Letter to H. P. Lovecraft

From Clark Ashton Smith

[17] [c. 16 November 1930]

From the audience-room of
the throned room, in the
nighted Kingdom of Antchar,
on the road that is no
longer used by living men
between Abchaz and Georgia.

Dear E'ch-Pi-El:

First of all, to thank you for the loan of The House of Souls, [1] and for the re-loan of "The Colour out of Space". I have been reading all of these with pleasure, Of the Machen stories I like best "The Great God Pan", and next to it "The White People". The other two, at first reading, fail to impress me so cogently.

I don't wonder at your preference for "The Colour out of Space", which is a most satisfying production from all viewpoints. It has all the elements of terror, weirdness and insoluble extra-terrene mystery with a groundwork of marvellous realism in which no contributory detail has been overlooked. I have been studying it closely, with the keenest relish and appreciation.

[. . .] I have just finished the drafting of a new "short" — "A Tale of Sir John Maundeville", which I am intercalating with my Gernsback thriller. The Kingdom of Antchar, which I have invented for this tale, is more unwholesome, if possible, than Averoigne!

1,500 volumes quite dwarfs my little library, which doesn't contain more than six or seven hundred at the most. [. . .] Some of my fine volumes are books on art, or illustrated editions, including the John Martin edition of Paradise Lost, with drawings of Simeon Solomon, Charles Conder, Kahlil Gibran, Edmond Dulac and others. [2]

[. . .] I have also had another communication from the Wonder Stories editor, posting me further on how he vants, I should write dose Folmar stories. "A play of human motives, with alien worlds for a background". But if human motives are mainly what they want, why bother about going to other planets — where one might conceivably escape from the human equation? The idea of using the worlds of Alioth or Altair as a mere setting for the squabbles and heroics of the crew on a space-ship (which, in essence, is about what they are suggesting) is too rich for any use. Evidently Astounding Stories is setting the pace for them, with its type of stellar-wild-west yarn. There doesn't seem to be much chance of putting over any really good work, and a survey of the magazine field in general is truly discouraging.

I should be very glad to hear from Whitehead, [3] whose work in old issues of W.T. I have remarked and admired. He is one of the half-dozen who are superior to the rank and file of its contributors, and is obviously a man of culture.

Later. I began this a week ago. Now another Sabbath has rolled around — a clear, cloudless day, with all the far mountains, crowned with new snow, visible beyond the fading tatters of the autumn splendor. The past week has been mostly given to some necessary outdoor labor; my writing has gone by the boards. [. . .]

[. . .]

I haven't gone on very much with the Volmar yarn, but will try to draft a chapter or two to-day. I can't work to good advantage unless I have a free hand; so I doubt the series will amount to much. [. . .]

Your suggestions about a time-voyaging story are great! Thanks for offering me that idea — it could certainly be worked up to advantage. The notion of finding an ancient record, in English, in one's own hand, is tremendous! The mechanism of time-travel in this case, might be a secret vault or adytum in the ruins which the archaeologist is exploring — a place designed by some ancient priesthood for the purpose of transportation in time. The hero stumbles upon the adytum after finding the records in his own script, and is whirled backward through the ages. [4]

[. . .]

Irem would be a splendid theme for a story. Do you know of the present-day tradition among the Arabs, that the city still exists in the desert, though invisible, and is occasionally vouchsafed as a brief vision to some favored mortal? One might make a modern tale out of this. By the way, speaking of Orientales, here is one ("The Ghoul") which I have done recently. The legend is so hideous, that I would not be surprised if there were some mention of it in the Necronomicon. Will you verify this for me?

[. . .]

