Monday, August 9, 2010

Pulp Fantasy Library: The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan

First published in the June 1932 issue of Weird Tales, "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan" is a Clark Ashton Smith short story set in his prehistoric northern realm of Hyperborea. In this case, the adjective "short" is no misnomer, as the story is Smith's Hyperborean tales, being scarcely more than an extended vignette, albeit a well-written and darkly satisfying one. The story focuses on its titular character Avoosl Wuthoqquan, "the richest and most avaricious money-lender in all Commoriom, and, by that token, in the whole of Hyperborea." One day, while walking through Commoriom's busy streets, meditating on "the shining of costly metals, with coins and ingots and gold-work and argentry, and the flaming or sparkling of many-tinted gems in rills, rivers, and cascades, all flowing toward the coffers of Avoosl Wuthoqquan," the usurer's reverie is broken by the plaintive cries of a beggar, beseeching him for alms.

Wuthoqquan has no interest in giving away even a single pazoor, despite the beggar's offer to prophesy in exchange for the coin.
The eyes of the beggar became evil and malignant in their hollow sockets, like the heads of two poisonous little pit-vipers in their holes.

"Then, O Avoosl Wuthoqquan," he hissed, "I will prophesy gratis. Harken to your weird: the godless and exceeding love which you bear to all material things, and your lust therefor, shall lead you on a strange quest and bring you to a doom whereof the stars and sun will alike be ignorant. The hidden opulence of earth shall allure you and ensnare you; and earth itself shall devour you at last."
Wuthoqquan is not the least bit frightened by the beggar's prophecy of his demise and responds in a mocking tone that recalls one of Jack Vance's characters before the fact:
"Begone," said Avoosl Wuthoqquan. "The weird is more than a trifle cryptic in its earlier clauses; and the final clause is somewhat platitudinous. I do not need a beggar to tell me the common fate of humanity."
Of course, this being a Clark Ashton Smith story, there can be little doubt in the reader's mind that Avoosl Wuthoqquan will come to a bad end, just as the beggar prophesied. But knowing that it will happen is not the same thing as knowing how it will happen and the real pleasure in this tale is in seeing Smith unravel the fate of the greedy moneylender.

Some time after the beggar's curse, "in that year which became known to pre-glacial historians as the year of the Black Tiger," a stranger comes to Wuthoqquan seeking a loan of three hundred djals, which we are told is "a large sum." He offers as collateral "two uncut emeralds of immense size and flawless purity." These gems filled the usurer's heart with "a greedy spark," but pretends to be unmoved by them and offers only two hundred djals as a loan, which the stranger accepts hastily.

Thinking himself clever for the arrangement he'd just made with the stranger, Wuthoqquan then reflects on money and gems, the only things that "were immutable and non-volatile in a world of never-ceasing change and fugacity."
His reflections, at this point, were interrupted by a singular occurrence. Suddenly and without warning -- for he had not touched or disturbed them in any manner -- the two large emeralds started to roll away from their companions on the smooth, level table of ogga-wood; and before the startled money-lender could put out his hand to stop them, they had vanished over the opposite edge and had fallen with a muffled rattling on the carpeted floor.
Amusingly, Wuthoqquan is not much put out by the "high eccentric and peculiar" behavior of the gems so much as concerned that he might lose them, especially once the emeralds begin to make their way out of his home and into the streets of Commoriom itself. The moneylender continues to follow the gems, which always manage to stay one step ahead of him, thereby leading him on a merry chase through the city and then beyond ...

"The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan" is not replete with many layers of meaning nor is it edifying in any lasting way, but it's extremely enjoyable and not simply because it depicts the bad end of a bad man. As with all of Smith's best stories, this one is sumptuously written, containing prose that perfectly complements both its fantastic and, above all, its human elements, all within the span of a handful of pages. It's not Smith's best work by far or even his most representative, but it's perhaps his most compendious. Reading "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan" is a great way to get a solid sense of what Smith is about as a writer, in terms of style and content. And because it's very commonly reprinted in fantasy anthologies, it should also be easy to find, even nowadays.


  1. This story was adapted for comics in Conan the Adventurer #8 from 1994 (one of the darkest years in a century of fairly dark ones for American comics). Its worth checking out if you can get over the mightily-thewed Cimmerian shoe-horned into the story. The art by fill-in artist John Watkiss is excellent, noirish and moody. A high point in what was for me a pretty disappointing series. Issue 12 of the series adapts The Abominations of Yondo(less successfully, if I recall...)

  2. "...the two large emeralds started to roll away from their companions on the smooth, level table of ogga-wood; and before the startled money-lender could put out his hand to stop them, they had vanished over the opposite edge and had fallen with a muffled rattling on the carpeted floor."

    i.e.: My dice.

  3. I'll have to see if I can get a hold of those comics ...