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The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: The English Assassin (IP Logged)
Date: 24 November, 2011 06:28AM
Not sure if this has been posted before, but I've just stumbled across this interesting article on CAS... I found it quite interesting, although I have no strong opinion one way or the other on the subject.

[www.jacksonkuhl.com]

Still, I can help but wonder why a series of normal priced paperback containing CAS' complete cycles aren't in print today. Both the Zothique and Hyperborea collections (both the oldish and newish versions) retain a healthy, if not excessive, second hand value. If this indicates a wider market I do not know? I wonder if there's a great desire for a weighty 'best of' collection, after all the Masterworks collection is still around, although obviously it would be nice if Joshi managed to land a Penguin collection.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 24 November, 2011 09:09AM
He's certainly pushing for one, so we can hope.

And, with the release through Bison and others of a number of Smith collections, he has certainly been mentioned more of late; over the past 5-6 years, I have been encountering an increasing number of people who are discovering his work for the first time, the majority of whom seem quite taken with it. I am not at all certain that Smith is going to remain "obscure" for very much longer... and to me, that is a good thing. When a writer with Smith's abilities gains recognition, I also see a corresponding (if tiny) shift in the reading tastes of people toward works which have more to offer than the run-of-the-mill modern fantasy/horror/sf does, and they generally (again, I am speaking from my own experience here, rather knowledge of any studies, etc.) begin to discover (or rediscover) the pleasures of a lot of older or more subtle material.

I could be completely mistaken, but I'm beginning to get the impression that, slow though the growth may be, Smith's time may have finally come....

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Scott Connors (IP Logged)
Date: 25 November, 2011 12:57AM
I remember this guy. His basic premise, that Smith's literary estate does not particularly want to see his work made more widely available, is certainly not correct. Up until a couple of years ago, Casiana felt obligated for various reasons to allow Arkham House's literary agent handle the licensing of Smith's stories. Nowadays they no longer feel obligated to follow their lead, for reasons that I can't go into.

I've talked to a number of publishers regarding bringing out paperback editions of Smith's stories. I doubt if there will ever be a pocket book edition of his stories (the format of the Ballantine and Timescape editions), but I think that he'd do well in trade paperback. The problem is that big name publishers don't care about literary merit--well, they do to some extent but it takes a distant second place to profitability, and so far that's the response I've received when I broach the subject. As Smith gets better known, I expect that will change.

There are a couple of possible trade paperback editions out under discussion, but in the meanwhile we might remember what day this is and be thankful for what we have; it's a heckuva lot more than we did when I got back into things in the late 1990s.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Scott (who's back on his own computer, digesting the rather rabelaisian feast served at Casa Casofile....)

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Martinus (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2012 03:39AM
The English Assassin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> although obviously it would be nice if
> Joshi managed to land a Penguin collection.

According to his latest blog entry, he has. :)

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2012 06:38AM
Martinus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The English Assassin Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > although obviously it would be nice if
> > Joshi managed to land a Penguin collection.
>
> According to his latest blog entry, he has. :)


That sounds sensational.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: wilum pugmire (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2012 09:36AM
www.stjoshi.org

This is fantastic news indeed! S. T. will be working with Scott on ye book's Contents. It will be a handsome Penguin Classics edition. I wonder what they will use as cover illustration? I'd prefer it to be either a photo of CAS or one of his paintings. Whoohoo!

"I'm a little girl."
--H. P. Lovecraft, Esq.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2012 02:27PM
wilum pugmire Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> www.stjoshi.org
>
> I wonder
> what they will use as cover illustration? I'd
> prefer it to be either a photo of CAS or one of
> his paintings. Whoohoo!

Agreed. He has several fine landscape paintings with trees. "A Jungle of the Indies" for example!

Not sure Penguin would find it commercially viable though.

Anything but the inappropriate Renaissance paintings for the Lovercaft books will do.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2012 04:10PM
Knygatin Wrote:

> Anything but the inappropriate Renaissance
> paintings for the Lovercaft books will do.

