A Rendezvous in Averoigne

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Clark Ashton Smith was one of “The Three Musketeers of Weird Tales” — but he was always the least popular, if the most talented, according to John Rateliff:

“In sheer daemonic strangeness
and fertility of conception,
Mr. Smith is perhaps unexcelled
by any other writer, dead or living.”.

— H. P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

L. Sprague de Camp called the three leading writers to emerge from what is now called the “Weird Tales” school of pulp fiction “The Three Musketeers of Weird Tales“: H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. Of the three, both Lovecraft and Howard were popular in their own time within their own limited circles[1] and have retained devoted cult followings to this day. Specialty presses (Arkham House, Gnome Press) have been founded with the express purpose of rescuing their work from the crumbling pages of out-of-print magazines and preserving it in book form for a wider, more permanent audience.[2] A number of their works have been filmed, usually with no particular concern for fidelity[3], and both men — noted misfits even by the generous standards of pulp-writers — have been the subject of much biographical speculation. In all the excitement, somehow the third and most talented of the three, Smith, has been overlooked.

This is hardly surprising — Smith has always been the least popular of the three, and his work is an acquired taste prized by those who appreciate his elegant, morbid, sensuous touch — but it is unfortunate all the same. For if it’s fair to say that Lovecraft and Howard are more important historically, through their influence on other, better writers, than in their own right — i.e., that HPL’s creation of the Cthulhu Mythos and REH’s giving definitive form to the barbarian adventurer motif are events whose importance far exceeds the literary value of their actual stories — then the exact opposite is true of Smith. Smith’s work creates no new paradigm, blazed no new subgenre of comparable popularity to Lovecraft’s or Howard’s. This is not to say, of course, that Smith’s influence has not been important. It’s hard to imagine Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth series or John Brunner’s The Traveller in Black ever having been written without Smith’s example before them. But the tradition of writers influenced by Smith has been a substrata of fantasy/horror, not a main thread. His importance rests essentially upon the sheer excellence of his work: the man who wrote Lovecraftian stories better than Lovecraft himself, the most literate of all pulp writers, who showed what an extensive and erudite vocabulary can do in the hands of a Master. Clark Ashton Smith just might be the means by which pulp fantasy and horror transcended their roots and ascended into Literature.

“[Smith's] stories more than any others…
had everything to do with my decision…
to become a writer…
[I]n the short story form
CAS stood alone on my horizon…
[his] influence was… complete
and… compelling.”

— Ray Bradbury, introduction to A Rendezvous in Averoigne


Smith’s stories have a “literariness” that eluded his fellow pulp writers, due no doubt to the unusual route by which he came to pulp fiction. A child prodigy, he had already written a full-length novel by age 14[4] and published four short stories in mainstream fiction magazines (The Overland Monthly, Black Cat) between the ages of 17 and 19. By the time he abandoned fiction and shifted his attention to poetry as a teen, he had already achieved the competency in prose many of his pulp peers (e.g., Frank Belknap Long or E. Hoffman Price) never surpassed in their long careers. His poetry also won early acceptance: Hailed as a prodigy, an up-and-coming young poet, he was embraced by the literary mainstream, publishing his first book of poems before he was twenty (1912) and having his poems appear in such journals as The Yale Review, The London Mercury, and H. L. Mencken’s Smart Set.

Unluckily for Smith, however, just as he became identified with the San Francisco literary establishment (which had dominated the West Coast since the days of Bret Hart and Mark Twain half a century before), that literary world began to self-destruct; its remaining literary lights vanishing at an alarming rate — Ambrose Bierce (disappeared 1913), Jack London (committed suicide 1916), and Smith’s own mentor, the now-forgotten George Sterling (suicide 1926). Furthermore, the literary style Smith embraced and embodied in his poetry, melodious and formal and melancholy, descending from Poe and Baudelaire (whose Fleurs du Mal Smith translated), was kicked into the dustbin of history, displaced by the Modernism championed by Ezra Pound (who urged his contemporaries to stop imitating the poets of seventy years before and try writing something new for a change). It was Smith’s tragedy, perhaps, that he by age twenty achieved the goals Lovecraft and Howard strived for in vain all their lives, only to have it all slip away before he was thirty.[5] Reduced to writing a Biercian column for the local newspaper, his eventual return to fiction a decade later was due largely to the urging of H. P. Lovecraft, whom he quickly surpassed in his own field.

