Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Bard of Auburn

I'm feeling under the weather today -- stupid Springtime cold -- and have a backlog of emails and writing to do, so please forgive my absence. However, I did want to pass along a discovery I made this morning, namely that Nightshade Books has finally begun to publish Scott Connors and Roy Hilger's definitive collection of Clark Ashton Smith's fantasies. Three volumes of a projected five have already been published. I ordered the first one today and will almost certainly pick up the others over the next few months.

Smith, along with Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, was one of the greatest pulp fantasy writers of all time. He had a profound influence on the development of modern fantasy and, while Gygax himself was not much affected by CAS, Tom Moldvay wrote the classic Castle Amber as an homage to Smith (much as The Lost City was an homage to Howard). Likewise, Jack Vance, while again not explicitly influenced by Smith, writes in a style that reminds me greatly of Smith and might reasonably be called his modern heir.

In any event, as I get older, my appreciation for Smith and his stories grows. There's a world-weariness to it that appeals to me, but there's also a sense of wonder and mystery and horror that make for a heady combination. He's certainly the most "romantic" of the three musketeers of Weird Tales and maybe that's why my estimation of his writing grows. He's a great inspiration for anyone looking for a different take on pulp fantasy and I recommend him without reservation.


  1. Thanks for the heads up. As soon as I finish Kull: Exile of Atlantis I'll look into some CAS.

    Which title would you recommend as a beginning point?

    Get Well Soon!


  2. Thanks for the heads-up! I ordered the first one today.

  3. These corrected versions of the CAS tales are great. In the series from Night Shade, the stories are arranged in chronological order of composition (as opposed to original publication), so you really get a sense of how he developed as a writer/storyteller over the years.

    Some of the stories are real clunkers, but for the most part they are real gems, and even the "bad" ones (mostly his unscientific "scientifiction" attempts) are illuminating and entertaining.

    I highly recommend picking up all five volumes. Vol. 3 is probably the weakest so far, but more because of what CAS was writing during that period than anything else. Vol. 4 is a little over a month overdue, but I'm eagerly anticipating its arrival at my doorstep.

    If you really can't wait, most of CAS's work is available in the old Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of paperback (OOP) and there are still a few in-print collections (Rendezvous in Averoigne from Arkham House contains a nice sampling of his best work.

    I envy anyone encountering Smith for the first time. I love HPL and like REH, but for my money CAS was the most skillful of the three, and certainly the most poetic.

  4. Look for a book called Lost Worlds, published a couple of years ago. Good little volume out of a small press containing a couple dozen CAS short stories. Glad to hear though that Nightshade is doing a bigger run of stuff - their two-volume series of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane works is fantastic.

  5. Re: Where to Start?

    With Smith, there's such a wide variety of material, it's hard to say where to begin. I love his Averoigne stories, for example, but I imagine that either his Hyperborea or Zothique stories are of the most immediate interest to OD&D fans. "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" and "The Seven Geases" are both excellent starting points IMO.

  6. Re: Kane

    I didn't realize Nightshade had done the Kane series. I may have to snag those too.

    Thanks for the heads-up!

  7. Unfortunately, I don't think the Kane stories are available anymore... But I'm going to check now.

  8. Pocket Books (as part of their "Timescape" series) published 3 collections of CAS stories in the early 80s (City of The Singing Flame, The Last Enchantment, and 1 other) that contain a good mix (some Zothique, some Hyberborea, some Averoigne, some miscellaneous) and are easier to get ahold of (and thus cheaper) than the Ballantine Adult Fantasy releases (I'd sure like a copy of Zothique but there's no way I'm spending $50+ on a used paperback!) or the various more recent hardcover and small-press anthologies. I'd put a vote in for these as a good place to start if you don't want to drop a lot of $.

  9. Just checked, the third Timescape collection was called The Monster of the Prophecy.