Clark Ashton Smith
Smith in 1912
|Born||January 13, 1893|
Long Valley, California, United States
|Died||August 14, 1961 68) (aged|
Pacific Grove, California, United States
|Occupation||Short story writer, poet|
|Genre||Horror, fantasy, science fiction|
Carol Jones Dorman
Clark Ashton Smith (January 13, 1893 – August 14, 1961) was an American writer and artist. He achieved early local recognition, largely through the enthusiasm of George Sterling, for traditional verse in the vein of Swinburne. As a poet, Smith is grouped with the West Coast Romantics alongside Joaquin Miller, Sterling, and Nora May French and remembered as "The Last of the Great Romantics" and "The Bard of Auburn". Smith's work was praised by his contemporaries. H. P. Lovecraft stated that "in sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, Clark Ashton Smith is perhaps unexcelled", and Ray Bradbury said that Smith "filled my mind with incredible worlds, impossibly beautiful cities, and still more fantastic creatures".
Smith was one of "the big three of Weird Tales , with Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft",but some readers objected to his morbidness and violation of pulp traditions. The fantasy critic L. Sprague de Camp said of him that "nobody since Poe has so loved a well-rotted corpse." Smith was a member of the Lovecraft circle and his literary friendship with Lovecraft lasted from 1922 until Lovecraft's death in 1937. His work is marked by an extraordinarily rich and ornate vocabulary, a cosmic perspective and a vein of sardonic and sometimes ribald humor.
Of his writing style, Smith stated: "My own conscious ideal has been to delude the reader into accepting an impossibility, or series of impossibilities, by means of a sort of verbal black magic, in the achievement of which I make use of prose-rhythm, metaphor, simile, tone-color, counter-point, and other stylistic resources, like a sort of incantation."
Smith was born January 13, 1893, in Long Valley, California, of English and New England parentage. He spent most of his life in the small town of Auburn, California, living in a cabin built by his parents, Fanny and Timeus Smith. Smith professed to hate the town's provincialism but rarely left it until he married late in life.
His formal education was limited: he suffered from psychological disorders including intense agoraphobia, and although he was accepted to high school after attending eight years of grammar school, his parents decided it was better for him to be taught at home. An insatiable reader with an extraordinary eidetic memory, Smith appeared to retain most or all of whatever he read. After leaving formal education, he embarked upon a self-directed course of literature, including Robinson Crusoe , Gulliver's Travels , the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and Madame d'Aulnoy, the Arabian Nights and the poems of Edgar Allan Poe. He read the entire unabridged 13th edition of Webster's Dictionary word for word, studying not only the definitions of the words but also their etymology.
The other main course in Smith's self-education was to read the complete 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica at least twice.Smith later taught himself French and Spanish to translate verse out of those languages, including works by Gérard de Nerval, Paul Verlaine, Amado Nervo, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and all but 6 of Charles Baudelaire's 157 poems in The Flowers of Evil .
His first literary efforts, at the age of 11, took the form of fairy tales and imitations of the Arabian Nights. Later, he wrote long adventure novels dealing with Oriental life. By 14 he had already written a short adventure novel called The Black Diamonds which was lost for years until published in 2002. Another juvenile novel was written in his teenaged years— The Sword of Zagan (unpublished until 2004). Like The Black Diamonds, it uses a medieval, Arabian Nights-like setting, and the Arabian Nights, like the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and the works of Edgar Allan Poe, are known to have strongly influenced Smith's early writing, as did William Beckford's Vathek .
At age 17, he sold several tales to The Black Cat , a magazine which specialized in unusual tales. He also published some tales in the Overland Monthly in this brief foray into fiction which preceded his poetic career.
However, it was primarily poetry that motivated the young Smith and he confined his efforts to poetry for more than a decade. In his later youth, Smith made the acquaintance of the San Francisco poet George Sterling through a member of the local Auburn Monday Night Club, where he read several of his poems with considerable success. On a month-long visit to Sterling in Carmel, California, Smith was introduced by Sterling to the poetry of Baudelaire.
