Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Smith, Clark Ashton

 Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

(1893-1961) US writer. Primarily a poet – his best early work is in The Star-Treader (coll 1912), Ebony and Crystal: Poems in Verse and Prose (coll 1923) and Sandalwood (coll 1925) – CAS wrote during one hectic period over 100 short stories and extended prose-poems, most published (some belatedly) in the pulp Magazines – although he issued one slim collection, The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (coll 1933 chap) himself. They were eventually assembled in a series of Arkham House volumes: Out of Space and Time (coll 1942); Lost Worlds (coll 1944); Genius Loci (coll 1948); The Abominations of Yondo (coll 1960); Poems in Prose (coll 1964); Tales of Science and Sorcery (coll 1964); and Other Dimensions (coll 1970). Many of CAS's highly ornate and sometimes vividly erotic works were censored by magazine editors, but for some reason he never got around to correcting the book versions; many of the originals were destroyed by a fire but a few survived to be reconstructed for a series of Necronomicon Press booklets entitled The Unexpurgated Clark Ashton Smith ed Steve Behrends, whose six volumes are: The Dweller in the Gulf (cut 1933 as "The Dweller in Martian Depths"; 1987 chap); Mother of Toads (cut 1938; 1987 chap); The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis (cut 1932; 1988 chap); The Monster of the Prophecy (1932 cut; 1988 chap); The Witchcraft of Ulua (cut 1934; 1988); and Xeethra (cut 1934; 1988 chap). The same publisher issued Nostalgia of the Unknown: The Complete Prose Poetry (coll 1988) ed Marc and Susan Michaud, Steve Behrends and S T Joshi. The remnants of CAS's fiction and working notes were assembled in The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith (coll 1979) and Strange Shadows: The Uncollected Fiction and Essays of Clark Ashton Smith (coll 1989) ed Steve Behrends with Donald Sidney-Fryer and Rah Hoffman, which also explains how the novella As It Is Written (1982) was mistakenly attributed to CAS and how the falseness of the attribution was discovered. (Some fragments "completed" by Lin Carter and issued as "collaborations" are best ignored.)

CAS's most typical stories – which generally appeared in Weird Tales – constitute one of the most remarkable oeuvres in imaginative literature; they are in direct line of descent from French Decadence – CAS translated a good deal of Decadent and Parnassian poetry – and took the calculated exoticism of that movement to its logical limit, first in such poems as The Hashish-Eater, or The Apocalypse of Evil (1922; 1989 chap) and later in the final tales in his Zothique sequence. The fact that these stories found any medium of publication must be regarded as astonishing, but their subsequent acquisition of cult status assured their preservation, alongside the works of other members of the H P Lovecraft circle. CAS's highly ornamented prose is dedicated to the building of phantasmagoric dreamworlds more remote from human experience, and even from familiar mythology, than any described before. There is, however, nothing consolatory about his brand of Escapism: his characters are usually led by the irresistible allure of the exotic to disappointment, damnation and doom. Although he shared the desperate ennui and intemperate spleen of the Decadents, CAS developed a worldview similar to that of Lovecraft, which drew eccentrically upon the imagery of science, involving both the awesomeness of the modern cosmic perspective and the detachment and clinicality of the scientific outlook. CAS used several Imaginary Lands, including Averoigne, Atlantis and Hyperborea – shown to best effect in "The Seven Geases" (1934), in which a vainglorious magistrate is condemned to descend through a series of Tartarean realms to "the ultimate source of all miscreation and abomination" – before finding a perfect setting in the Dying-Earth scenario of Zothique, with stories assembled initially as Zothique (coll 1970) and in definitive form, printing fragments and using original manuscripts, as Tales of Zothique (coll 1995) ed Will Murray with Steve Behrends. The sequence began with "The Empire of the Necromancers" (1932), a nightmarish extravaganza in which two necromancers conjure themselves an empire out of the dust of the ages and the reanimated corpses of the ancient dead (see Bondage). He brought the series to a dramatic apogee in the extravagant feasts of horror and bizarrerie of "Xeethra", "The Dark Eidolon" (1932) and "Necromancy in Naat" (1935). [BS]

other works: The Immortals of Mercury (1932 chap); Hyperborea (coll 1971); The Mortuary (1971 chap); Xiccarph (coll 1972); Sadastor (1930; 1972 chap); Poseidonis (coll 1973); From the Crypts of Memory (1973 chap); Prince Alcouz and the Magician (1977 chap); The City of the Singing Flame (coll 1981); The Monster of the Prophecy (coll 1983); A Rendezvous in Averoigne (coll 1988).

Poetry (selective): Odes and Sonnets (coll 1918 chap); Nero and Other Poems (coll 1937 chap); The Dark Château (coll 1951 chap); Selected Poems (coll 1971).

Nonfiction: Planets and Dimensions: Collected Essays (coll 1973 chap) ed Gary K Wolfe; The Devil's Notebook: Collected Epigrams and Pensées (coll 1990 chap).

further reading: Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (1978) by Donald Sidney-Fryer.

Clark Ashton Smith


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.