13 June 2007

The Final Clark Ashton Smith essay begins

I’ve started worked on my fourth and final feature article about the fantasy cycles of the great (but still not famous enough) Clark Ashton Smith. I’ve covered his medieval province of Averoigne, black comic Hyperborea, and last continent of Zothique. For this final article, I’m analyzing three “mini-cycles,” which appear to be abortive attempts by the author to craft longer series, but his departure from fiction writing in 1934 brought them to abrupt ends. There are five stories about Poseidonis, the last vestige of foundering Atlantis; three about an unusual version of Mars called Aihai; and two about the distant planet Xiccarph. Although these “series” aren’t large enough to allow comprehensive opinions about the settings as I did in my other articles, they do contain a number of Smith’s best stories and deserve close scrutiny and appreciation.

In particular, “The Last Incantation,” “The Death of Malygris,” “The Double Shadow” (Poseidonis), “The Vaults of the Yoh-Vombis” (Mars), and “The Maze of Enchanter” (Xiccarph) are classics. Smith felt strongly enough about two of them to publish them in his own privately printed volume The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies when he couldn't sell them to magazines. (Obviously, “The Double Shadow” is one of the stories in the slender book;“The Maze of the Enchanter” is the other. The latter did eventually appear in Weird Tales in an edited form titled “The Maze of Maal Dweb,” which is actually a more ‘Smithian’ title.)

I started work on these long articles, which will eventually tally up to approximately 24,000 words of analysis (which would take up about eighty pages in a standard printed book) a year and a half ago from a suggestion by editor Howard A. Jones, and they have turned into a special labor of love for me. Clark Ashton Smith is one of the authors I most ardently champion, on an equal level with Cornell Woolrich, and I’ve felt privileged to share my knowledge and love of his work with the world through these essays. I've gotten some wonderful letters from people who have read the articles and felt they mirrored their own admiration for this uniquely talented writer who still defies facile classification. I also hope my essays have drawn new people to discover Smith’s work. He can be life-changing, since there simply is nothing else like him out there.

Update: The article is finished and up for your enjoyment.