To revert to some things in your earlier letter. I think we are probably more alike than some of my remarks on a desire to voyage in space and time may have led you to infer. This desire, in all likelihood, is mainly cerebral on my part, and I am not so sure that I would like to be "a permanent colonist" in some alien universe -- no matter how bored or disgusted I may seem to be at times with my environment. And I have had reason to discover, at past times -- particularly in times of nervous disturbance — how dependent I really am on familiar things — even on certain features of my surroundings which might not seem very attractive to others. If I am upset, or "under the weather", an unfamiliar milieu tends to take on an aspect of the most distressing and confusing unreality -- similar, no doubt, to what you experienced in Brooklyn. [5] So, in all probability, I will do well to content myself with dream projections . . . But doubtless your geographical sense is far more clearly and consciously developed than mine.

The problem of "style" in writing is certainly fascinating and profound. I find it highly important, when I begin a tale, to establish at once what might be called the appropriate "tone". If this is clearly determined at the start I seldom have much difficulty in maintaining it; but if it isn't, there is likely to be trouble! Obviously, the style of "Mohammed's Tomb" wouldn't do for "The Ghoul"; and one of my chief preoccupations in writing this last story was to exclude images, ideas, and locutions which I would have used freely in a modern story. The same, of course, applies to "Sir John Maundeville", which is a deliberate study in the archaic. The style of a yarn like "The Door to Saturn" forms still another genre; and, this tale seemed unusually successful to me in its unity of "tone". Probably the light ironic touch helped to make it seem "unconvincing" to Wright. [. . .] I wonder what Wright would make of Machen's "White People", with its preliminary twelve pages of discussion about the nature and essence of sin!

Thanks, heartily, for your invaluable suggestions concerning the development of my sense-transformation idea! You certainly clarify it for me; and if the result is any good, it will owe much to you. I must do something with this tale, which would be something really worthwhile in the vein of scientifiction. The possibilities in the Volmar series are going to be pretty slight, I'm afraid.

[. . .]

I hope to hear that you have done some new stories before long. That "commonplace book" of which you speak must be a fascinating affair. I have formed more and more the habit of noting down ideas, since otherwise I tend to forget them either wholly or in part. I have outlined, among other things, the plot of "Vizaphmal in Ophiuchus", which will not bring in any human beings at all; and the synopsis for a "two-part serial", "The Sorceress of Averoigne". [6]

You are right, I suppose, about the genres of your work; but I certainly hope you will do some more tales of the "Erich Zann" and "Silver Key" a types. The Dunsany type of tale is the most difficult of all, and it seems to me that Dunsany himself often fails. No one admires The Book of Wonder and A Dreamer's Tales more than myself, but I never could work up much enthusiasm over The Gods of Pegäna — apart from the marvellous illustrations of Sime. I still maintain that your "white Ship" is a fine thing.

[. . .]

[. . .] I can understand how Derleth [7] feels about the job; but nevertheless, anyone who has any kind of a job these days should count himself fortunate. The general condition of things, from what one hears, is a terror. Undoubtedly, modern science, with its labor-saving machinery, is much to blame for the situation of unemployment. Eventually, the only solution will be to reduce the population — or discard the machinery!

[. . .]

Keep me posted on any divinations relative to Tsathoggua — or Azathoth.

Written under the seal of the lion-headed Ong, which follows:

Ong Glyphs



  1. A collection of short stories by Arthur Machen.
  2. In Smith's story "The Chain of Aforgommon" (Out of Space and Time (1942)), the main character, John Milwarp, a writer of imaginative Oriental fiction, is the owner of a copy of this book.
  3. Henry S. Whitehead, writer of weird fiction.
  4. See "CAS & Divers Hands".
  5. See the prose-poem "Remoteness" (Poems in Prose (1965)) for a fictionalization of this experience.
  6. Smith never completed either story. See Strange Shadows: The Uncollected Fiction of Clark Ashton Smith (1989) for synopses.
  7. August Derleth, fellow writer of weird stories, then associate editor of The Mystic Magazine.

From: Clark Ashton Smith: LETTERS TO H. P. LOVECRAFT, edited by and footnotes by Steve Behrends (July 1987) Necronomicon Press.

Top of Page