Today marks the 122nd anniversary of Clark Ashton Smith’s birth. He was one of the Big Three of Weird Tales, the other two being H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (but then I probably don’t need to tell you that).
Like Howard, Smith was also a poet as well as a fiction writer. (Yes, Robert E. Howard wrote poetry, some of the best I’ve ever read.) Unlike Howard, Smith’s fiction has a complexity to it Howard’s lacked, especially in word choice. Isaac Asimov went on record complaining that he didn’t like reading Smith because he had to keep looking words up in the dictionary. (You see, kids, in the dark days before computers we had these things called dictionaries and when you didn’t know a word, you went to the dictionary and…ah, never mind.) And if Asimov had to look it up, then you know it probably wasn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
In spite of the work involved at times, Smith is still very much a writer worth reading. I’ll be tackling at least one of his collections later this year for the posts I’m doing at Black Gate on the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. There were four now highly collectible volumes of Smith’s work published as part of the BAF series. In fact the very first BAF book I ever owned was Smith’s Hyperborea. I’ve only dipped into Smith’s works a little, but he was a writer of wild imagination. We could use more like him today.