He became Sterling's protégé and Sterling helped him to publish his first volume of poems, The Star-Treader and Other Poems , at the age of 19. Smith received international acclaim for the collection. The Star-Treader was received very favorably by American critics, one of whom named Smith "the Keats of the Pacific". Smith briefly moved among the circle that included Ambrose Bierce and Jack London, but his early fame soon faded away.[ citation needed ]
A little later, Smith's health broke down and for eight years his literary production was intermittent, though he produced his best poetry during this period. A small volume, Odes and Sonnets, was brought out in 1918. Smith came into contact with literary figures who would later form part of H.P. Lovecraft's circle of correspondents; Smith knew them far earlier than Lovecraft. These figures include poet Samuel Loveman and bookman George Kirk. It was Smith who in fact later introduced Donald Wandrei to Lovecraft. For this reason, it has been suggested that Lovecraft might as well be referred to as a member of a "Smith" circle as Smith was a member of a Lovecraft one.
In 1920 Smith composed a celebrated long poem in blank verse, The Hashish Eater, or The Apocalypse of Evil which was published in Ebony and Crystal (1922).This was followed by a fan letter from H. P. Lovecraft, which was the beginning of 15 years of friendship and correspondence. With studied playfulness, Smith and Lovecraft borrowed each other's coinages of place names and the names of strange gods for their stories, though so different is Smith's treatment of the Lovecraft theme that it has been dubbed the "Clark Ashton Smythos."
In 1925 Smith published Sandalwood, which was partly funded by a gift of $50 from Donald Wandrei. He wrote little fiction in this period with the exception of some imaginative vignettes or prose poems. Smith was poor for most of his life and often did hard manual jobs such as fruit picking and woodcutting to support himself and his parents. He was an able cook and made many kinds of wine. He also did well digging, typing and journalism, as well as contributing a column to The Auburn Journal and sometimes worked as its night editor.
One of Smith's artistic patrons and frequent correspondents was San Francisco businessman Albert M. Bender.
At the beginning of the Depression in 1929, with his aged parents' health weakening, Smith resumed fiction writing and turned out more than a hundred short stories between 1929 and 1934, nearly all of which can be classed as weird horror or science fiction. Like Lovecraft, he drew upon the nightmares that had plagued him during youthful spells of sickness. Brian Stableford has written that the stories written during this brief phase of hectic productivity "constitute one of the most remarkable oeuvres in imaginative literature".
He published at his own expense a volume containing six of his best stories, The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies, in an edition of 1000 copies printed by the Auburn Journal. The theme of much of his work is egotism and its supernatural punishment; his weird fiction is generally macabre in subject matter, gloatingly preoccupied with images of death, decay and abnormality.
Most of Smith's weird fiction falls into four series set variously in Hyperborea, Poseidonis, Averoigne and Zothique. Hyperborea, which is a lost continent of the Miocene period, and Poseidonis, which is a remnant of Atlantis, are much the same, with a magical culture characterized by bizarreness, cruelty, death and postmortem horrors. Averoigne is Smith's version of pre-modern France, comparable to James Branch Cabell's Poictesme. Zothique exists millions of years in the future. It is "the last continent of earth, when the sun is dim and tarnished". These tales have been compared to the Dying Earth sequence of Jack Vance.
In 1933 Smith began corresponding with Robert E. Howard, the Texan creator of Conan the Barbarian. From 1933 to 1936, Smith, Howard and Lovecraft were the leaders of the Weird Tales school of fiction and corresponded frequently, although they never met. The writer of oriental fantasies E. Hoffmann Price is the only man known to have met all three in the flesh.
Critic Steve Behrends has suggested that the frequent theme of 'loss' in Smith's fiction (many of his characters attempt to recapture a long-vanished youth, early love, or picturesque past) may reflect Smith's own feeling that his career had suffered a "fall from grace":
Smith's late teens and early twenties had certainly been a heady period: he'd been taken under the wing of a personal idol, the poet George Sterling, and his first book of poetry had brought him comparisons to Keats and Shelley. This notoriety must surely have raised his standing in his small hometown. And yet the depression found Smith without a job or viable occupation, unable to eke out a living as a poet, with girlfriends berating him for his lack of ambition. And while his turn to writing fiction did put bread on the table, he found it a very distasteful business at times—he had once said to Sterling that writing prose was "a hateful task, for a poet, and [one which] wouldn't be necessary in any true civilisation." In short, it may be that Smith experienced that variety of "let-down" or loss peculiar to the child prodigies.