Not certain which covers you are referring to, as the Penguin editions have altered their covers, if memory serves; but if it is the original covers (Martin, Goya, Fuseli), then I'd have to take issue with you on those, as these artists were actually rather influential on HPL. The Martin (Call of Cthulhu) cover was particularly appropriate given the apocalyptic visions of Lovecraft's work; the Goya, while less specifically so, was nonetheless quite in tune with the spirit of much of what is in that volume (The Thing on the Doorstep), it was also originally an illustration for Poe, making its use for Lovecraft fitting; and given that the final volume (Dreams in the Witch House) contained a fair selection of his more Gothic tales as well as a great deal of dream-related stories (including The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath), Fuseli's "The Nightmare" was, again, a very apt choice. Lovecraft openly expressed his admiration for these as "artists of fear", even mentioning them (with the exception of Martin) within his tales to provide associational imagery and resonance.

As for the Smith... I have doubts that it would be seen as commercially appealing, but I, too, would very much like to see something by Smith grace the cover of a selection of his tales again, as was the case with the Arkham House Lost Worlds....

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2012 05:42PM
Well, it's the wrong way around, it's backward. Source and admirer. The source should not be the cover, and the admirer on the inside pages. The other way around is the appropriate, the writer presented the authority. Lovecraft's admiration for those old works notwithstanding, I still feel that the cover art should be contemporary in time with the writer, or of later date if inspired by the writer's work.

In principle it is like publishing a book about Michelangelo, with a picture of the Torso Belvedere on the cover just because Michelangelo admired and learned from the ancients.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 25 October, 2012 05:50PM
And those old paintings are not in cultural tune with Lovecraft's work. They represent a different time and perspective, even if components of them inspired him.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2012 12:57AM
I'm afraid I can't at all agree with you on this point. Cover art can serve many purposes, and using a piece which not only served as an inspiration for the author, but which captures aspects of the work thus inspired, is certainly a legitimate, not to mention rather frequent, one. Another such example is use of details of the work of Salvator Rosa for covers of various of the original Gothic novels when reprinted in modern editions. These are so intricately tied to the novels that they are extremely appropriate; ditto a painting such as Washington Alston's The Prophet Jeremiah Dictating to His Scribe Baruch for something like Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland and memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist. This last is closer as far as the author's and painter's dates are concerned, but that is completely irrelevant; what matters is that it captures very powerfully the terror of such an oracle, with the horrendous hold he can hold over his auditors, just such as Carwin himself does in Brown's novel.

This same applies, for instance, to John Martin's apocalyptic painting being used for Lovecraft, as it elicits the Biblical and mythic overtones of so much of his best work; a tradition in which he was very consciously working (e.g., the resonances of the Twenty-Third Psalm in the closing passage of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", or those with the Crucifixion in "The Dunwich Horror", etc.). Lovecraft's work is permeated not only with the culture of his own time, but of the historical and literary tradition from which his work emerged; and I would argue that these paintings not only reinforce those connections, but play on the very sorts of resonances Lovecraft sought to evoke through his stately prose and his subject matter.

To restrict the artwork for an edition of a writer's work to either that which was contemporary with him, or which has been inspired by the work seems needlessly literalistic and confining, almost to the point of myopia. And when, as here, the connections are many and multiform, use of anything from early classical art (or even prehistoric art) to the present would seem to present a much more appropriate choice to do justice to that author and the various levels of his work.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2012 03:59AM
Exceptions to my viewpoint, would be books with contents that specifically relates to a certain subject or time. For example, for a book of poems that uses the Greek pantheon, it would be perfectly suitable to have a cover of an old Greek fresco.

But Lovecraft's work was not dominated by Martin or Goya. They were only two of many early influences. Lovecraft was a giant, an original genius, in his own right. His work is not about Martin's visions, he is way beyond that.

