Clark Ashton Smith was born on January 13 in 1893. He was one of the greatest fantasists of the Weird Tales era on indeed any era. Writing contemporaneously with Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, Smith was considered one of the big three of what many consider to be the golden age of Weird Tales.
Unfortunately, he has not fared as well as those two in the years since he died. (Smith died in 1961, but he had stopped writing fiction years before.) He is still revered among fans of weird fiction, but he is not as well known among the general public. This is highly unfortunate.
There are probably several reasons contributing to this relative obscurity compared to his two contemporaries named above. For one thing, he never had any series characters, such as Howard did, with Conan being the most well known. Much of Lovecraft’s work was set in what has become known as the Cthulhu Mythos, uniting a variety of stories against a common background with common elements. Smith wrote multiple tales set in a number of story cycles, but for the most part these works shared a setting with no recurring characters and no mythos to link them.
Smith’s style is probably the biggest obstacle a modern reader needs to overcome. He started out as a poet, and with its lush prose, his work reflects that. Smith knew his way around a dictionary and wasn’t afraid to use it. While this might be off-putting and not in line with contemporary trends, I personally find it a good thing. While reading Smith might involve some mental work, and not something to be attempted at bedtime if you’re tired, I have always found reading Smith to be rewarding. Continue reading →
Weird Tales editorial office, l. to r., unknown, Farnsworth Wright, Henry Kuttner, Robert Bloch
By the time of his death in 1940, Farnsworth Wright had become one of the most influential editors the field of the fantastic would ever see. Wright was born in 1888 on July, 29. I would argue his influence on science fiction, fantasy, and horror has been greater than any other editor, including John W. Campbell, Dorothy McIlwraith, Fred Pohl, Ray Palmer, or Hugo Gernsback.
Yes, I realize that last sentence could be controversial, especially the inclusion of Campbell and Gernsback. So be it. Farnsworth Wright edited Weird Tales during what is considered to be the magazine’s golden age. The authors he published have had a greater impact on the literature of the fantastic than those of any other editor at any time in history. Continue reading →
January 13, 1893 saw the birth of Clark Ashton Smith. Along with his friends and correspondents Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, Smith was regarded as one of the Big Three at Weird Tales during was is generally regarded as the magazine’s golden age.
Given his stature in the field, it’s a little surprising how brief his career as a writer of fiction was. Most of his fiction was written between 1929 and 1934. Smith’s first literary love was poetry. He also worked as an artist. Clark Ashton Smith was never able to completely support himself through his artistic endeavors, and he frequently did manual labor around his hometown of Auburn, California.
Smith’s fiction is not for the week of vocabulary. He wrote several story cycles that take place in exotic imaginary lands in prehistory or on other planets. Smith’s Collected Fantasies is back in print in paperback and electronic editions. (Click the individual titles for links to electronic versions.)
This one is on The Young Magicians, the second anthology of the series that Lin Carter edited. It’s a companion to Dragons, Elves, and Heroes. This one starts at William Morris and continues up to what was then the present day (1969). Included are selections by Lovecraft, Smith, Howard, Kuttner, Merritt. and de Camp, as well as Lin Carter himself.
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.