[Smith's tales] are, above all, sensually compelling.
… [A] fiction writer must… enclos[e] his characters,
and therefore his readers, in a scene, an atmosphere…
Once you have trapped your readers in sights, sounds,
smells, and textures… [they] will be unable to resist
… Take one step across the threshold of [CAS's] stories,
and you plunge into color, sound, taste, smell,
and texture — into language.”

— Ray Bradbury

Word Music: from Prose Poem to Weird Tale

The secret to Smith’s stylistic breakthrough, the element that so strongly differentiates his work from that of his contemporaries, seems to come from his mastery of the prose poem, a form he had begun experimenting with in his early twenties; his third book, Ebony and Crystal (1922), included as its final section a score of prose poems which are far more effective than the finely crafted but utterly static traditional poems in verse that precede them.[6] When, desperate in the early days of the Depression to find a regular source of income to help support himself and his two elderly and ailing parents, Smith returned to authorship in 1929, he created his own distinctive new style of fiction by essentially expanding prose-poems out into full-length stories by the addition of characters, dialogue, and plot. The result is a heady mixture of what looks to the careless eye like language run riot but reveals itself, on closer scrutiny, to be entirely under control:

Beginning with late spring, the Cistercian monks
were compelled to take cognizance of sundry odd phenomena…
They… beheld flaring lights, where lights should not have been:
flames of uncanny blue and crimson that shuddered
behind the broken, weed-grown embrasures
or rose starward above the jagged crenellations…
Hideous noises… issued from the ruin by night… and the monks
…heard a clangor as of hellish anvils and hammers… and
… deemed that Ylourgne was become a mustering-ground of devils.
Mephitic odors as of brimstone and burning flesh…
floated across the valley; and even by day…
a thin haze of hell-blue vapor hung upon the battlements.

… Observing these signs of the Archfoe’s activity
in their neighborhood, they crossed themselves
with new fervor and frequency, and said their
Paters and Aves more interminably than before.
Their toils and austerities, also, they redoubled.

–”The Colossus of Ylourgne” (1934)

Sights, smells, sounds: Smith appeals directly to the senses in passages like these that pile on the carefully chosen adjectives, in rhythmic prose that incorporates many techniques normally associated with poetry (alliteration and cesura in particular). Smith may prefer a polysyllabic colorful word to a simple short one, but the word he chooses, however unusual, will always be precisely correct. Just as Hemingway deliberately chose a plainstyle vocabulary and short, simple sentences to emphasis the ordinariness of his characters and encourage reader identification with his protagonists, his contemporary Smith takes the opposite approach that is just as viable, deliberately stressing the artificiality of the tale through a style that pulls out all the stops and makes use of the entire available vocabulary English has to offer — a feat few authors before or since have dared to attempt. It’s the difference between (say) a recorder flute or acoustic guitar on the one hand and a church cathedral’s pipe organ on the other.

“As to my employment of an ornate style,
using many words of classic origin and exotic colour,
I can only say that it is designed to produce effects
of language and rhythm which could not
possibly be achieved by a vocabulary
restricted to what is known as ‘basic English’.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, letter to S. J. Sackett (1950)

Naturally, advocates of one style tend to denigrate the other, and Smith is often derided for actually knowing words the critic doesn’t, and daring to use them. His deliberate choice to follow Poe’s example and create “word-music,” where sight and sound of the words are an essential element of what’s being said, rather than journalistic prose that stresses message over medium, meant that to a degree he was willing to accept a limited audience, one not put off by the demands his vocabulary puts on the reader , or at least willing to put in the effort to follow where he led (the same could be said of two more of his contemporaries, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound). His disciple Jack Vance has largely avoided similar criticism by incorporating a strong element of humor in his baroque prose, especially the dialogue, making clear that his style is at least partially a joke he’s sharing with his readers. Smith also has a strong and largely unrecognized streak of humor that lightens his work, and on occasion deliberately piles on the polysyllabics for comic effects:

