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!