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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.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Kipling (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 12:35PM
I disagree with any suggestion that Lovecraft's thematic concerns, however they might be construed, and his artificial mythology make up the ground lost when comparing his stylistic excellence and technical versatility with that displayed in Smith's fiction. The "Cthulhu Mythos" was largely a hybrid spawned from the influence of Machen and Blackwood (not Lord Dunsany). Cthulhu also bears a superficial resemblance to Merritt's "Metal Monster," published in 1920. Criticism of Merritt's florid micro-description aside, he was the preeminent American fantaisist during HPL's gestation period. Lovecraft was only a fledgling author while Smith was a renowned poet whose cosmicism was more akin to that of his mentor George Sterling, or to someone like David Lindsay, than it would ever be to the stubbornly materialistic Lovecraft. Smith's genius took a more original turn in fiction than Lovecraft's, whose tales were aptly described as fascinating but "too redolent of the Lamp." I forget who it is I'm quoting there, if someone could tell me I'd appreciate it. So, essentially I agree with Zabdamar's comparison.

jkh

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 02:54PM
If I remember correctly, Lovecraft didn't discover Merritt's masterpiece The Metal Monster (be sure folks, that you read the complete version) until after he had written "The Call of Cthulhu". I don't see the direct resemblance myself, but there might well be a parallel resemblance that comes from the specific energy quality of the time era both wrote in.

Smith was genius, and a natural talent. He had read all the books in Auburn's library, so in a way he was well educated to become a poet/writer. But I see him as more instinctual in approach, when compared to Lovecraft. Lovecraft's genius comes purely from intellectual study and research, and his built up wisdom was probably wider and all-encompassing, than Smith's laid-back happy-go-lucky wine-drinking attitude. But Smith was probably a bit, or slightly, more street smart. On the other hand he didn't have Lovecraft's hot-livered temperament to defend himself if something went wrong out on the street. And have you seen some of the photographs of tall Lovecraft in full suit? He was actually a beefy guy! Had very wide shoulders. And slim hips. Very manly. I wouldn't have liked to be put up against him in a boxing match!

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 03:18PM
Knygatin, when you refer to Lovecraft's "wisdom," do you mean things like self-knowledge, ability to make a reasonable judgment about consequences of one's actions or inaction, that sort of thing?

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 04:03PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Knygatin, when you refer to Lovecraft's "wisdom,"
> do you mean things like self-knowledge, ability to
> make a reasonable judgment about consequences of
> one's actions or inaction, that sort of thing?

Yes, I most definitely do. And also in a wide range of other things, in understanding how things tick and interconnect in all aspect of life; concerning society, psychology, culture, art, politics, biology, geology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, ... etc. A well-rounded wisdom. Not scientifically specialized in each and every single branch of course, but with a very good general grip overall, and accordingly also a phenomenal ability of derivation. I think that is what makes him such an ever interesting person.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 04:35PM
It might be interesting to consider Lovecraft in terms of C. P. Snow’s once-famous idea of the “Two Cultures,” but a complication right off would be HPL’s position as a self-taught figure. He was interested in some, at least, of the sciences, but from books like Lovecraft’s Library it would appear that he had to rely primarily on popular works and encyclopedias, etc. And then he had his literary arts side (I don’t have the sense that he was very knowledgeable about music, the visual arts, theater and dance, etc., or history aside from his immediate passion for New England. So in either case his *method* was basically to please himself, and he had not undergone the rigors of advanced learning on either side. Still, I think one might be able to work with the “Two Cultures” idea with reference to him to some extent.

But my sense with Smith is that he was wholly on one side, the aesthetic-literary, in the “ Two Cultures” business, and would have possessed very little knowledge of science and technology even on a popular level. People here might correct me if this is mistaken.

So this could be a point of difference between the two at least as regards temperament.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 04:44PM
PS I hope no one will feel compelled to rush to the defense of HPL and CAS since I imply a taking note of their lack of formal training in the arts and sciences. I would like to think that smart people can go far without it. But I imagine both men felt the lack, and that HPL might have wished it had worked out that he could have majored in astronomy, and that Smith might have recognized an amateurishness in his drawings that could have given way to greater knowledge of anatomy, perspective, landscape, etc. if he had studied formally.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: kojootti (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 05:37PM
Judging from Smith's tastes, and his insistence in one or two letters that he generally didn't care for classical or realistic art, he seemed to prefer a mixture of folk art and unique art that sought to convey feelings related to that which is ancient, alien, demonic, or divine. Not to say he had no appreciation for anatomy, perspective, etc. but rather he didn't seem concerned with adhering to the styles and expectations of others.

I do have to agree that Smith didn't seem especially invested in technology or the sciences, though. He certainly had some awareness and interest in the latter, and supposedly had many books on different histories and cultures, but his mind seemed to linger, like the vast majority of his poetry and many of his stories, among trees, mountains, lakes, and other natural and mythical sights.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 8 Feb 20 | 05:41PM by kojootti.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 06:32PM
I wrote at 4:35 above:

"And then he [Lovecraft] had his literary arts side (I don’t have the sense that he was very knowledgeable about music, the visual arts, theater and dance, etc., or history aside from his immediate passion for New England. So in either case his *method* was basically to please himself, and he had not undergone the rigors of advanced learning on either side."

I didn't spell out the thought here. Lovecraft did have firsthand knowledge of some canonical novels, poetry, and essays.* He certainly knew these things better than some current college grads with bachelor's degrees in English. But he read pretty much, so far as I know, to please himself, so, again, there is that limitations with reference to the "Two Cultures" idea. I hasten to add that Lovecraft would, so far as I know, have been able to answer the simple questions that Snow suggested could be asked of a party of arts people --

"Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics...I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language."