In September 1935, Smith's mother Fanny died. Smith spent the next two years nursing his father through his last illness. Timeus died in December 1937. Aged 44, Smith now virtually ceased writing fiction. He had been severely affected by several tragedies occurring in a short period of time: Robert E. Howard's death by suicide (1936), Lovecraft's death from cancer (1937) and the deaths of his parents, which left him exhausted. As a result, he withdrew from the scene, marking the end of Weird Tales' Golden Age. He began sculpting and resumed the writing of poetry. However, Smith was visited by many writers at his cabin, including Fritz Leiber, Rah Hoffman, Francis T. Laney and others.
In 1942, three years after August Derleth founded Arkham House for the purpose of preserving the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Derleth published the first of several major collections of Smith's fiction, Out of Space and Time (1942). This was followed by Lost Worlds (1944). The books sold slowly, went out of print and became costly rarities. Derleth published five more volumes of Smith's prose and two of his verse, and at his death in 1971 had a large volume of Smith's poems in press.
In 1953, Smith suffered a coronary attack. Aged 61, he married Carol(yn) Jones Dorman on November 10, 1954. Dorman had much experience in Hollywood and radio public relations. After honeymooning at the Smith cabin, they moved to Pacific Grove, California, where he set up a household including her three children. (Carol had been married before). For several years he alternated between the house on Indian Ridge and their house in Pacific Grove. Smith having sold most of his father's tract, in 1957 the old house burned – the Smiths believed by arson, others said by accident.
Smith now reluctantly did gardening for other residents at Pacific Grove, and grew a goatee. He spent much time shopping and walking near the seafront but despite Derleth's badgering, resisted the writing of more fiction.In 1961 he suffered a series of strokes and in August 1961 he quietly died in his sleep, aged 68. After Smith's death, Carol remarried (becoming Carolyn Wakefield) and subsequently died of cancer.
The poet's ashes were buried beside, or beneath, a boulder to the immediate west of where his childhood home (destroyed by fire in 1957) stood; some were also scattered in a stand of blue oaks near the boulder. There was no marker. Plaques recognizing Smith have been erected at the Auburn Placer County Library in 1985 and in Bicentennial Park in Auburn in 2003.
Bookseller Roy A. Squires was appointed Smith's "west coast executor", with Jack L. Chalker as his "east coast executor".Squires published many letterpress editions of individual Smith poems.
Smith's literary estate is represented by his stepson, Prof William Dorman, director of CASiana Literary Enterprises. Arkham House owns the copyright to many Smith stories, though some are now in the public domain.
For 'posthumous collaborations' of Smith (stories completed by Lin Carter), see the entry on Lin Carter.
While Smith was always an artist who worked in several very different media, it is possible to identify three distinct periods in which one form of art had precedence over the others.
Smith published most of his volumes of poetry in this period, including the aforementioned The Star-Treader and Other Poems , as well as Odes and Sonnets (1918), Ebony and Crystal (1922) and Sandalwood (1925). His long poem The Hashish-Eater; Or, the Apocalypse of Evil was written in 1920.
Smith wrote most of his weird fiction and Cthulhu Mythos stories, partially inspired by H. P. Lovecraft. Creatures of his invention include Aforgomon, Rlim-Shaikorth, Mordiggian, Tsathoggua, the wizard Eibon, and various others. In an homage to his friend, Lovecraft referred in "The Whisperer in Darkness" and "The Battle That Ended the Century" (written in collaboration with R. H. Barlow) to an Atlantean high-priest, "Klarkash-Ton".
