimate, horrible, and inescapable fate hinges on a long quest for hidden knowledge (itself an arguably laudable activity), which, incompletely understood, and yet utilized anyway, was a terrific central irony.

Tieless, too, as a drive by any abandoned nuclear power plant ought to demonstrate.

You know, there's a lot of subjectivity in the reading of literature, and hence what one reader finds objectionable, another will see as a strength.

One part that I really liked was the inescapability of the narrator's ultimate fate. Not only can he not flee from the physical threat, but death would provide no escape, either. Using a re-animated mummy as the third member of the conjuring party, and seeing the mummy, too, consumed by the double shadow as if he had still been living, was a good touch, I felt.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 01:01PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I'm not saying Clark Ashton Smith should have
> tried to "be" Thomas de Quincey, of course.
>
> Here's the passage from the Opium-Eater that I had
> in mind. The "Malay" was a sailor from that
> region whom de Quincey happened to see in the
> British place where he was living. Under the
> influence of the drug, the unsuspecting sailor
> haunted de Quincey....
>
>
> May 1818
> The Malay has been a fearful enemy for months. I
> have been every night, through his means,
> transported into Asiatic scenes. I know not
> whether others share in my feelings on this point;
> but I have often thought that if I were compelled
> to forego England, and to live in China, and among
> Chinese manners and modes of life and scenery, I
> should go mad. The causes of my horror lie deep,
> and some of them must be common to others.
> Southern Asia in general is the seat of awful
> images and associations. As the cradle of the
> human race, it would alone have a dim and
> reverential feeling connected with it. But there
> are other reasons. No man can pretend that the
> wild, barbarous, and capricious superstitions of
> Africa, or of savage tribes elsewhere, affect him
> in the way that he is affected by the ancient,
> monumental, cruel, and elaborate religions of
> Indostan, &c. The mere antiquity of Asiatic
> things, of their institutions, histories, modes of
> faith, &c., is so impressive, that to me the vast
> age of the race and name overpowers the sense of
> youth in the individual. A young Chinese seems to
> me an antediluvian man renewed. Even Englishmen,
> though not bred in any knowledge of such
> institutions, cannot but shudder at the mystic
> sublimity of castes that have flowed apart, and
> refused to mix, through such immemorial tracts of
> time; nor can any man fail to be awed by the names
> of the Ganges or the Euphrates. It contributes
> much to these feelings that southern Asia is, and
> has been for thousands of years, the part of the
> earth most swarming with human life, the great
> officina gentium. Man is a weed in those regions.
> The vast empires also in which the enormous
> population of Asia has always been cast, give a
> further sublimity to the feelings associated with
> all Oriental names or images. In China, over and
> above what it has in common with the rest of
> southern Asia, I am terrified by the modes of
> life, by the manners, and the barrier of utter
> abhorrence and want of sympathy placed between us
> by feelings deeper than I can analyse. I could
> sooner live with lunatics or brute animals. All
> this, and much more than I can say or have time to
> say, the reader must enter into before he can
> comprehend the unimaginable horror which these
> dreams of Oriental imagery and mythological
> tortures impressed upon me. Under the connecting
> feeling of tropical heat and vertical sunlights I
> brought together all creatures, birds, beasts,
> reptiles, all trees and plants, usages and
> appearances, that are found in all tropical
> regions, and assembled them together in China or
> Indostan. From kindred feelings, I soon brought
> Egypt and all her gods under the same law. I was
> stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by
> monkeys, by parroquets, by cockatoos. I ran into
> pagodas, and was fixed for centuries at the summit
> or in secret rooms: I was the idol; I was the
> priest; I was worshipped; I was sacrificed. I
> fled from the wrath of Brama through all the
> forests of Asia: Vishnu hated me: Seeva laid wait
> for me. I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris: I
> had done a deed, they said, which the ibis and the
> crocodile trembled at. I was buried for a
> thousand years in stone coffins, with mummies and
> sphynxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of
> eternal pyramids. I was kissed, with cancerous
> kisses, by crocodiles; and laid, confounded with
> all unutterable slimy things, amongst reeds and
> Nilotic mud.
>
> I thus give the reader some slight abstraction of
> my Oriental dreams, which always filled me with
> such amazement at the monstrous scenery that
> horror seemed absorbed for a while in sheer
> astonishment. Sooner or later came a reflux of
> feeling that swallowed up the astonishment, and
> left me not so much in terror as in hatred and
> abomination of what I saw. Over every form, and
> threat, and punishment, and dim sightless
> incarceration, brooded a sense of eternity and
> infinity that drove me into an oppression as of
> madness. Into these dreams only it was, with one
> or two slight exceptions, that any circumstances
> of physical horror entered. All before had been
> moral and spiritual terrors. But here the main
> agents were ugly birds, or snakes, or crocodiles;
> especially the last. The cursed crocodile became
> to me the object of more horror than almost all
> the rest. I was compelled to live with him, and
> (as was always the case almost in my dreams) for
> centuries. I escaped sometimes, and found myself
> in Chinese houses, with cane tables,& c. All the
> feet of the tables, sofas, &c., soon became
> instinct with life: the abominable head of the
> crocodile, and his leering eyes, looked out at me,
> multiplied into a thousand repetitions; and I
> stood loathing and fascinated. And so often did
> this hideous reptile haunt my dreams that many
> times the very same dream was broken up in the
> very same way: I heard gentle voices speaking to
> me (I hear everything when I am sleeping), and
> instantly I awoke. It was broad noon, and my
> children were standing, hand in hand, at my
> bedside—come to show me their coloured shoes, or
> new frocks, or to let me see them dressed for
> going out. I protest that so awful was the
> transition from the damned crocodile, and the
> other unutterable monsters and abortions of my
> dreams, to the sight of innocent human natures and
> of infancy, that in the mighty and sudden
> revulsion of mind I wept, and could not forbear
> it, as I kissed their faces.