What unimaginable horror of protoplastic life,
what loathly spawn of the primordial slime had come forth to confront us,
we did not pause to consider or conjecture… [I]ts intentions were
too plainly hostile, and it gave evidence of anthropophagic inclinations,
for it slithered toward us with an unbelievable speed and
celerity of motion, opening as it came a toothless mouth
of amazing capacity…. We saw that our departure from
the fane of Tsathoggua had become most imperative…

— Master-thief Satampra Zeiros encounters fiction’s first Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” (1931)

In short, Smith could simply have said “it rushed toward us with its mouth open to try to eat us, so we decided to run away”; the humor comes from the hapless thief’s saying it in a slow and stately overly elaborate way. Again like Poe, roughly a third of whose tales were comic pieces, albeit with grim overtones (e.g., “Some Words with a Mummy”, “Never Bet the Devil Your Head: A Tale with a Moral”, “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, “How to Write a Blackwood Article”, and so on), Smith can include a touch of humor in his tales without negating their essential horror; this is a difficult balancing act that few horror writers achieve.

“Cast a Cold Eye/
on Life, on Death”

Smith’s most typical tone, however, is one that can be described only as cold-blooded. Whereas in Lovecraft’s stories there comes a point where the author will stop and coyly remark that what follows is “too terrible to describe” (typically followed by the narrator fainting like a maiden aunt of Victorian days), by contrast Smith at such points quietly proceeds with the description, which often turns out to be horrific indeed (see, for example, the narrator’s gruesome death at the end of “The Seed from the Sepulcher”, or those caused by the brain-devouring creature in “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis”). Small wonder that several of his stories were censored by Weird Tales, which demanded he excise certain gruesome or salacious details before publishing them.[7] Nor are his characters given to fainting away; some of them calmly accept death, not so much out of suicidal impulses as a deadly mix of fatalism and ennui, while others fight bravely to the last and occasionally even triumph, though in Smith’s cosmos all such victories are qualified. Even those who defeat their foes and win love are wise not to examine their happiness too closely: the beloved may prove to be a monster herself (e.g., the lamia of “The End of the Story” or the title character of “The Enchantress of Sylaire”) or, perhaps worse still, merely an ordinary woman (“Morthylla”). On the whole, Smith (inspired no doubt by the French Decadents and fin-de-siecle) prefers to avoid being overly judgmental — the villain of one story is sometimes the hero of the next (cf. “The Maze of Maab Dweb” and its sequel “The Flower-Women”, or the Averoigne tale “The Holiness of Azedarac” and its projected but unwritten follow-up “The Doom of Azedarac”).

His ability to adopt unconventional points of view — Smith opens one tale with an account of a character’s escape from the Inquisition, and within two pages makes the reader regret that he got away (“The Colossus of Ylourgne”) — shows up best in his treatment of the dead (and undead). It’s hard to imagine another writer who could title a play The Dead Will Cuckold You and end up presenting the main female character’s seduction by a zombie, when it comes, as a tender, touching moment rather than a vile act of necrophilia. Nor, in the hands of most Cthulhu Mythos writers, would a corpse-devouring Great Old One served by a ghoul priesthood turn out to be relatively benign (“The Charnel God”), concerned only with the dead and indifferent to the living. There’s a reason Smith’s work has inspired any number of game writers dealing with necromancers (see below). It’s not just his utter lack of squeamishness but his ability to adopt, and persuasively convey to the reader, what death is like from the dead’s point of view (“Necromancy in Naat”). In “The Empire of the Necromancers”, one of the Zothique stories, he even in an amazing tour-de-force switches the point of view mid-way through the story from the necromancers to the animated subjects they have raised from the dead; the undead mount a successful revolt against their living masters for the sole purpose of once again returning to the untroubled calm of death.

After his death, he forgot that he had died;
forgot the immediate past
with all its happenings and circumstances…
[H]e began to play with the thought of some presence
— immortal, lovely, and evil — that… would respond
to the evocation of one who… had longed vainly
for visions from beyond mortality.
Through headstone aisles of moon-touched solitude,
he came to a lofty mausoleum… Beneath it,
he had been told, were extensive vaults…
To his startlement a woman, or what
appeared to be such, was sitting
on a fallen shaft beside the mausoleum.
He could not see her distinctly…
“Who are you?” he asked…
“I am the lamia Morthylla,” she replied.

