Blogging Northwest Smith: Nymph of Darkness

Gosh Wow“Nymph of Darkkness”
C. L. Moore

For years, “Nymph of Darkness” was one of the rarest Northwest Smith stories. The reason was because C. L. Moore refused to give permission for the story, first published in 1935, to be reprinted. It wasn’t until the 1981 Worldcon that she relented. The first book reprinting occurred the following year in Gosh! Wow! Sense of Wonder, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman.

Ackerman, it turns out co-wrote the story with Moore, although she retained 75% of the rights, meaning it wouldn’t be reprinted without her permission. A technicality in the copyright for the story actually allowed it to be reprinted once against her wishes.

“Nymph of Darkness” first appeared in Fantasy Magazine in April 1935 and was later reprinted in Weird Tales in the December 1939 issue. It wasn’t included when most of the other stories were published in the 1950s by Gnome Press.

I’m not sure why Moore didn’t allow for its reprinting. The story, in my mind at least, is a good story. It’s not as long as most of the others, but still, it’s solid.

Northwest Smith is walking along a waterfront on Venus after dark, when he hears someone running towards him. He ducks into an alley. A few minutes later, the person ducks into the alley and into Smith’s arms. It’s a young girl. A naked young girl. She asks Smith to hide her.

No sooner does he than her pursuer peers into the alley shining a strange green light. The pursuer doesn’t see her and moves on. A few minutes later, something hideous follows and the girl takes Smith to a nearby house to hide.

The whole time, it’s been too dark for Smith to see the girl. She asks him to lift her up to turn on the light. He feels a firm, nubile young woman in his arms, but when she turns on the light, there’s nothing there. Or rather nothing he can see.

She informs him that she is the daughter of a Venusian woman and a creature from a dimension of darkness. As such she exists in more than one plane, and can’t be seen by human eyes. Only by the green light, which reflects off her skin at some visible wavelengths, can men see her.

Her pursuer is a member of a cult which worships her father. They’ve kept her prisoner, using her in their rites. Her abilities to move between worlds, the thing that makes her so valuable, is growing, but she isn’t strong enough yet ot escape. While she tells Smith this, the creature returns. There’s no way out of the building, so she hides Smith and lets the cult take her.

From his hiding place Smith watches her dance under the green light. As the dance is ending, the creature that was following her finds Smith. In the ensuing fight, he kills the creature. Meanwhile, the girl has grown strong enough through her dance to free Smith and escape her captors, walking off into another dimension.

echoes of valor IIThe plot was more straight adventure than some of the others. Still, it contains Moore’s lush prose. Ackerman details how the story was written in an article reprinted from the fanzine Shangri-La, which originally appeared in 1948. The story was illustrated by Hannes Bok and is included in Hannes Bok A Life in Illustration edited by Joseph Wrzos.  Ackerman also claims he was an uncredited collaborator on the Smith story “Yvala”, which we’ll look at in the installment after next of this series.

“Nymph of Darkness” has been reprinted in several Ackerman anthologies as well as Karl Edward Wagner’s Echoes of Valor II. All of the orphaned Northwest Smith stories were included in that volume, at the time (1989) the only place to find all of them. The most recent reprinting was the Paizo Planet Stories collection, which contains all of the Northwest Smith stories.

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