Smith's weird stories form several cycles, called after the lands in which they are set: Averoigne, Hyperborea, Mars, Poseidonis, Zothique.To some extent Smith was influenced in his vision of such lost worlds by the teachings of Theosophy and the writings of Helena Blavatsky. Stories set in Zothique belong to the Dying Earth subgenre. Amongst Smith's science fiction tales are stories set on Mars and the invented planet of Xiccarph.
His short stories originally appeared in the magazines Weird Tales , Strange Tales , Astounding Stories , Stirring Science Stories and Wonder Stories .
Clark Ashton Smith was the third member of the great triumvirate of Weird Tales, with Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.
Many of Smith's stories were published in six hardcover volumes by August Derleth under his Arkham House imprint. For a full bibliography to 1978, see Sidney-Fryer, Emperor of Dreams (cited below). S.T. Joshi is working with other scholars to produce an updated bibliography of Smith's work.
A selection of Smith's best-known tales includes:
By this time his interest in writing fiction began to lessen and he turned to creating sculptures from soft rock such as soapstone.Smith also made hundreds of fantastic paintings and drawings.
The authoritative bibliography on Smith's work is S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz and Scott Conners. Clark Ashton Smith: A Comprehensive Bibliography. NY: Hippocampus Press, 2020.
Scholars S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz are preparing various additional volumes of Smith's letters to such of his individual correspondents as Donald Wandrei, Robert H. Barlow, and August Derleth.
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There is mention here of Azathoth productions, a filmmaking group within the [Horror Fantasy Society]. This group produced the unfinished short film "The Double Shadow" (based on the Clark Ashton Smith story)...
The Cthulhu Mythos is a shared fictional universe, originating in the works of American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The term was coined by August Derleth, a contemporary correspondent and protégé of Lovecraft, to identify the settings, tropes, and lore that were employed by Lovecraft and his literary successors. The name Cthulhu derives from the central creature in Lovecraft's seminal short story "The Call of Cthulhu", first published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928.
Arkham House is an American publishing house specializing in weird fiction. It was founded in Sauk City, Wisconsin in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to preserve in hardcover the best fiction of H. P. Lovecraft. The company's name is derived from Lovecraft's fictional New England city, Arkham. Arkham House editions are noted for the quality of their printing and binding. The colophon for Arkham House was designed by Frank Utpatel.
Averoigne is a fictional counterpart of a historical province in France, detailed in a series of short stories by the American writer Clark Ashton Smith. Smith may have based Averoigne on the actual province of Auvergne, but its name was probably influenced by the French department of Aveyron, immediately south of Auvergne, due to the similarity in pronunciation. Sixteen of Smith's stories take place in Averoigne. In Smith's fiction, the Southern French province is considered "the most witch-ridden in the entire country." The most well-known citizen is Gaspard du Nord of Vyones, a wizard who translated The Book of Eibon into Norman French.
Frank Belknap Long was an American writer of horror fiction, fantasy, science fiction, poetry, gothic romance, comic books, and non-fiction. Though his writing career spanned seven decades, he is best known for his horror and science fiction short stories, including early contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos. During his life, Long received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award (1977).
Sunand Tryambak Joshi is an American writer, musician, critic and award-winning scholar whose work has largely focused on weird and fantastic fiction, especially the life and work of H. P. Lovecraft and associated writers. Joshi is a lifelong scholar and editor of H. P. Lovecraft and restored Lovecraft's texts for Arkham House. He has published a lengthy biography of H. P. Lovecraft, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft. Additionally, Joshi has been a prolific editor of works of weird fiction by various authors and a historian of the field across a number of volumes. He has also written extensively on atheism and rationalism, as well as forms of prejudice including sexism and racism. Joshi lives with his wife, Mary Krawczak Wilson, in Seattle, Washington. Joshi's autobiography What Is Anything?: A Life in Lovecraft was published in 2019.
Donald Sidney-Fryer is a poet and entertainer principally influenced by Edmund Spenser and Clark Ashton Smith.