— “Morthylla” (1953)

The Dead Will Cuckold You

Oddly enough, despite his preoccupations, Smith’s work is not repulsive or grotesque but weirdly beautiful. One of the reasons is that he admits into his fictional worlds not just horror but also love — ennui but also passion. It’s significant that Smith’s works are filled with well-drawn female characters. In this he stands alone among his Weird Tales peers — compare the enchantress Moriamis (“The Holiness of Azedarac”), the sorceress Sephora (“The Enchantress of Sylaire”), or even Sabine, the late wife of Gilles Grenier, who avenges herself upon her husband even after he kills her (“The Mandrakes”) with Howard’s personality-lite trophy-maidens in the Conan stories. Smith’s work would be seriously diminished without the femme fatales his protagonists encounter, who are usually smarter, more powerful, and more effective than their male counterparts; in contrast , Lovecraft’s only fully realized female character turns out to be a man magically possessing a woman’s body(Aseneth Waite Derby from “The Thing on the Doorstep”). Lovecraft considered sex a rather tacky distraction from the intellectual game of horror and avoided it as much as possible; Howard treated it as a rote off-screen reward for his heroes; Smith simply assumes it’s an essential, and delightful, part of life that, for better or worse, continues even beyond the grave.

He had killed her one even in autumn,
during a dispute of unbearable acrimony,
slitting her soft, pale throat in self-defense
with a knife which he had wrested
from her fingers when she lifted it against him.
Afterwards he had buried her
by the late rays of a gibbous moon
beneath the mandrakes in the meadow-bottom,
replacing the leafy sods with much care,
so that there was no evidence
of their having been disturbed…

— Gilles Grenier kills his wife Sabine, who later returns the favor “The Mandrakes” (1933)

All of these qualities help define Smith: A vivid imagination with a morbid twist; a poet’s command of language, a prose-poem writer’s ear for word-music, and perhaps the largest vocabulary of any horror writer in English; a fatalist’s acceptance of death coupled with a decadent’s appreciation of sensuality; a noted lover of women (Smith was notorious for his many affairs) who created strong female characters, and a pessimist not afraid of killing off his heroes if it gave a story a necessary ironic, bitter note; a writer whose devotion to his craft paved the way for Bradbury, and Zelazny, and Ligotti, who pushed pulp fiction as far as it could go before ascending into literature; a member of the Lovecraft circle who could write “Lovecraftian” stories better than HPL himself, whose contributions to the “Cthulhu Mythos” (Tsathoggua, The Book of Eibon) were enthusiastically taken up by Lovecraft and made canonical; a pulp writer who churned out roughly a story a month for three years (the vast bulk of Smith’s stories were written between 1929 and 1932, when writer’s block began to overtake him, who wrote bejeweled prose that has far outlived the ephemeralness of his medium. (He finished only a handful of tales between 1937 and his death twenty-five years later.) Clark Ashton Smith was a man of many talents and the finest writer of weird tales of his day. [8]

“I, Satampra Zeiros… ,
shall write with my left hand,
since I have no longer any other,
the tale of everything that befell
[my companion] and myself
in the shrine of the god Tsathoggua
… as a warning to all good thieves and adventurers
who may hear some lying legend of the lost treasures
… and be tempted thereby.

— “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” (1931)

Averoigne and Your Game

A writer like Smith, who could throw off ideas like a flaming pinwheel, has proved a godsend to DMs and RPG designers over the years: his works were full of monsters, characters, ideas, and motifs that could be sprung on unsuspecting players who had never read the original tales, as relatively few have. The first RPG product based on his work, Tom Moldvay’s excellent Chateau d’Ambreville (a.k.a. X2. Castle Amber, 1981) was not only an exceptional D&D adventure in itself that enabled PCs to play through the four major Averoigne stories (“The Colossus of Ylourgne”, “The Enchantress of Sylaire”, “The Beast of Averoigne”, “The Holiness of Azedarac”), it also provided the template for one of the most famous of all AD&D modules, I6. Ravenloft, and the Ravenloft campaign setting that followed. The original stand-alone module was further developed by products like Gaz 3. The Principalities of Glantri (1987), eventually becoming a major part of the D&D “Known World”/ AD&D Mystara setting — cf. the Glantri boxed set by Monte Cook and the audio-CD adventure Mark of Amber (both 1995).

