We’re back and we’re delving into the life and work of Clark Ashton Smith. Along with Robert E Howard, Smith was a core member of H P Lovecraft’s literary circle. While his work was massively popular in Weird Tales, it has been rather overshadowed by that of Smith’s peers. His stories have been reprinted in various forms almost constantly since the 1920s (and are free to read on the excellent Eldritch Dark website), but his creations have never had the cultural impact of Cthulhu or Conan.
While Smith’s stories are perhaps a little less accessible than that of Lovecraft or Howard, they are rich, heady tales, filled with sardonic humour, beautiful nightmares and evocative language. Many of his pieces are perhaps closers to prose poems than conventional short stories, which is unsurprising given Smith’s roots as a poet. As well as being wonderful pieces of fantasy in their own right, Smith’s friendship with Lovecraft led to many elements of these stories adding to the Cthulhu Mythos. Call of Cthulhu players will find many familiar names in Smith’s stories, such as the god Tsathoggua and the infamous Book of Eibon. We will expand on this connection a little more next episode when we look at a Smith story that birthed many such monstrosities.
As well as being a short story writer and poet, Smith was also an accomplished painter and sculptor. In fact, his career in the visual arts lasted for decades after he stopped writing fiction. His carvings and sculptures often incorporated elements from his stories and those of Lovecraft, and were always filled with the same weird imagination that fuelled his prose. Again, the Eldritch Dark website provides extensive galleries of his paintings and sculptures, as well as essays, articles and criticism.
Most of our discussion, however, focuses on Smith’s literary work and the various worlds he created. While legal issues have prevented these from ever becoming licensed RPGs, they have certainly inspired a great many. We offer some ideas about how Smith’s work can shape your own games.
As we mention in the episode, today also marks the release of the first of our Weird Whisperings to everyone who supports the Good Friends of Jackson Elias on Patreon. This is our series of recordings of some of the weird fiction we feature on the podcast. This time it’s the turn of The Music of Erich Zann, which we discussed back in episode 75. If you are a Patreon backer, please check your email for a download link. Enjoy!
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According to the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia, Atlach-Nacha has appeared in 5 stories other than The Seven Geases, so it’s likely that one of those were responsible for the embellishments.
We’re considering doing some episodes on how various Mythos deities have evolved from their initial depictions into the forms we’re used to seeing in games. Atlach-Nacha is a prime candidate, and I’m sure we could have some fun with Hastur, Shub-Niggurath and Nyarlathotep.
Thanks Daniel. Atlach-Nacha is a curious thing! We are planning on featuring A-N in a future episode, and will look up the other stories you mention. Watch this space!
I like the idea of talking about how the various mythos entities have come to be from their first creation to now. Do you ever feel that some aspects or entities are not part of your personal preference for cannon? As heretical as it sounds I have always either ignored Hastur or used him as a red herring. He never really held together for me since he was originally a shepherd god and then a lake and most of what we see today came from Derleth or D&D both of which I think of as outside of the pure cannon. Even as he is described in those sources he seems pretty nebulous and arbitrary. I’d be interested to hear if other people have a their own personal expurgated versions of mythos cannon that they prefer or do you think that the more stuff you pack into it the better even if it comes from authors or sources you don’t prefer.
I agree entirely. On the occasions I’ve used The King in Yellow, for example, I’ve ignored everything except the original Chambers stories and then built upon those in my own way.
The whole idea of a Mythos canon doesn’t work for me. I prefer these elements to be ill-defined, evocative, self-contradictory and ultimately incomprehensible. The whole idea of a canon undermines the very things that make the Mythos special.
I agree. I am happy to pick and mix as needed and The Yellow King is definitely in as far as I am concerned. I also agree with the idea of going back to the original source material and mining it for details whenever I am using a particular mythos entity. For that the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is invaluable and also the Ken Writes About Stuff series from Pelgraine Press is another great resource.
Also please thank Jackson for answering my question this week!
I’m more than a little surprised you didn’t mention the Double Shadow podcast, which is a wonderful introduction and overview of Smith’s fiction. Perfect for Mr, Sandrson and his seeming narcolepsy. 😉
That was a major oversight on my part when I was putting together the script. I’m not a regular listener, but I have certainly heard a few of their episodes.