Furthermore, to use motifs from the Bible on the cover of a Lovecraft book, I am sure he would have strongly disapproved of.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: wilum pugmire (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2012 09:24AM
I suggested to S. T. that one of Smith's paintings be considered for the cover, but he is extremely doubtful that Penguin would go for it, and it's taken S. T. so long and so much work to convince them to publish the book, I don't think he'd press for a CAS-created cover. He and Scott have discussed what they would like, but the final choice of cover will be up to Penguin, as it was with the Lovecraft editions. The editors of these books seem to have no sway whatsoever in cover choice.

"I'm a little girl."
--H. P. Lovecraft, Esq.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2012 11:39AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> But Lovecraft's work was not dominated by Martin
> or Goya. They were only two of many early
> influences. Lovecraft was a giant, an original
> genius, in his own right. His work is not about
> Martin's visions, he is way beyond that.

It isn't about domination of the material, it is about suggestiveness, and Martin's work, for instance, conjures up suggestions of the starker biblical stories, involving the wrath of God, extreme distortions of natural forces, and the like... all of which strike resonant chords with HPL's work, and in fact which he played on for many of his impressions. Lovecraft was constantly striving to get away from overly-explicit material and attain a more suggestive approach, something which would thus call to mind a host of such associations, which in turn aroused a multitude of complex emotional impressions. The work of each of the artists chosen does this admirably and, as I noted, I think each was rather particulaly fitting to the individual volumes whose covers they graced. While not literally tied to Lovecraft's tales within, they were very much in the mode of, and intensely symbolic of, the contents.


> Furthermore, to use motifs from the Bible on the
> cover of a Lovecraft book, I am sure he would have
> strongly disapproved of.

Again, I would have to disagree with you. Lovecraft had a high regard for the King James Bible as literature, however much he despised the religion; the language of the KJV was in fact a major influence on his own style, and not only in the "Dunsanian" pieces. He uses Biblical references in his work quite a lot, from the passage from Job used in Ward, to those I noted before, to the tongues of fire from the Pentecost in "The Colour Out of Space" to the use of "the Philistine legend" of Dagon in the story of that title (as well as its reference later in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"). There are quite a few other examples. Lovecraft played on the biblical associations because he was well aware of the deeply-rooted history the Bible has with the history of horror (cf. his comments on the relationship between "the religious impulse" and that of the tale of horror in Supernatural Horror in Literature), not to mention the importance of the Bible in the history of New England and its beliefs, folklore, and traditions. While he may or may not have approved of a particular image, I think it quite likely he would have recognized and appreciated the appropriateness of the symbolism, considering how often he used just this sort of thing himself.

Also, keep in mind that the Martin is not, in this case, of any actual Biblical scene; it is, however, strongly tied to those terrifying apocalyptic visions which he based on the Bible, and resonates with all those associations... much as Lovecraft's work tends to do. HPL plays on a number of things of course, including the classical Graeco-Roman mythologies as well; but these would be a bit too specific to particular Biblical tales and thus lack that broader suggestiveness allowed by the chosen painting by Martin. Martin's illustration derives the benefit of those associations without being so intimately linked to anything directly related to the Bible, and thus allows for a host of such associations to be called up; precisely the effect HPL so often sought to achieve (and did, in his best work).

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2012 01:37PM
wilum pugmire Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I suggested to S. T. that one of Smith's paintings
> be considered for the cover, but he is extremely
> doubtful that Penguin would go for it, and it's
> taken S. T. so long and so much work to convince
> them to publish the book, I don't think he'd press
> for a CAS-created cover. He and Scott have
> discussed what they would like, but the final
> choice of cover will be up to Penguin, as it was
> with the Lovecraft editions. The editors of these
> books seem to have no sway whatsoever in cover
> choice.


That's what I was afraid of. Still, I believe they at Penguin may not know what they're missing. If it was presented to them in the right way, I think it could be very striking, and they might be swayed. "A Jungle of the Indies" for example, imagine it printed with its background in enhanced deep black, contrasted by all the different plants in bright kaleidoscopic colours that jump off the cover. A winner!

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