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Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 21 August, 2017 11:39AM
This exchange is really stimulating, and frankly very enjoyable.

I tend to re-read my favorite authors...a lot. Don't laugh, please, but I've probably read all of the major Raymond Chandler novels somewhere between 20-25 times (I used to live in LA and it is like a sort of nostalgic tour of the Hollywood/Sunset/Santa Monica area), with multiple readings of Steven Crane ("Manacled"...YEOW!--what might Crane have achieved had he lived beyond his 20s...), Cormac McCarthy, Hemingway, Nathaniel West, and various others. I probably read Catch-22 between 10-20 times.

Lovecraft and Smith are among this number.

So I'm now re-reading some of Lovecraft's work (currently Shadow Out of Time), and I there's a sort of unique aspect of his work that surfaces repeatedly, though not always. It is linked to the Mythos, but not in the way commonly thought of. He is not like Tolkien in the creation of a complete alternate world within the context of the trilogy, but is concerned at extraordinary depth with the cosmological details of that world. In short, within the context of At the Mountains of Madness, or Shadow Out of Time, or in his ghost-written work for Zealia Bishop (esp. The Mound), he spends an extraordinary amount of time on the details--day-to-day activities as well as broader historical trends, such as wars.

It is less a cultural history than Tolkien's Silmarillion, but more like an account by a cultural anthropologist, like The Golden Bough.

This can be off-putting to many readers, but when one considers the depth of his absorption in the detail of his setting--whether immediate or in the past, thru dreams or other narrative mechanisms (like reading the inscriptions in the dead city in At the Mountains of Madness)--they are beyond doubt impressive, and I, for one, enjoy this level of detail. In supplying this, he perhaps inadvertently supplies us with a compelling rationale for the behavior and the motives of such alien entities as Cthulu--and I'd facetiously share with you my conception of Cthulu, as described in The Call of Cthulu, as Pan on crack cocaine.

We might compare Smith superficially. He, too, creates entire alternate worlds and pantheons, which are fairly consistent (although I doubt he cared as much about a coherent mythology as he did about narrative impact, as in Weaver in the Vault or Isle of the Torturers), but his narrative cosmos is of a much more common variety. I'd compare his conception of the setting of Zothique to J. G. Ballard's idea of Vermillion Sands. This is to say that he does not seem to work obsessively within his setting, but uses it as a canvas for his very strong *human* themes--almost classical: revenge, mortality, etc.

I'd also like to add, in closing, that Smith seems to me to evoke sensuality--mainly visual, but he deal a bit in the other sense--and in this he reminds me of my impressions of Flaubert's Salammbo.

Comments/opinions are of course welcome.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 21 Aug 17 | 12:36PM by Sawfish.

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