Clark Ashton Smith
(1893-1961) was an American writer of horror
and Science Fiction
. He is most notable for being one of the founders of the Cthulhu Mythos
along with H.P. Lovecraft
, Robert E. Howard
Compared to Lovecraft's, Smith's stories tend to focus less on the Cosmic Horror Story
and more on the pure exoticism of the setting. Some Mythos entities recur between them, such as the god Tsathoggua, but these entities tend to be less malevolent in Smith's portrayal than in Lovecraft's.
Also unlike Lovecraft, sexuality plays a strong role in many of Smith's works and female characters are a lot stronger and more prominent than in Lovecraft (most likely to Smith having a much more... active
love life than Lovecraft). Unlike Howard, sorcerers in Smith tend to have the upper hand against swordsmen
and Smith has many sorcerer protagonists, both good and evil. And unlike Lovecraft, Smith was not a racist or a xenophobe, which can be seen best in stories like The Great God Awto
and A Star-Change
Smith was fond of playing with tropes and his stories occasionally feature Black Comedy
Tropes found in Clark Ashton Smith's works:
- Alien Sky: Suns of unusual color and non-standard numbers appear repeatedly.
- Apothecary Alligator: In "The Return of the Sorcerer":
There were tables strewn with archaic instruments of doubtful use, with astrological charts, with skulls and alembics and crystals, with censers such as are used in the Catholic Church, and volumes bound in worm-eaten leather with verdigris-mottled clasps. In one corner stood the skeleton of a large ape; in another, a human skeleton; and overhead a stuffed crocodile was suspended.
- Atlantis: One of Smith's main cycles of stories is set in Poseidonis, the last isle of foundering Atlantis.
- Better Living Through Evil: The Evil Sorcerer Namirrha's backstory in The Dark Eidolon
- Big Screwed-Up Family: One of Smith's more notable contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos is the idea that the various Eldritch Abomination are all related to each other in some way or another like a classical pantheon, rather than a bunch of random, unrelated extradimensional aliens. For instance, Hastur is supposedly Cthulhu's half-brother. And he's married to Shub Niggurath and therefore, presumably the father of at least some of her enigmatic Thousand Young.
- Body Horror: In "The Seed from the Sepulchre", there is a horrific man-to-plant transformation.
- Body of Bodies: "The Colossus of Ylourgne" features a giant zombie created out of hundreds of corpses by a mad necromancer in the Middle Ages to serve as a sort of undead Humongous Mecha.
- Charm Person: Part of the repertory of every self-respecting evil female caster.
- Even Evil Has Standards: In The Dark Eidolon, the archdemon Thasaidon, Lord of the Seven Hells, refuses to help the sorcerer Namirrha in his plan for vengeance. This may be because all the people who would be killed by the plan are evil, and therefore unwitting servants of Thasaidon.
- Faux Death: Played for horror in The Charnel God and The Second Internment.
- Garden of Evil: In "The Garden of Adompha" The King and his evil sorceror have one such garden walled off in the palace for their own private use, wherein they graft human organs to the plants. Well until the King decides to kill his companion and bury him in the selfsame garden. It doesn't end well..
- Glamour Failure: Caused by the application of holy water in The End of the Story.
- Grim Up North: In The Ice Demon, and more extradimensionally also The Coming of the White Worm and The Light from the Pole.
- Kill 'em All: Repeatedly, to various degrees of scale and completeness.
- Kiss of Death: Most notably the non-vampiric one in The Kiss of Zoraida.
- Lady Land: A surprisingly proto-feminist version in The Root of Ampoi.
- Magic Mirror:
- "The Enchantress of Sylaire". The title character has a mirror that reflects reality as it really is, ignoring all illusions and enchantments.
- "The Colossus of Ylourgne". The magician Gaspard du Nord has a mirror that allows him to see distant scenes and places.
- Mummies at the Dinner Table: In Necromancy in Naat, the hero spends a lot of time talking sweet nothings to his zombified girlfriend who had been turned into an undead servant of the necromancers. The girlfriend actually talks back, to a very limited degree.
- Necromantic: The Last Incantation plays with this: the ancient necromancer thinks the lover he resurrected was brought back wrong somehow, as she's somehow less beautiful than he remembers, but as it turns out, the spell went off without a hitch. He has just grown too old and twisted to love her the way he did when he was young.
- There's also The Chain of Aforgomon. Calaspa could have had his beloved's body reanimated or her spirit called back by magic easily enough...but that wasn't good enough, was it? He just had to actually turn back time for an hour to when she was still alive...yeah. That didn't end so well.
- No Sell: In The Double Shadow, the Cosmic Horror that Avyctes summons passes straight through magical barriers and can't even be perceived by his familiars.
- Satan: In Schizoid Creator, a psychiatrist tries to cure Satan, under the belief that Satan and God are just two sides of a split personality. This theory turns out to be true.
- Solar CPR: In Phoenix, the sun is resurrected with a bomb that ignites the elements.
- Summoning Ritual: Shown onscreen in The Double Shadow. The wizard Avyctes is an expert at summoning every kind of spirit and demon. So when he discovers a summoning spell from a hitherto-unknown precursor race, he casts it the first chance he gets. This despite the fact that the spell (a) doesn't say what it summons, and (b) doesn't come with a matching rite of exorcism to make whatever it summons go away again. It doesn't end well.
- Unwanted Revival: The Empire of the Necromancers gives us the viewpoint of a corpse raised by the necromancers as their slave. It turns out that the dead preferred oblivion.