In addition, Smith’s work has not only inspired a number of D&D monsters but also has set the tone and thus had a major impact on the treatment of necromancy as it has appeared in roleplaying games, in such products as The Complete Book of Necromancers (1995), the Al-Qadim setting’s Cities of Bone (1994), Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), and Secret College of Necromancers (2002). Surprisingly enough, his stories have had little impact on the Lovecraftian Call of Cthulhu game, being represented only by a very few scenarios — e.g., a single encounter in Trail of Tsathoggua (Chaosium, 1984), a markedly un-Smithian use of the sorcerer Eibon in Spawn of Azathoth (Chaosium, 1986), the Great Old One Mordiggian hovering ineffectually in the background of The Realm of Shadows (1997, probably Pagan Publishing’s weakest CoC release), and the like. Gamers who are admirers of Smith’s work are better off creating their own scenarios around his ideas. Zothique, his end-of-time setting for some of his best stories, is probably too bleak for an ongoing campaign, though very effective for self-contained scenarios inserted into a pre-existing game (e.g., in Pelgrane Press’s The Dying Earth RPG). But Averoigne is perfect for fans of both D&D and Call of Cthulhu: It combines the medieval sensibilities and possibilities for heroic adventures of the one with the eerie horror, lurking menace, and overwhelming terror of the other. (I am myself currently running a d20 Call of Cthulhu campaign set in Smith’s Averoigne and can testify to its effectiveness as a setting.) Considering its historical links with the development of the whole “Land of Mist” concept underlying Ravenloft, the domain of Averoigne can easily be into a Ravenloft campaign; Averoigne is also an apt setting for a Vampire: the Dark Ages scenario (it even already has its resident vampires, “A Rendezvous in Averoigne”‘s Sieur Huge du Malinbois and his wife Agathe).

“Old age, like a moth in some fading arras,
will gnaw my memories oversoon, as it
gnaws the memories of all men.
Therefore I write this record of the true origin
and slaying of that creature known as
the Beast of Averoigne. And when I have ended the writing,
the record shall be sealed in a brazen box,
and that box be set in a secret chamber of my house
at Ximes, so that no man shall learn the dreadful verity
and that box be set in a secret chamber of my house
of this matter till many years and decades have gone by.”

— Luc le Chaudronnier, “The Beast of Averoigne” (1932)

Bibliographic Note

Unlike the Zothique and Hyperborea story cycles (cf. Necronomicon Press’s Tales of Zothique [1995] and The Book of Hyperborea [1996]), Smith’s Averoigne stories have never been pulled together into a single volume but remain scattered over various books. All eleven completed tales were published by Arkham House in their six collections of Smith’s work between 1942 and 1970 (Out of Time and Space [1942], Lost Worlds [1944], Genius Loci and Other Tales [1948], The Abominations of Yondo [1960], Tales of Science and Sorcery [1964], and Other Dimensions [1970]) — these are now all quite expensive collector’s items, but paperback reprints of them issued in England in the 1970s by Panther Books can be found somewhat more easily. The so-called “best of” collection, A Rendezvous in Averoigne (1988, re-released in 2003), reprints four of the Averoigne stories (including two of the best ones). In addition, various plot outlines and notes for several additional unfinished tales are included in The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith (Arkham House, 1979) and Strange Shadows: The Uncollected Fiction and Essays of Clark Ashton Smith (Greenwood, 1989).

A second attempt to publish the complete Smith — and the first to bring his work to the attention of a mass-market paperback audience — was made by Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy series in 1970-1973, but ironically their “Averoigne” volume was to be the fifth in a series that was cut short when the publisher was bought out and the line terminated after volume four. Pocket Books released three CAS collections in their “Timescape” line in 1981-1983, but these, while fine selections, deliberately emphasized the variety of Smith’s work and so only included five Averoigne tales — though to their credit Timescape did include all four of the best in the series. Finally, The Emperor of Dreams: The Lost Worlds of Clark Ashton Smith, the recent Fantasy Masterworks trade paperback (2002) that runs a massive 580-pages, includes three Averoigne tales (though only one of the best four). Of all these, only the Arkham House A Rendezvous in Averoigne and the Fantasy Masterwork omnibus are currently in print; neither is likely to be in your average bookstore, but they can be ordered online either directly from Arkham House www.arkhamhouse.com or www.amazon.co.uk, respectively.