[en.wikipedia.org]

So I suggest Lovecraft was -- in a degree -- a man with a foot in each of the "two cultures" (to the extent that that's a valid concept), while Smith had both feet in (his corner of) the humanities.

Does anyone know, by the way, how competent of a mathematician Lovecraft was?

*So far as I know, Lovecraft possessed very little philological or linguistic knowledge -- something from which I suffer myself although I studied English in college, a situation that is getting worse all the time as universities drop English major requirements regarding proficiency, or even a working knowledge of, Old English/Anglo-Saxon and Middle English. (The pathetic state to which things have arrived is suggested by an academic seminar of which I was aware a few short years ago. It was to be devoted to "early British literature." From the list of presentations, "early British" had come to accommodate works from far more recent times than the time of Beowulf. There was even a presentation dealing with "Lawrence" and someone or something else. Whether T. E. or, as I assume, D. H., that "Lawrence" seemed awfully recent to me, for a gathering of scholarship on "early British" literature......It looked to me like they had to stretch the concept out of shape to try to make sure they had enough people present to fill up the time. I declined to attend (and got a bit of stick about that).

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 8 February, 2020 09:27PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> PS I hope no one will feel compelled to rush to
> the defense of HPL and CAS since I imply a taking
> note of their lack of formal training in the arts
> and sciences. I would like to think that smart
> people can go far without it. But I imagine both
> men felt the lack, and that HPL might have wished
> it had worked out that he could have majored in
> astronomy, and that Smith might have recognized an
> amateurishness in his drawings that could have
> given way to greater knowledge of anatomy,
> perspective, landscape, etc. if he had studied
> formally.

Seems like I can recall that HPL had a sort of wistful fixation with Brown, almost as if he had wished he'd been able to go there to study.

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

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: zimriel (IP Logged)
Date: 7 July, 2020 12:06PM
walrus Wrote:
> HPL's opinion was that humour has no place in horror.

I do find humourous irony in HPL's best work, though. "Shadow Over Innsmouth", "Shadow Out Of Time", "Cats of Ulthar" - actually, much of the Dreamlands and Dunsany pastiches. It's just that Dunsany and Smith were better at it.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 9 July, 2020 03:46PM
I always reckoned CAS was by far the better writer, not just as a prose stylist but because his work has a genuinely visionary quality - but then I've never been a HPL fan. I always found his prose style hokey and overcooked, to the extent that I'd wonder how seriously he took his work himself: it seems very tongue-in-cheek.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 14 July, 2020 05:31PM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I always reckoned CAS was by far the better
> writer, not just as a prose stylist but because
> his work has a genuinely visionary quality - but
> then I've never been a HPL fan. I always found his
> prose style hokey and overcooked, to the extent
> that I'd wonder how seriously he took his work
> himself: it seems very tongue-in-cheek.

There's something to what you say. HPL was a materialist, and so on some level did not believe a word of anything he wrote. But on the other hand, I do think that on some level he believed very deeply in what he wrote.

Beyond that, I enjoy his work, and his stylistic flaws, if that's what they are, do not bother me much. But to each his own.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 20 July, 2020 09:50AM
I guess I came to HPL quite late? My exposure to CAS was soley through anthologies. And there's something to what you say, too - HPL was a funny mix: a rationalist who didn't really believe his own stories, yet those same stories were a result of his various neuroses.

Re: HP Lovecraft Vs Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 20 July, 2020 12:53PM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I guess I came to HPL quite late? My exposure to
> CAS was soley through anthologies. And there's
> something to what you say, too - HPL was a funny
> mix: a rationalist who didn't really believe his
> own stories, yet those same stories were a result
> of his various neuroses.


I've lost interest in Lovecraft since I was a teenager, and I never felt satisfaction with his work all the times I returned to him, but I think there was more to HPL than that. He was the truest and strictest materialist I've ever encountered in literature, yet quite a few of his stories were clearly yearning for something beyond an empty black universe, even if he viewed this, perhaps, as simple aesthetic preference. In his letters he expressed a poetic admiration for Norse myths and Norse gods, especially in their cosmic, elemental nature. And based on his story "The Silver Key", Lovecraft did feel mystical yearnings, if not inclinations, but these are reigned in by a very definite sense of materialism, so that the beautiful sides of religion, to him, can enrich life without being necessary.

That said, one of the reasons I prefer CAS over HPL is partially because of the former's boldness and passion, allowing him to plunge deeper into mysteries than Lovecraft ever could. The way I see it, most of Lovecraft's stories end where Smith's best stories often begin. And there's nothing wrong with that, if you enjoy Lovecraft's foreboding atmosphere and terrified anticipation, but my personality doesn't click with his fearfulness, and there are times when Lovecraft's message veers unintentionally into a fear of anything beyond his comfort zone. There's a stiffness in Lovecraft's personality, even at his most passionate and his most convivial (both in his fiction and in his letters), and a fearful insincerity (being a scientific materialist did not elevate him above fallacious thinking) which simply doesn't appeal to me.

Even so, I acknowledge the differences between the two writers' strengths. CAS, being a poet of romantic and mythological spirit, could never bring such weird horrors to startling reality in the way HPL could through his clinical, journalistic, and dramatic sense of writing. Only Lovecraft can make me see the crab-like gait of a Mi-Go, or the slippery film on the bricks of Rlyeh, or the erosion of time on a forgotten ruin. In light of this realism it's a shame that so many Lovecraft artists can only see his work through a lens of cliched fantasy art.

CAS has lasted with me over the decades, and will continue to inspire me to the end, and HPL will likely always feel "incomplete" to me, but this isn't a matter of which writer is better. I simply prefer one over the other.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 20 Jul 20 | 01:01PM by Hespire.

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