The cover isn't the only reason I chose "The Garden of Adompha" to discuss this week. Rather, it's that this story -- and others like it -- highlight why Smith, for all his skill as a writer, hasn't had much influence in the gaming world. "The Garden of Adompha" is a tale of Zothique, the last continent of Earth, and takes place on "the wide orient isle of Sotar," whose king, Adompha, "possessed amid his far-stretching palace ground a garden secret from all men except himself and the court-magician, Dwerulas." This garden nevertheless has an unsavory reputation among the credulous, who assume that it plays some role in the disappearance of certain of Adompha's courtiers who'd fallen out of his favor.
In truth, the garden contains growths "such as no terrestrial sun could have fostered."
There were pale, bifurcated trinks that strained upward as if to disroot themselves from the ground, unfolding immense leaves the dark and ribbed wings of dragons. There were amaranthine blossoms, broad as salvers, supported by arm-thick stems that trembled continuously ... And there were other weird plants, diverse as the seven hells, and having no common characteristics other than the scions which Dwerulas had grafted upon them here and there through his unnatural and necromantic art.It's a horrific image, one made all the worse by the last line of the quote: Adompha and his court-magician wrought such horror for the most banal of reasons, one that impels them to inflict the same fate upon a beautiful young woman, "his favorite odalisque for the seldom-unequalled period of eight nights." This being a Smith tale, you can be certain that this undertaking doesn't quite turn out as planned.
These scions were the various parts and members of human beings. Consummately, and with never-failing success, the magician had joined them to the half-vegetable, half-animate stocks, on which they lived and grew thereafter, drawing an ichor-like sape. Thus were preserved the carefully chosen souvenirs of a multitude of persons who had inspired Dwerulas and the king with distaste or ennui.
"The Garden of Adompha" is filled with luxurious language and disturbing images, as well as an almost-clinical detachment from its characters and events. Despite the moral turpitude of its characters -- and the dark fates visited upon them -- the story offers no censure, no sense that Adompha and Dwerulas "got what was coming to them." But neither is there any approbation for their selfish actions, merely an aloofness that makes the story all the more unsettling to me.
It's that quality that I regularly find in Smith's stories and that's well nigh impossible to transfer into the gaming environment, which almost by necessity demands a greater level of engagement by the referee. Even in old school games, where the referee is supposed to be as impartial as possible, I'm not certain a Smithian level of indifference could be maintained for long enough to replicate the feelings his stories frequently evoke. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it does make Smith much less immediately inspirational than, say, Robert E. Howard or even H.P. Lovecraft, writers whose works were very influential in the early days of the hobby. It may also explain why I consider CAS the greatest of Weird Tales' trinity of greats and boggle at his continued marginalization in literary circles.