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