If I understand this correctly, this is living within the influence of opium--an opium dream.

I liked it...but would the publishers of Weird Tales like it, do you think?

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 01:15PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> "The Isle of the Torturers" aroused, in me, not so
> much horror as disgust, though the evidently
> complete extinction of the Torturers at the end
> offers some satisfaction of the sense of justice,
> and, so doing, reminded me of Mel Gibson's movie
> Apocalypto, where too you have a civilization
> founded on cruelty that at last is about to meet a
> well-deserved destruction.

I think that there was this personal pay-off for the readers, too, although I seldom make a moral judgement in my reading of literature. I'm looking, often for irony as the biggest pay off.

This is a personal quirk, I realize.

So you have the old "Whatever you do, pleas don't throw me in that briar patch" trick from Brere Rabbit, that ironically, and appropriately, inflicts the silver death on all of Uccastrog, and what's more, the further irony in which the king of the torturers, who had mockingly out the ring on, which would save him from death, pulled it off of his own accord without realizing it was saving him.

Too, I enjoyed the "amplifier", where his supposed sympathetic love interest proved completely and horribly false.

>
> I don't suppose Smith was thinking of the way the
> Spanish brought disease and violence to the
> depraved Aztecs, but there's some similarity
> between that and the way Fulbra brings from his
> realm the death that will obliterate the
> civilization of the Torturers.
>
> Of course, "The Masque of the Red Death" will
> occur to Smith's readers too.


Yes.

In a lot of ways I think I see Poe as a significant thematic influence on CAS. Let me think about that a bit, though...

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: kojootti (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 01:27PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> If I understand this correctly, this is living
> within the influence of opium--an opium dream.
>
> I liked it...but would the publishers of Weird
> Tales like it, do you think?


I have just downloaded De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and it's an autobiographical account, so it's doubtful they would accept it. Weird Tales rejected a story by Robert E. Howard about Vikings fighting an advanced Atlantis-like civilization of Native Americans, on account of its lack of overtly weird or supernatural elements, so they probably wouldn't accept even an excerpt of the wildest opium dream, unless perhaps it developed into a full-blown fantasy or horror story.

Which reminds me, I'm curious what Dale, and others, think of another Smith tale few people talk about, "The Chain of Aforgomon."



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 9 Apr 20 | 01:32PM by kojootti.

