Smith, Clark Ashton


Smith, Clark Ashton
   (1893–1961)
   Poet, fantaisiste, artist, sculptor, and correspondent of HPL (1922–37). Born in Long Valley, Calif., and residing for most of his life in the small town of Auburn in the Sierra foothills, Smith read precociously as a child and began writing fantastic tales and poems at an early age. In 1911 he came in touch with George Sterling, the reigning poet of San Francisco, who found tremendous promise in Smith’s poetry. With Sterling’s aid Smith published The Star-Treader and Other Poems(1912) at the age of nineteen, causing a sensation on the West Coast and eliciting comparisons to Keats, Shelley, and Swinburne. Other volumes of poetry followed: Odes and Sonnets(published in 1918 by the prestigious Book Club of California), Ebony and Crystal (1922), and Sandal wood (1925). In the summer of 1922 some of HPL’s associates gave HPL copies of these volumes; HPL was so taken with them that he wrote a “fan” letter to Smith on August 12, 1922. Thereupon ensued a voluminous correspondence that lasted until HPL’s death, although the two men never met. HPL persuaded WTeditor Edwin Baird to rescind the magazine’s “no poetry” policy and accept Smith’s verse. In late 1926 Smith put Donald Wandrei in touch with HPL, thereby initiating an association that would last to the end of HPL’s life.
   Possibly from HPL’s example, Smith resumed the writing of fiction in the mid - to late 1920s, first producing “The Abominations of Yondo” (1925) and then, in the fall of 1929, “The Last Incantation,” the first of more than 100 stories he would write in the next six years. HPL was greatly taken with “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” (written November 16, 1929; published WT,November 1931), and he borrowed Smith’s invented god Tsathoggua for both “The Mound” (1929–30) and “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930); as the latter story appeared in WTin August 1931, HPL’s mention of the entity achieved print first, so that Smith appeared to have borrowed from HPL. Smith also invented The Book of Eibonas an analogue to HPL’s Necronomicon . “The Epiphany of Death” (written January 25, 1930; Fantasy Fan,July 1934) is dedicated to HPL. Most of Smith’s tales fall into various cycles: Zothique (a continent of the far future); Hyperborea (a continent in mankind’s early history); Averoigne (a province in medieval France); Atlantis; Xiccarph (a planet); Mars. Smith’s stories emphasize fantasy more than horror, although “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” ( WT,June–July 1932) is a powerful horror tale set on Mars. More representative is “The City of the Singing Flame” ( Wonder Stories,January 1931), an exotic science fiction/fantasy hybrid. Relatively few of Smith’s tales bear any direct influence from HPL: he admitted that “The Statement of Randolph Carter” inspired “The Epiphany of Death,” and “Pickman’s Model” inspired “The Hunters from Beyond” ( Strange Tales, October 1932). However, both Smith and HPL influenced each other’s fiction by discussing, in correspondence, various plot ideas and offering suggestions for revision.
   Smith was frustrated at the lack of recognition of both his scintillating poetry (some of the finest formal poetry written by any American writer of the twentieth century) and his weird fiction. In 1933 he self-published The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies,consisting of six stories rejected by WT Smith appeared widely in science fiction and weird fiction pulp magazines—WT , Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories,and others—and was more willing than HPL to revise his tales for the sake of a sale, as he had two aging parents, both in poor health, to look after. By 1935 his enthusiasm for writing fiction began to wane, and he turned to the carving of weird sculptures; several of them were inspired by HPL’s invented gods and monsters (a photograph of some of them was used as the dust jacket illustration for HPL’s Beyond the Wall of Sleep [1943]). HPL expressed great enthusiasm for these carvings, as well as for Smith’s paintings and drawings, hundreds of which he had seen in the collection of Samuel Loveman and also on loan from Smith.
   Upon HPL’s death, Smith wrote the poignant elegy “To Howard Phillips Lovecraft” ( WT,July 1937). A later poem, “H.P.L.” (1959), is less effective. Arkham House published most of Smith’s story collections — Out of Space and Time (1942), Lost Worlds (1944), Genius Loci(1948), The Abominations of Yondo (1960), Tales of Science and Sorcery (1964), Other Dimensions (1970) — as well as Smith’s later poetry collections, The Dark Chateau (1951) and Spells and Philtres (1958), and his Poems in Prose (1965). Smith had assembled his immense Selected Poemsin 1944–49, but it was not published by Arkham House until 1971. His relatively few essays were collected in Planets and Dimensions (1973). His Letters to H.P.Lovecraft appeared from Necronomicon Press in 1987. HPL’s letters to Smith were sold piecemeal by Smith’s literary executor; some are in public institutions, but most are in private hands.
   See Donald S.Fryer, “Klarkash-Ton & Ech Pi El: Or the Alleged Influence of H.P.Lovecraft on Clark Ashton Smith,” Mirage1, No. 6 (Winter 1963–64): 30–33; Nyctalops (August 1972: Special Clark Ashton Smith Issue); Donald Sidney-Fryer, The Last of the Great Romantic Poets (Silver Scarab Press, 1973); Donald Sidney-Fryer, Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (Donald M.Grant, 1978); Steve Behrends, “CAS & Divers Hands: Ideas of Lovecraft and Others in Smith’s Fiction,” Crypt No. 26 (Hallowmas 1984): 30–31; Steve Behrends, Clark Ashton Smith (1990).

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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