A note of warning: Readers tempted by Chaosium’s The Book of Eibon (2002) in the hopes that it presents a definitive collection of Smith’s Mythos writings, a la their excellent Robert Bloch (Mysteries of the Worm), Henry Kuttner (The Book of Iod), and Robert E. Howard (Nameless Cults) collections, should be warned that unlike these The Book of Eibon contains only two genuine Smith stories, the rest of the book being hackwork pastiche by Lin Carter and others (some of it falsely labelled as “collaborations” between Smith and Carter, much as Derleth used to forge Lovecraft’s names on stories of his own creation).

Finally, Smith is fortunate in having an exceptional website devoted to his work, which makes available on-line all of his currently out-of-print writings as well as biographical information, pictures of some of his artwork, and much, much more: see www.eldritchdark.com.

The Averoigne series has unfortunately never been collected into a single volume. Arranged by internal chronology, the eleven completed stories and four story-fragments are as follows: *”The Oracle of Sadoqua [e.g., Tsathoqqua]” (set in Roman times), “The Maker of Gargoyles” (November 1138), “The Holiness of Azedarac” (a time-travel story starting in 1175, going back to 475 A.D., then flashing ahead to 1230), *”The Doom of Azedarac” (c.1198), “The Colossus of Ylourgne” (late spring 1281), “The Beast of Averoigne” (summer 1369), “The Enchantress of Sylaire” (n.d.), *”The Werewolf of Averoigne” (n.d.), “The Mandrakes” (? c.1400), *”Queen of the Sabbat” (n.d.), “The Disinterment of Venus” (April 1550), “The Mother of Toads” (n.d.), “A Rendezvous in Averoigne” (? c.1550), “The Satyr” (? c.1575), and “The End of the Story” (November 1789).

An asterisk (*) indicates an unwritten story that survives only as a plot outline, ranging from a single paragraph to several hundred words.

I am endebted to Steve Behrends’ Starmont Reader’s Guide on Clark Ashton Smith (Starmont House, 1990) — the single best book on Smith’s work — for help in establishing this sequence; the conjectural dates in the preceding listing are Behrends’.


[1] Lovecraft was the second most popular Weird Tales writer among the magazine’s readers, behind only Seabury Quinn, author of a long string of execrable supernaturally-themed Hercule Poirot pastiches (the “Jules de Grandin” series). Howard’s popularity near the end of his career was such that Weird Tales published the Conan tales pretty much as fast as he could write them; between December 1932 and September 1936 there was only once a gap of longer than two months between issues carrying Conan stories, and often they appeared sequentially month after month.

[2] Arkham House, while founded to publish Lovecraft, also extended its mission to the “Lovecraft tradition” as represented by his fellow Weird Tales writers. Smith’s high standing among his fellow “Cthulhu Mythos” writers (as opposed to his limited acceptance by the reading public) is indicated by the fact that his Out of Space and Time (1942) was the third book published by Arkham House, preceded only by Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others (1939) and Derleth’s self-published Someone in the Dark (1941). By contrast, Donald Wandrei, the imprint’s co-founder with Derleth, had to wait until their fifth release in 1944 for his first Arkham House book (following close on the heels of their second Lovecraft book in 1943). Other members of the Lovecraft Circle did not join the queue until after Smith’s second book, Lost Worlds (1944): Bloch’s The Opener of the Way (1945), Frank Belknap Long’s The Hounds of Tindalos (1946), Howard’s Skull-Face and Others (1946; Arkham House’s nineteenth book), Leiber’s Night’s Black Agents (1947), et al.