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 01:36PM
kojootti Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> In response to Platypus, thank you for your
> thoughts! I agree that "The Gorgon" isn't Smith's
> best, and now that I've read "He", I wonder how
> much Smith might have consciously or unconsciously
> borrowed from Lovecraft! I think Lovecraft's tale
> is more concise, better paced, and emotionally
> convincing, but I admit that Smith's tale entices
> me more with its disturbing sense of awe, once it
> reaches the mansion. It's a personal favorite.
>
> In response to Dale, I agree that "Double Shadow"
> felt slightly imbalanced in that it focused on one
> monstrous element amid so many of them. I remember
> it more for its descriptions of the wizards'
> mansion rather than their fate. It's not one of my
> favorites, but one which I highly respect. Perhaps
> I'm too young and easily impressed, but I'm
> captivated by Smith's kaleidoscopic tendencies.
> It's extremely rare for a fantasy tale to
> mesmerize my senses, to set me loose in a world of
> weirdness upon weirdness that can still feel real
> to me. That's not to say I look down on other
> forms of writing. Machen and Tolkien are immersive
> without being lavish or haunted by hashish-demons,
> and I feel a deeper connection with the humble,
> earthy elements of the Kalevala. Smith simply
> appeals to my strange imagination in the most
> potent way.

I think tat something I've failed to convey in these exchanges is that some of Dale's critiques are certainly valid when applied to a broader literary tradition, but we've got to bear in mind that CAS stories were written for a market that craves this over-the-top stuff.

I know I do.

And yet he balances it nicely (in my view) with lots of legitimate irony and widely accepted traditional morality tales, although not necessarily of a christian tradition.

So in a sense he's providing high-quaity opium to opium eaters... :^)

It really makes little sense to criticize CAS for *being* CAS; because he does this, it's *why* people have read him, and continue to read him. And the readers are mostly looking for a very narrowly defined product, which he supplies.

>
> Thanks a lot for that Opium-Eater passage. I'm
> immediately hooked by its psychedelic plunge! I
> appreciate how it begins with a realistic world,
> flows into emotionally disturbed rambling, and
> then finally dives into progressively weird
> imagery, changing from exoticism to utterly
> demonic stuff. It's like each moment was nestled
> in the last, like a set of bizarre nesting dolls.
> It's definitely different from how Smith normally
> approached the weird side of life, even when he
> mentions drugs.

I really liked the passages Dale supplied. I truly evocative story called something like "The Gate of 100 Sorrows", by Rudyard Kipling is a short, easy, very powerful read, if you are interested.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 01:38PM
kojootti Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > If I understand this correctly, this is living
> > within the influence of opium--an opium dream.
> >
> > I liked it...but would the publishers of Weird
> > Tales like it, do you think?
>
>
> I have just downloaded De Quincey's Confessions of
> an English Opium-Eater, and it's an
> autobiographical account, so it's doubtful they
> would accept it. Weird Tales rejected a story by
> Robert E. Howard about Vikings fighting an
> advanced Atlantis-like civilization of Native
> Americans, on account of its lack of overtly weird
> or supernatural elements, so they probably
> wouldn't accept even an excerpt of the wildest
> opium dream, unless perhaps it developed into a
> full-blown fantasy or horror story.
>
> Which reminds me, I'm curious what Dale, and
> others, think of another Smith tale few people
> talk about, "The Chain of Aforgomon."

On someone's recommendation here (maybe you?) I read it and was unsettled by it.

I *liked* it! Thanks!

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: kojootti (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 02:00PM
Oh I agree with you Sawfish. But in my posts I like to acknowledge other perspectives as well as my own, while still appreciating Smith's chimeric imagination in nearly all its forms. I personally couldn't feel much for "The Seven Geases", while still relishing its monster phantasmagoria. And I enjoyed "The Double Shadow", and have read it at least three times because of its richly macabre detail, but as a narrative it doesn't impress me as much as others. On the other hand, the few people who acknowledge Smith's "The Gorgon" don't seem to rank it very highly, but I enjoy that story immensely, and it fills me with a yearning for the sublime. I'm also fond of such under-rated tales as "A Voyage to Sfanamoë", "The Tale of Sir John Maundeville", "The Ice-Demon", and even the relatively mundane "The Venus of Azombeii."

I also greatly enjoy some of his more famous stories like "The Isle of the Torturers", "The Voyage of King Euvoran", and "The Last Hieroglyph" for reasons already explained by others in recent weeks.

