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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!

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2012 02:38PM
jdworth Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> Again, I would have to disagree with you. . . .



Alright, I have noted your points.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2012 12:54PM
I have found the discussion on Cover Art quite interesting - I can tell you that Clark's preference was no art at all, or very little as was done with Ebony and Crystal, the parchment cover for Sandalwood et al - I think he might have liked the artwork on the Paperback "Tales of Science and Sorcery" - His attitude reflected his awareness that the most famous places - like Saks Fifth Avenue, or Brooks Brothers - only have a small bronze marker in the corner of the building - nowadays of course, the cover is there to lure the buyer - doesn't work for me - I liked the covers on some of the recent editions - but again, Clark preferred uncluttered and simple - the lushness is in the language - and attempts at painting what Clark wrote have thus far fallen far short of what the mind sees - I think a simple photograph of one the sculptures would be a great cover -

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2012 02:05PM
calonlan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think he might have
> liked the artwork on the Paperback "Tales of
> Science and Sorcery" -

Do you mean the Arkham House volume, which is red and white with a grey drawing, and has a photograph of CAS on the back?


> Clark preferred uncluttered and simple - the
> lushness is in the language - and attempts at
> painting what Clark wrote have thus far fallen far
> short of what the mind sees - I think a simple
> photograph of one the sculptures would be a great
> cover -

Some of my best reading experiences have been from books without any cover art. Bound volumes, with perhaps marbled boards, and small gilt letterings on the spine. Because there is nothing there to distract from you own imagination, nothing that would steer it in another direction.

Simple is probably best. But if adorned, the book is best made into an object of beauty in itself. By that I mean, using fine binding materials, perhaps decorative patterns, so the book becomes a self-contained object. Instead of using a cover painting, that really works as an illusion, making us see through the book. Today many books use elaborate cover illustrations, which function as surface distraction hiding underneath a binding that is often of inferior quality. It's commercialism that rules.

I have often said that if there is cover art, it is best if abstracted, at least partly, so it functions as decoration. Because as such, it will not dominate and steer one's own imagination.

However, in some cases I do enjoy elaborate or realistic cover art. If it is particularly good, bears direct relationship to the contents of the book, and if I feel that its style does not clash with my own personal imagination.

As for art on Lovecraft-books, I think I would have to say that the first Arkham House volume, The Outsider and Others, is the most successful. It captures the spirit of Lovecraft; the central theme of outsideness with the decorative stars, the weird and alien beings, the magi and symbols of ancient wisdom and culture, preferably connected to prehistorics of Egypt and older.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Shimrod (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2012 04:35PM
I think Calonian is referring to the Panther paperback of "Tales of Science and Sorcery." It features a stunning, colorful illustration that could have come from Arabian Nights, with a woman or goddess figure in the clutches of a large eastern-style demon or djinn.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2012 04:48PM
Shimrod Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think Calonian is referring to the Panther
> paperback of "Tales of Science and Sorcery." It
> features a stunning, colorful illustration that
> could have come from Arabian Nights, with a woman
> or goddess figure in the clutches of a large
> eastern-style demon or djinn.

I wondered about that, because that cover doesn't have "very little" art. So maybe he thought of the Arkham House edition, which is much more subdued. Anyhow, CAS probably would have found some curiosity in that demon illustration.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Shimrod (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2012 08:50PM
Either way, I'm personally quite fond of the demon illustration. It has an energy lacking in a lot of CAS covers, and I think it matches well with some of the stories in that collection. I suppose the beauty of antiquarian book covers is that they can be appreciated as curiosities without regard to their effectiveness in marketing strategies.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 28 October, 2012 11:08AM
Yes, gentlemen, the paperback with the swirling colors and critters - it has a lushness about it that seems to reek of an appropriate decadence in a accord with worlds with two dying suns - to was Ashtonian - Carol was largely responsible for the choices made in that collection - In my personal library, I have a large number of the bound volumes mentioned above - the marbleized look, leather back - and I have some exquisite little leather bound books of such works as Livy, Pliny, and of course the standards - Plato et al - I also treasure my set from the Noroena society that includes the Eddas, the Heimskringla, and other of the Norse and Icelandic sagas - I still prefer a real "book" - God only knows how many paperbacks I have worn out and had to buy new copies - George MacDonalds paperbacks are particularly poorly bound paperbacks - I bet I have gone through at least 4 copies each of "Lilith" and "Phantastes" - but the price of hardbounds of these is beyond reason - I suspect I will never succumb to the Ebook of Ibook or whatever segment of the alphabet book comes along - Reading is a tactile experience - and, at my advanced age, the image of the elderly scholar, an handmade afghan draped across his knees, a fine Sherry, pipe, and book by a roaring fire with a fine old hound curled at his feet suits me to a "T" - as long as gout is not part of the picture - side note - this is the actual 15th anniversary at time of writing when the kid whose heart I received flat-lined in the hospital - and at 8pm when the call came to drive to Galveston for the surgery. Can hardly fathom how time has gone by so quickly - "Oh quae mutatio rerum" -

