The Decline of Civilization: A note on 'The Dark Age'

Clark Ashton Smith

"The Dark Age" was written to illustrate how easily scientific knowledge and its resultant inventions could be lost to the human race following the complete breakdown of a mechanistic civilization such as the present one. The tale seems far from fantastic or impossible; and I have tried to bring out several points and to emphasize the part played by mere chance and by personal emotions and reactions.

I have shown the old knowledge conserved by a select few, the Custodians, who, in the beginning, are forced to isolate themselves completely because of the hostility displayed by the barbarians. Through habit, the isolation becomes permanent even when it is no longer necessary; and with the sole exception of Atullos, who has been expelled from the laboratory-fortress by his fellows, none of the Custodians tries to help the benighted people about them.

In the end, through human passion, prejudice, misunderstanding, the Custodians perish with all their lore; and the night of the Dark Age is complete. The render will note certain ironic ifs and might-have-beehis in the tale. Other points that I have stressed are the immense, well-nigh insuperable difficulties met by Atullos in his attempt to reconstruct, amid primitive conditions, a few of the lost inventions for the benefit of the savages; and the total frustration of Torquane's studies and experiments through mere inability to read the books left by his dead father.

Also I have shown how a chemical, such as gunpowder, might be used by one who had learned its effects but was wholly ignorant of its origin and nature.

Appendix from Planets and Dimensions Mirage Press 1973.

"The Dark Age" appeared in April 1938 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories and was reprinted in THE ABOMINATIONS OF YONDO (Arkham House, 1960).

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Printed on: December 11, 2018