At the end of it all, I simply have a deeper emotional and intellectual connection with some stories more than others, but aside from the really disappointing stories, such as "A Captivity in Serpens", I rarely have any harsh words against Smith or his work.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 9 Apr 20 | 02:05PM by kojootti.

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 April, 2020 02:45PM
kojootti Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Oh I agree with you Sawfish. But in my posts I
> like to acknowledge other perspectives as well as
> my own, while still appreciating Smith's chimeric
> imagination in nearly all its forms. I personally
> couldn't feel much for "The Seven Geases", while
> still relishing its monster phantasmagoria.
Just for clarity, I listed that first group of stories to illustrate use of dramatic elements, I used Geases for hubris.

> And I
> enjoyed "The Double Shadow", and have read it at
> least three times because of its richly macabre
> detail, but as a narrative it doesn't impress me
> as much as others. On the other hand, the few
> people who acknowledge Smith's "The Gorgon" don't
> seem to rank it very highly, but I enjoy that
> story immensely, and it fills me with a yearning
> for the sublime. I'm also fond of such under-rated
> tales as "A Voyage to Sfanamoë", "The Tale of Sir
> John Maundeville", "The Ice-Demon", and even the
> relatively mundane "The Venus of Azombeii."

Hah! Me, too!

Did you like the Coming of the White Worm?

>
> I also greatly enjoy some of his more famous
> stories like "The Isle of the Torturers", "The
> Voyage of King Euvoran", and "The Last Hieroglyph"
> for reasons already explained by others in recent
> weeks.
>
> At the end of it all, I simply have a deeper
> emotional and intellectual connection with some
> stories more than others, but aside from the
> really disappointing stories, such as "A Captivity
> in Serpens", I rarely have any harsh words against
> Smith or his work.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 10 April, 2020 12:20PM
Hello, kojootti.

Comments, below...

kojootti Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> In response to Platypus, thank you for your
> thoughts! I agree that "The Gorgon" isn't Smith's
> best, and now that I've read "He", I wonder how
> much Smith might have consciously or unconsciously
> borrowed from Lovecraft! I think Lovecraft's tale
> is more concise, better paced, and emotionally
> convincing, but I admit that Smith's tale entices
> me more with its disturbing sense of awe, once it
> reaches the mansion. It's a personal favorite.

I read The Gorgon this morning, and I can recall reading it before. I enjoyed it greatly, and to me, its narrative structure (first person re-telling of a contemporary extraordinary experience in mundane settings) is, as you say, a lot like Lovecraft territory.

But here are three isolated elements that to me, brand it as CAS.

1) injection of some level of humor.

To me CAS used quite a bit of dry humor in a good many of his fantastic short stories--or at least comedic elements or imagery. Or perhaps "wry humor" is a better way to describe it.

Anyway, this description of the old man's claim to be the owner of Medusa's head:

"... of course his wild claim concerning the ownership of the fabled Gorgon's head was too ridiculous even for the formality of disbelief."

This is a very funny rejection of the claim because it uses hyperbole to convey the notion of it--and yet the vocabulary used conveys also comic understatement. And it's a sort of negative, that to me heightens the level of absurdity by saying, in effect, "Look, if you think it's unbelievable, I'm here to tell you that merely calling it 'unbelievable' is in no way strong enough. It was far, far less credible than merely 'unbelievable'."

To me, quite funny and very CAS.

2) the use of the word "veridical" in the following:

"...Those statues were too life-like, too veridical in all their features,..."

I'm not sure I've ever seen this word used before (except in my previous reading of this story) and it underlines CAS's use of unusual, often archaic, but grammatically correct terms.

To me, it's a kind of treat, although others may not see it the same way that I do.

3) This paragraph, used to describe the paradoxical duality of the appearance of the head, which has the usually mutually exclusive attributes of horror and beauty:

"How can I delineate or even suggest that which is beyond the normal scope of human sensation or imagining? I saw in the mirror a face of unspeakably radiant pallor — a dead face from which there poured the luminous, blinding glory of celestial corruption, of superhuman bale and suffering. With lidless, intolerable eyes, with lips that were parted in an agonizing smile, she was lovely, she was dreadful, beyond any vision ever vouchsafed to a mystic or an artist, and the light that emanated from her features was the light of worlds that lie too deep or too high for mortal perception. Hers was the dread that turns the marrow into ice, and the anguish that slays like a bolt of lightning."