The Emperor of Dreams is a collection of American fantasy author and poet Clark Ashton Smith's short tales arranged in chronological order. It was published by Gollancz in 2002 as the 26th volume of their Fantasy Masterworks series. The collection contains stories from Smith's major story cycles of Averoigne, Hyperborea, Poseidonis, and Zothique. Most of the stories originally appeared in the magazines The Fantasy Fan, Weird Tales, Overland Monthly, Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, The Magic Carpet/Oriental Stories, The Auburn Journal, Stirring Science Stories, The Arkham Sampler, Saturn and Fantastic Universe.
Donald Albert Wandrei was an American science fiction, fantasy and weird fiction writer, poet and editor. He was the older brother of science fiction writer and artist Howard Wandrei. He had fourteen stories in Weird Tales, another sixteen in Astounding Stories, plus a few in other magazines including Esquire. Wandrei was the co-founder of the prestigious fantasy/horror publishing house Arkham House.
Joseph Payne Brennan was an American writer of fantasy and horror fiction, and also a poet. Of Irish ancestry, he was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut and he lived most of his life in New Haven, Connecticut, and worked as an Acquisitions Assistant at the Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University for over 40 years. Brennan published several hundred short stories, two novellas and reputedly thousands of poems. His stories appeared in over 200 anthologies and have been translated into German, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish. He was an early bibliographer of the work of H.P. Lovecraft.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep is a collection of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories, poems and essays by American author H. P. Lovecraft. It was released in 1943 and was the second collection of Lovecraft's work published by Arkham House. 1,217 copies were printed. The volume is named for the Lovecraft short story "Beyond the Wall of Sleep".
Marginalia is a collection of Fantasy, Horror and Science fiction short stories, essays, biography and poetry by and about the American author H. P. Lovecraft. It was released in 1944 and was the third collection of Lovecraft's work published by Arkham House. 2,035 copies were printed.
Out of Space and Time is a collection of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories by American writer Clark Ashton Smith. It was released in 1942 and was the third book published by Arkham House. 1,054 copies were printed. A British hardcover appeared from Neville Spearman in 1971, with a two-volume paperback reprint following from Panther Books in 1974. Bison Books issued a trade paperback edition in 2006.
Lost Worlds is a collection of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories by American writer Clark Ashton Smith. It was released in 1944 and was the author's second book published by Arkham House. 2,043 copies were printed.
Genius Loci and Other Tales is a collection of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories by American writer Clark Ashton Smith. It was released in 1948 and was the author's third book published by Arkham House. It was released in an edition of 3,047 copies. The stories were written between 1930 and 1935.
The Dark Chateau is a collection of poems by American writer Clark Ashton Smith. It was released in 1951 and was the author's fourth book to be published by Arkham House. It was released in an edition of 563 copies. The book was intended to be a stop-gap volume representing Smith's poetry while the more extensive Selected Poems was being prepared, although Selected Poems did not ultimately appear until 1971.
The Abominations of Yondo is a collection of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories by American writer Clark Ashton Smith. It was released in 1960 and was the author's fourth collection of stories published by Arkham House. It was released in an edition of 2,005 copies. The stories were mostly written between 1930 and 1935.
Richard Louis Tierney is an American writer, poet and scholar of H. P. Lovecraft. He is the coauthor of a series of Red Sonja novels, featuring cover art by Boris Vallejo. Some of his standalone novels utilize the mythology of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.
A Rendezvous in Averoigne is a collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories by American writer Clark Ashton Smith. It was released in 1988 by Arkham House in an edition of 5,025 copies. The collection contains stories from Smith's major story cycles of Averoigne, Hyperborea, Poseidonis, Xiccarph, and Zothique. Its title story is a relatively conventional vampire story.
Lovecraft Remembered is a collection of memoirs about American writer H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Peter Cannon. It was released in 1998 by Arkham House in an edition of 3,579 copies. Nearly all the memoirs from previous Arkham publications of Lovecraft miscellany are included.
Zothique is a collection of fantasy short stories by Clark Ashton Smith, edited by Lin Carter. It was first published in paperback by Ballantine Books as the sixteenth volume of its Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in June 1970. It was the first themed collection of Smith's works assembled by Carter for the series. The stories were originally published in various fantasy magazines in the 1930s, notably Weird Tales.
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