Tag Archives: clark ashton smith

A Rendezvous in Averoigne

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Rendezvous in Averoigne: The Best Fantastic Tales of Clark Ashton Smith [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Clark Ashton Smith, illo Jeffrey K Potter, intro Ray Bradbury.

Smith A Rendezvous in Averoigne

A Rendezvous in Averoigne is a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s short fiction. A Weird Tales contributor and member of the Lovecraft Circle, Smith wrote like a sort of extraterrestrial version of Edgar Allan Poe. Although the title of this book refers to the imaginary medieval setting of Averoinge (compare James Branch Cabell’s Poictesme), its contents span across the various settings and story cycles deployed in Smith’s oeuvre. After “Averoigne” follow “Atlantis,” “Hyperborea,” assorted “Lost Worlds,” and then most fully “Xothique” (the “last continent”).

Each of these stories has a lapidary merit that rewards repeat reading, and I have been able to return to this volume with pleasure many times over the twenty years I’ve owned it. There are no dependable themes throughout; the reliable common denominator is the beauty of Smith’s language, and his ability to communicate a sense of the alien and the abominable. 

Noted weird fiction critic S.T. Joshi has dismissed Smith’s stories as superficial, but to my reading they often have profound contents. As an example, I recently re-read the Zothique tale “Necromancy in Naat,” and realized that its household of three necromancers was the centerpiece of an inverted gospel of the post-Christian far future, in which Yadar and Dalili (twisted from Joseph and Mary) come to the three magi, rather than the magi to them. (And the guiding influence is a black ocean current, rather than starlight.) The inaugurating event of the narrative is death, rather than birth. And Dalili is magically sterile, rather than miraculously fertile. There is to be no redeeming death, since the liches stumble along even after the expiration of the magi. And the curious episode in which a local cannibal is fed to the demon Esrit is a symbolic criticism of the Christian Eucharist that is beyond my powers to gloss! 

This book also includes an introduction by Ray Bradbury and deliciously surreal illustrations by Jeffrey K. Potter. I don’t think there’s any bad place to start reading Smith, but if you had to confine yourself to a single volume of his work, this might well be the one.

Viriconium

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Viriconium by M John Harrison, and foreword by Neil Gaiman:

M John Harrison's Viriconium

 

Harrison’s Viriconium is a fantasy setting in the Dying Earth subgenre, realized in a decidedly postmodern style. I suspect it of being a reinvention to some degree of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique, although Jack Vance’s Dying Earth could have been an influence as well. But the flavor is all original here. Viriconium is the last capital of humanity’s last empire: a paragon of the city that has been. The “evening” culture of Viriconium has lost its understanding of the “afternoon” technologies, which now serve as sorcery and magical artifacts. Throughout there is the sense that humanity has lost its dignity and possibly even its will to survive in a poisoned world.

This volume collects three novels and a set of related short stories. The novels are offered in publication order, which does not appear to be the chronological narrative sequence. (I think the third precedes the first two.) To posit a chronology that would include the short stories is a more daunting task. Some of these appear to move sideways in time: the same characters have different histories; the name of the city itself changes (Urconium, Vira Co, Virko); and the last is actually set in contemporary England among characters who dream of Viriconium. These stories particularly allow a more thorough deployment of metafictional devices to reflect on the nature of fantasy and the purpose of art (although these are also evident in the novels).

Recurring motifs include rascal dwarfs, queens, warriors who don’t believe in themselves, former humans who think they are still human, non-humans who think they have become human, mutilations, giant insects, sicknesses, and outsized reputations. The psychic tone all through the book is desperate and exhausted, and yet the material is so beautifully written that it is still a shadowed pleasure to read. to read. [via]

 

 

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NERO by Clark Ashton Smith and Signed, Hand Written Postcard by H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith

H. P. Lovecraft mentions Aleister Crowley in “NERO by Clark Ashton Smith and Signed, Hand Written Postcard by H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith

“This letterpress chapbook was published by Roy A. Squires in 1964. This copy also comes with a hand written signed post card by H. P. Lovecaft 1933. This copy is still in its original publisher’s envelope and comes with a typed letter from the publisher The postcard also mentions occultist Aleister Crowley!”