To me, this does a good job of conveying the effect of her appearance, without attempting to concretely describe the patently indescribable.

Your thoughts on this, or other aspects of the story that you liked?


>
> In response to Dale, I agree that "Double Shadow"
> felt slightly imbalanced in that it focused on one
> monstrous element amid so many of them. I remember
> it more for its descriptions of the wizards'
> mansion rather than their fate. It's not one of my
> favorites, but one which I highly respect. Perhaps
> I'm too young and easily impressed, but I'm
> captivated by Smith's kaleidoscopic tendencies.
> It's extremely rare for a fantasy tale to
> mesmerize my senses, to set me loose in a world of
> weirdness upon weirdness that can still feel real
> to me. That's not to say I look down on other
> forms of writing. Machen and Tolkien are immersive
> without being lavish or haunted by hashish-demons,
> and I feel a deeper connection with the humble,
> earthy elements of the Kalevala. Smith simply
> appeals to my strange imagination in the most
> potent way.
>
> Thanks a lot for that Opium-Eater passage. I'm
> immediately hooked by its psychedelic plunge! I
> appreciate how it begins with a realistic world,
> flows into emotionally disturbed rambling, and
> then finally dives into progressively weird
> imagery, changing from exoticism to utterly
> demonic stuff. It's like each moment was nestled
> in the last, like a set of bizarre nesting dolls.
> It's definitely different from how Smith normally
> approached the weird side of life, even when he
> mentions drugs.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Sawfish's list of recommended CAS stories
Posted by: kojootti (IP Logged)
Date: 10 April, 2020 07:39PM
"The Coming of the White Worm" is among my favorites of Smith's popular tales, or at least it was a few years ago. Admittedly it's been exactly that long since I last read it, so I should try it again when I have time (probably this weekend or a couple days after), but what I recall is a very strange and mesmerizing story that has elements of a folk tale, sword & sorcery, and Lovecraftian weirdness fluidly combined into a unique experience. The monster of the tale reminds me of Inuit legends of gargantuan man-faced worms from the sea who have sorcerous powers, and who are defeated by human sorcerers. I understand that Smith was fascinated by myths and folklore, and in one story he even mentions a real Inuit monster called a Tupilaq, so I wonder if perhaps the white worm was inspired by a mixture of Poe's Conqueror Worm and the Inuit man-worms. Well, it's likely the creature was his very own concoction without any conscious influences, but it's tantalizing to wonder.

Your thoughts on "The Gorgon" bring up some details I always appreciated unconsciously. It also makes me consider that Lovecraft's "He" is reminiscent of his Dunsanian fiction (fitting since I learned it was partially influenced by a specific Dunsany story), which is by comparison more breezy and faery-like than his "Cthulhu Mythos" fiction. I enjoyed "He" and appreciate its consistently dream-like flow, and I do prefer its conciseness and pacing, but as a whole I prefer Smith's "Gorgon", and one reason is because it has a more mundane and realistic set-up that keeps building up to the mansion's weird realm of death and ecstasy. The humor (such as how the old man got the head by gambling with Perseus!) creates a slightly more humanly-rounded experience, and keeps it from being melodramatic like Lovecraft's stories usually end up. And to me Smith's story creates a finer balance between vagueness and finely-sculpted detail, which is what made Medusa's head so convincing to my senses, whereas Lovecraft occasionally gets a little too vague and misty for my taste (which works in his purely fantasy fiction such as "The White Ship" and "Strange High-House in the Mist", but feels a little off in the comparatively mundane and horror-centered "He", unless the point is that Lovecraft views New York as a hazy fever dream).

I also note that in both stories, the elderly strangers emphasize the ability to navigate pathways between time and space, but in Lovecraft's story this is accompanied by actual magic spells with some explanations, whereas in Smith's story it's presented as a completely baffling mystery that doesn't need explanation. For me there's more mystique, and some nice humor, in just accepting that this random old stranger can take a stroll to ancient Greece as simply as a stroll through a park, as if anyone could do it if they simply looked for these pathways, no need for Native American rituals and Dutch sorcery!



Edited 5 time(s). Last edit at 10 Apr 20 | 08:00PM by kojootti.

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