Monday, January 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Clark Ashton Smith

This Tuesday is Clark Ashton Smith's birthday. To celebrate, I'll be posting a creature from his truly weird story The Coming Of the White Worm. 

Smith was a sculptor, painter, poet and the most under appreciated of the the Big Three. He wrote some of my favorite weird tales of all time (The Empire Of the Necromancers, The Master Of Crabs, The Colossus Of Ylourgne, Mother Of Toads, The Testament Of Athammaus) and managed to infuse a sense of sensuality and beauty that's not as apparent in HPL or REH.

His stories are also an amazing and epic way. On the Smith dedicated podcast The Double Shadow they describe it as escalation. For example:

In another weird tale you may have a monster that eventually gets killed. In a Smith story, you have a man that gets killed by decapitation and comes back monstrous only to be decapitated again and again coming back more horrible each time. AND THEN HE EATS SOMEONE ALIVE IN A CROWDED STREET!

In some other story you may have a necromancer raise the dead. In a Smith story, you have a necromancer raise the dead, employ demons to boil them down to their essentials, sculpt a GIANT corpse from said material, inhabit it, carry around 10 other necromancers on his back and DUMP MANURE ON A CHURCH!

While he may not have a Conan or a Cthulhu, he concocted many things that mythos lovers will recognize. The wizard Eibon, as well as the Great Old Ones Tsathoggua and Atlach Nacha were Smith's creation. 

He's made a more subtle impact on pop fantasy. Mike Mignola cites The Colossus Of Ylourgne as a huge influence on Hellboy, The Return Of the Sorcerer was made into an episode of Night Gallery and The Book Of Eibon is featured in Lucio Fulci's gore epic The Beyond, and supposedly members of The Church Of Satan tried to communicate with Smith from beyond the grave!

The odd part of all this, is that Smith detested writing prose and thought it a menial task for a poet. However, at the start of the Great Depression his parents fell ill and he had to start writing Sci Fi and Horror for the pulps to help out. But doing jobs he hated was part of his not new to him. His family was poor for most of his life and at times he was a fruit picker, woodcutter, well digger, typist, journalist, editor doing whatever he could to keep his family afloat. He may not have loved writing prose but I, for one, am glad that he felt he had to. His work is classic.

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