Clark Ashton Smith can be a bear to read, but sometimes his message is kind of wonderfully parable-like

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Summary: In the midst of thick prose and fantastical trappings, it can be kind of fun to see the simple message that Clark Ashton Smith often wrote around.

BLOT: (22 Jan 2012 - 02:26:48 PM)

Clark Ashton Smith can be a bear to read, but sometimes his message is kind of wonderfully parable-like

I am making my way, maybe slowly, through Night Shade's recent ebook version of The End of the Story, being the first volume in their five volume set of CAS anthologies. I had read only passing Smith in the past, and so had no real opinion one way or the other, and was surprised to find that he writes [at least in his earlier stuff] a fantastical style dripping with adverbs and crazy adjectives way beyond what people complained about in Lovecraft's writings. I'm not sure if you want to compare Smith to Dunsany on the overarching scope, but their prose is more similar than dissimilar, and I find it both fascinating and maybe a little intimidating as I have to reread entire stories to properly get the mood for which he was aiming.

On the more positive side, a lot of his stories seem to have relatively simple seeds so that when you do punch through, you have this little core with thick prose wrapped around and you can digest it like poetry. Even if you miss all of the mood, all of this description, you can eek out the essence. This may or may not work for you, but I dig it. Take "The Last Incantation", which has such lines as:

Now Malygris was old, and all the baleful might of his enchantments, all the dreadful or curious demons under his control, all the fear that he had wrought in the hearts of kings and prelates, were no longer enough to assuage the black ennui of his days. In his chair that was fashioned from the ivory of mastodons, inset with terrible cryptic runes of red tourmalines and azure crystals, he stared moodily through the one lozenge-shaped window of fulvous glass. His white eyebrows were contracted to a single line on the umber parchment of his face, and beneath them his eyes were cold and green as the ice of ancient floes; his beard, half white, half of a black with glaucous gleams, fell nearly to his knees and hid many of the writhing serpentine characters inscribed in woven silver athwart the bosom of his violet robe. About him were scattered all the appurtenances of his art; the skulls of men and monsters; phials filled with black or amber liquids, whose sacrilegious use was known to none but himself; little drums of vulture-skin, and crotali made from the bones and teeth of the cockodrill, used as an accompaniment to certain incantations. [(Kindle Locations 406-414), Night Shade edition as bought through Baen].

Then at the end of the story we get the old wizard remembering before his dark arts how he was in love with this beautiful, simple girl and how she had died and she summons her back to be with her. Except, he begins to fear that what he has summoned is something else, some trick. Upon examination he realizes what he has summoned has plain skin and regular hair and is missing the spark of something that he was looking for and he banishes her back to non-existence. When he turns to his familiar to complain, the familiar explains that that was the girl of his dreams, he just no longer had the passion of youth and the fire of love in his heart, and so saw her as she really was. Even if you get caught up wondering what the hell "crotali made from the bones and teeth of the cockodrill" are, you can still get the theme.

I am hoping he tones it down a little, while bringing up the plot and theme, but these are little capsule concepts and so far make for interesting reading.

Clark Ashton Smith


Written by Doug Bolden

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