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: wilum pugmire (IP Logged)
Date: 28 October, 2012 12:36PM
My own preference, for covers or jackets, is a photograph of the author of the book. H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Arthur Machen -- they have such interesting and distinctive faces. Lovecraft, at times, looks dead creepy, and CAS, to me, always looks like a distinguished poet. A bad illustration can be an insult to a book's author, such as those bloody awful jacket illustrations that Arkham House used for those last editions of E'ch-Pi-El's fiction (thank Yog two of those books are now o.p.). My favorite jackets are in The Library of America.

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

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Douglas A. Anderson (IP Logged)
Date: 28 October, 2012 12:53PM
calonlan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I bet I have gone through at
> least 4 copies each of "Lilith" and "Phantastes" -
> but the price of hardbounds of these is beyond
> reason -

Johannesen Printing & Publishing of Whitethorn California did a series of attractive reissues of MacDonald in hardcover (no dust-wrappers, but with gilt ornamentation on the covers) back in the 90s and these were fairly cheap (around $20). For Phantastes they used the 1905 edition with the Arthur Hughes illustrations, but for Lilith they did what they called on the title page _Lilith: A Duplex_ [called on the upper cover _Lilith: First and Final_]. They added a transcription of the first manuscript of Lilith (from 1890), never before published. Both of these volumes came out in 1994, and are recommended.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 30 October, 2012 06:24PM
Douglas A. Anderson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> calonlan Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > I bet I have gone through at
> > least 4 copies each of "Lilith" and "Phantastes"
> -
> > but the price of hardbounds of these is beyond
> > reason -
>
> Johannesen Printing & Publishing of Whitethorn
> California did a series of attractive reissues of
> MacDonald in hardcover (no dust-wrappers, but with
> gilt ornamentation on the covers) back in the 90s
> and these were fairly cheap (around $20). For
> Phantastes they used the 1905 edition with the
> Arthur Hughes illustrations, but for Lilith they
> did what they called on the title page _Lilith: A
> Duplex_ . They added a transcription of the first
> manuscript of Lilith (from 1890), never before
> published. Both of these volumes came out in
> 1994, and are recommended.
Thanks - the only hard-bounds I have ever seen were at book-fairs - and most volumes were first editions - or rare and quite pricey - I appreciate you fellows who have an interest in tracking down such stuff for those of us who are just too busy.

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 31 October, 2012 12:16PM
calonlan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> I appreciate
> you fellows who have an interest in tracking down
> such stuff for those of us who are just too busy.



Oh, this is no free time. We too are busy alright. This is our occupation. Tracking down and hunting for the utmost in ecstasy. That is the meaning and fulfilment of life. ;)

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 3 November, 2012 08:00PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> calonlan Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----At the moment, since my wife has been in Oregon for 3 months seeing to it that my son stays on task for a second degree, the "utmost in Ecstasy" is momentarily out of reach.
>
> > I appreciate
> > you fellows who have an interest in tracking
> down
> > such stuff for those of us who are just too
> busy.
>
>
>
> Oh, this is no free time. We too are busy alright.
> This is our occupation. Tracking down and hunting
> for the utmost in ecstasy. That is the meaning and
> fulfilment of life. ;)

Re: The obscurity of Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 4 November, 2012 04:28AM
Seacrching for ecstasy in the arts, can sometimes be the only way of relief from sorrows. Praying to God, and trying to see problems from a larger perspective, is another related way.

But when the problems immediately pile up, it can be momentarily overwhelming.



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