[3] See, for example, The Haunted Palace (1963), an inept adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward starring Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr; The Dunwich Horror (1970), which devotes most of its attention to an interpolated love-interest; the Jeffrey Comb Herbert West, Re-animator (1985), a most un-Lovecraftian medley of gallows-humor, sex, and gore; et al. Most of these take only the names of (some) characters and a few motifs from Lovecraft and make no attempt to reproduce the plots of his stories. In recent years, however, a thriving amateur film scene has grown up around independently produced Lovecraftian short films such as “Cool Air” and “Return to Dunwich” (both 1999); these short films make serious attempts (some more successfully than others) to remain faithful to their originals.

As for Howard, see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian (1981), which significantly did not take its plot from any of Howard’s own stories, or even from the pastiches by de Camp and Lin Carter, but owes more to the Marvel comic books based on the thriving Conan-pastiche market that grew up in de Camp & Carter’s wake. Howard himself has been the subject of a film, The Whole Wide World (1996), starring Renee Zellwedger, based on the memoirs of REH’s one-time girlfriend, Novalyne Price. Rather surprisingly, given his eccentric personality, no film has yet been made of Lovecraft’s life.

The only Smith video adaptation of note is a minor episode of Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery (1972) based on the (equally minor) Necronomicon story “The Return of the Sorcerer” (1931), starring Vincent Price and Bill Bixby.

[4] The Black Diamonds, an Arabian Nights tale not published until 2002 (Hippocampus Press). At 90,000 words, it is nearly double the length of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Lovecraft’s longest fiction, and twenty percent longer than Howard’s sole novel, The Hour of the Dragon (a.k.a. Conan the Conqueror). While it lacks the elegance and word-music of his later fiction, it is quite readable blend of ideas and adventures and amply demonstrates that he had already reached at a precociously early age the competency most pulp writers settle on for their entire careers (e.g., Frank Belknap Long or E. Hoffman Price), only to surpass them when he returned to fiction in 1929.

[5] Lovecraft’s dream was to see his work appear in book form; for his long and futile pursuit of this goal, see S. T. Joshi’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Life (1996). Howard’s was to graduate from the pulp magazines — the lowest rung of the fiction world — into the pages of the slightly more upscale Argosy and other “slick” magazines; see de Camp’s Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy (Arkham House, 1976) and also his Howard biography, Dark Valley Destiny (by de Camp, de Camp, & Griffin, 1983).

[6] For a complete collection of Smith’s superb prose-poems, a form he seems to have adopted from Poe (cf. EAP’s “Silence” and “Shadow”), see Nostalgia of the Unknown: The Complete Prose Poetry of Clark Ashton Smith (Necronomicon Press, 1988).

[7] For the most part, these have since been published in “The Unexpurgated Clark Ashton Smith” series, released as individual pamphlets by Necronomicon Press (1987-1988); the Averoigne story “The Mother of Toads” was among them. Other stories that Smith was forced to re-write include the Averoigne tales “The Satyr” (to eliminate the scene in which the cuckolded husband ruthlessly murders his wife and her lover, impaling them with his sword while they are making love) and “The Beast of Averoigne” (whose original version took the form of documents left behind by multiple narrators, a format apparently considered too difficult for Weird Tales’ audience). The modern-day story “The Return of the Sorcerer” also had its original conclusion — wherein a murderer is killed by his dismembered rotting limbs of his victim (shades of Jeffrey Comb’s Herbert West, Re-animator) — toned down a good deal for publication.

[8] While any list of the best of Smith’s tales will perforce be subjective, nevertheless any “best of” collection deserving the name would have to include “The Empire of the Necromancers”, “Morthylla”, and “Necromancy in Naat”, all three set in his end-of-time era Zothique (as is his marvelously creepy play, The Dead Will Cuckold You); “The Enchantress of Sylaire”, “The Holiness of Azedarac”, “The Beast of Averoigne”, and “The Colossus of Ylourgne” (the four best Averoigne stories, with “The Mandrakes” not far behind); “The Last Incantation”, “The Death of Malygris”, and “The Double Shadow” (all three set in Poseidonis, his version of Atlantis); “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” (set in Hyperborea, comparable to Howard’s Hyborian age but written with much more wit); “The Vault of Yoh-Vombis” (truly horrific science fiction set on Mars); and “Genius Loci” and “Nemesis of the Unfinished” (two modern-day stories, the latter an effective fictionalization of the crippling writer’s block that brought Smith’s own career to a premature end a quarter-century before his death).

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