Clark Ashton Smith was an painter, poet, sculpture and writer born in 1893 in California. He had several horror, fantasy and science fiction stories published in Weird Tales and other pulp magazines of the time. This led to his developing a thriving correspondence with both H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. I particularly love Smith’s fantasy tales set in his created realms, Averoigne and Zothique. I previously wrote about his novella “The Colossus of Ylourgne” ( https://horrordelve.com/2016/02/03/the-colossus-of-ylourgne-by-clark-ashton-smith/ ),which I sought out due to its association with my all time favorite Dungeons and Dragons pregenerated module Castle Amber, which drew inspiration from Smith’s Averoigne stories. Below is a look at several of Smith’s wonderfully evocative tales.
1. “The Abominations of Yondo” (1926) – A man is banished to the dreaded desert of Yondo where hellish creatures and phantoms dwell. The surreal descriptions of these hideous monstrosities of Yondo are phenomenal.
2. “The Ninth Skeleton” (1928) – A man traveling across a familiar rocky moraine to meet his girlfriend finds the landscape suddenly transformed into an eerie, ancient graveyard inhabited by a group of wandering skeletons.
3. “The Uncharted Isle” (1930) – The lone survivor of an abandoned ship washes ashore upon a remote island that shouldn’t exist. Its foliage is alien and everything is oddly silent. Upon exploring, he encounters a village of people whose appearance and language he doesn’t recognize. They seem mystified by the strange island and the peculiar formation of constellations overhead. No matter what he does, none of the villagers seem to realize that the narrator of the stories is living among them.
4. “The Last Incantation” (1930) – Reflecting sorrowfully on the passage of his extensive life, a powerful wizard casts a spell allowing him to see his long dead lover as she was during her youth once again.
5. “The End of the Story” (1930) – After a sudden rainstorm forces a law student to seek shelter in a nearby monastery, he’s quickly befriended by an abbot who offers the use of his impressive library. As both are bibliophiles, the abbot shares a secret book he’s attained. It’s of a dark nature and filled with tales of satyrs and succubi. He warns the student that it’s evil and shouldn’t be read, but this only incites his interest more. When the student later gets the chance to read it while the abbot is busy elsewhere, he becomes further obsessed with it, as well as the desolate ruins of a nearby chateau which is rumored to be an evil place.
6. “A Rendezvous in Averoigne” (1931) – While a troubadour (composer and performer of Old Occitan lyric poetry) is traveling through a forest in Averoigne to meet with his secret love, he hears a woman’s cry for help. He runs toward it to find a pale beautiful lady being attacked by a group of ruffians. When he plunges in to try and assist her, all of them instantly vanish. He then finds himself lost in the forest, unable to escape and suddenly a dire looking castle has appeared. When he discovers he’s unable to go anywhere else, he enters the castle where he’s invited to a strange feast. Both the pale woman and her equally pale husband sit at the head of the table. The troubadour’s girlfriend and her two servants are in attendance as well in obvious fear at their present situation.
7. “The Satyr” (1931) – In Averoigne a married woman walks through a lush forest with a handsome young poet while her husband is away. Along the way an evil, horned face appears amidst the foliage, unleashing their inhibitions.
8. “The Return of the Sorcerer” (1931) – Set in 1930’s Oakland, California, a man is asked to translate the Arabic version of the Necronomicon for a person who’s being pursued by something terrible from his past. This was adapted into a great episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery featuring Vincent Price.
9. “The Necromantic Tale” (1931) – An Australian man named Roderick suddenly inherits an estate and title in England following the sudden death of multiple family memebers over the course of a year. After he moves there, he begins to wonder why the previous Sir Roderick seems to have been largely stricken from the family records. Investigating this leads to the discovery of a secret panel holding a necromantic tome which tells of his ancestor’s dark history. The act of merely reading the book begins to have a dangerous effect on the new lord of the manor.
10. “A Night in Malneant” (1933) – Remorse over the suicide of a woman he’d loved and mistreated named Mariel drives the narrorator to become a wanderer, constantly seeking to do nothing but drink wine and forget. One day he enters the dreary town of Malneant. There he travels its fog shrouded, labyrinthine streets of tall, ancient houses but finds all the inns full of people preparing for the funeral of someone named Lady Mariel. The few people he encounters on the streets are veil or coffin makers who are too busy making preparations to answer his questions. Eventually, he finds himself at the large church whose bells have been chiming the whole time for the funeral within. This is an excellent, weird tale leaden with the somber theme of inescapable regret.
11. “The Beast of Averoigne” (1933) – An astrologer/sorcerer is asked to deal with a mysterious creature that’s been terrorizing a monastery ever since a strange comet passed across the sky.
12. “Ubbo Sathla” (1933) – A man buys an extraordinary crystal from a curio shop that, when he stares into it, causes him to psychically travel back through time to the unsavory mystic who owned it in ancient times. Ubbo Sathla refers to a primal, prehistoric god that existed at the beginning of time.
13. “Dark Eidolon” (1935) – After surviving being trampled by a malicious young prince named Zotulla, the beggar Narthose aprentices under a great mage where he grows in power. After he makes himself the most dreadful necromancer in the land, he changes his name to Namirrah and uses his hideous might to have devils erect a nightmarish palace for him directly outside of Zotulla’s royal residence overnight. He then plagues Zotulla, who’s become emperor of Ummaos, and his people with giant skeletons and invisible stomping demons before ultimately sending forth the mummified remains of deceased former rulers of the land to invite Zotulla and his people into Namiarrah’s dark palace. With no other option but to accept, they are waited upon by the undead corpses of rulers and family members as they endure a hellish feast of twisted terrors. The horrors unleashed by the necromancer Namirrah are superb nightmare fuel.
Article by Matt Cowan