My first encounter with REH

I see where in honor of Bob’s birthday people are relating their first encounter with his work. My story is, I think, unique; at least, I’ve never heard a similar one.

I was 14 and had read every Edgar Rice Burroughs story to be found, and a lot of Andre Norton as well. I went to the downtown Sears by bus, to check out their mezzanine bookstore which was the only place I knew that had those Ace paperbacks with the cool Krenkel and Frazetta covers. And my eye was caught by a crudely painted cover with a gory scene of an ape with its arm hacked off and a near-naked hairy guy who was apparently doing the hacking. Apparently Lancer had put out a new printing of the Conan series, but other people had already bought all the Frazetta ones. No matter; this, and the other Duillo-covered one, Conan the Wanderer, looked interesting enough to pick up and take home.

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Jackson Kuhl and “The Obscurity of Clark Ashton Smith”

The 117th anniversary of Clark Ashton Smith’s birth last week was marked by The Cimmerian (here, here, and here), Grognardia, Black Gate, and others with accolades and remembrances. As well it should. Smith, along with Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, formed the weird fiction triptych of the 1920s and ’30s — and in my opinion, he was the most talented member of a talented group. Yet a recurring question in many of these memorials is why Smith remains uncelebrated in comparison to his partners. This is especially vexing when you consider he outlived the other two by almost a quarter-century.

Blogger Jackson Kuhl (a personage not unknown to long-time TC readers) wrote the above in an entry he posted on Robert E. Howard’s birthday, ironically enough. Kuhl’s article, entitled “The Obscurity of Clark Ashton Smith,” answers the “vexing question” of CAS’ lack of literary prominence by pointing the finger directly at those who control Smith’s estate. Kuhl relates his (ultimately futile) struggles to publish an omnibus gathering together all of the Averoigne stories (a collection yours truly has been waiting for these past two decades). It is a disheartening tale, but one that should be read by every fan of the Bard of Auburn.

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Singer of Souls

Recently read Adam Stemple’s Singer of Souls, a 2005 urban fantasy that is pretty impressive for a first novel.  The protagonist is Doug, a street musician and junkie who is trying to quit his habit. He decides to go away to Scotland and stay with his Gran, who warily takes him in. Things seem to be going well until he meets a strange, beautiful woman who gives him the ability to see fairies, bogies, goblins and many more, who come to Edinburg every year for a trade fair. This is a pause in their usual state of war in their own world, when hostilities are suspended for a time.  But humans, especially humans who can see them, are always fair game. She gives him the Sight as part of a plan, but her schemes go awry at the end. The bantering, light tone of the first-person narration masks the fact that this is really a pretty dark fantasy, on the order of Adam Corby, Matthew Stover or some of KEW’s tales. I think most Howard fans would like it, even if it does have elves. They’re not nice elves. It also sports a nice Charles Vess cover, which complements the novel well.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Merritt

Way too many cool authors were born in January. In fact, there are so many it’s hard to keep track at times (my abject apologies to the shade of Jack London). I would advise any prospective parents wanting to produce an author-child of exceptional talents to strive mightily in the months of April and May.

Luckily for The Cimmerian, James Maliszewski reminded us all that today is the birthday of Abraham Merritt. Using his Grognardia blog as a bully pulpit, Maliszewski once again preached the gospel of A. Merritt.

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The Ship of Ishtar: A Trifecta of Reviews

Last Tuesday, Ryan Harvey, one of Black Gate’s elite crew of bloggers, reviewed the new editi0n of A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar recently published by Paizo. Saturday night, Morgan Holmes posted his own take on the Paizo edition over at the REHupa blog. Today, James Maliszewski, warlord of Grognardia, weighed in on Merritt’s classic novel as well. Obviously, this phenomenon had reached some sort of critical mass and warranted a look by yours truly.

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Klarkash-Ton and Castle Amber

The Cimmerian was not the only venue celebrating the nativity of  Clark Ashton Smith this thirteenth of January just past. Cool websites such as Grognardia and Cinerati marked the occasion as well. Their tributes differed somewhat from those proffered here in that they noted the influence of Clark Ashton Smith upon the history of fantasy role-playing games. Specifically, they both cited Tom Moldvay’s Castle Amber gaming module as being what led them to Klarkash-Ton.

What is particularly striking about both tributes is that Castle Amber remains the one, single, solitary example of an RPG product that either blogger concerned (or myself) knows about which was largely based upon the works of CAS. Yet, that module appears to have exerted an outsized influence over the years.

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A Valentine From Hell

A while back I read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. Joe is an important new voice in horror, having won a Bram Stoker award for his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts. This is his first novel, and it is a doozy. The villain is a former CIA interrogator who learned hypnosis and mind control tricks while in Vietnam, and now that he’s dead, he can really get into your head. The action is fast-paced and never lets up, and Slasher fans will appreciate the role the protagonist’s dogs play in this story. If it reads a bit like Stephen King, that is natural, as Joe is Stephen King’s son, and grew up listening to his father’s stories.
See review here.

Saluting the Sorcerer

EDITOR’S NOTE: First published in 1963, “The Sorcerer Departs” was Donald Sidney-Fryer’s magisterial bio-critical essay on the work of poet and fictioneer Clark Ashton Smith. Almost a half-century on, it remains the best. The full 17,000-word version, accompanied by new editorial matter, is currently available in a handsome booklet from Silver Key Press.

On the occasion of the Bard of Auburn’s 117th birthday, and with the permission of Sidney-Fryer himself, The Cimmerian hereby presents a vastly truncated version of that essay to its readers, which we have titled “Saluting the Sorcerer.” It is our hope that the piece stimulates you to seek out Smith’s work — most of which is widely available in various in-print and out-of-print editions — as well as begin to delve into the prodigious poetry and critical writings of Donald Sidney-Fryer.


By Donald Sidney-Fryer

I pass. . . but in this lone and crumbling tower,
Builded against the burrowing seas of chaos,
My volumes and my philtres shall abide:
Poisons more dear than any mithridate,
And spells far sweeter than the speech of love….
Half-shapen dooms shall slumber in my vaults
And in my volume cryptic runes that shall
Outblast the pestilence, outgnaw the worm
When loosed by alien wizards in strange years
Under the blackened moon and paling sun.

In an age dominated by those whom George Sterling once derided as “the brave hunters of fly-specks on Art’s cathedral windows,” the poet Clark Ashton Smith (1893–1961) is sui generis. His Art embodies the thesis put forth by Arthur Machen in his study Hieroglyphics (1902) that “great writing is the result of an ecstatic experience akin to divine revelation.” The first major poet in English to be influenced by Poe, Smith certainly does not belong to any Weird Tales “school” — nor yet does he belong to any Gothic or neo-Gothic tradition except that of his own synthesis and creation. In the words of his own epigram: “The true poet is not created by an epoch; he creates his own epoch.”

Smith was born of Yankee and English parentage on January 13th, 1893, in Long Valley, California, about six miles south of Auburn. In 1902 his parents, Fanny and Timeus Smith, moved to Boulder Ridge, where father and nine-year-old son built a cabin and dug a well. Here Smith lived almost continuously until 1954, and one can easily imagine the effect that the surrounding countryside had on the sensitive and imaginative boy. It was a veritable gar­den of fruit trees, evergreens and park-like areas located on the rolling foot­hills of the Sierras, while arching overhead the nocturnal immensitudes of the heavens were rendered remarkably clear in the clean, smog-free country air.

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The Sword-and-Sorcery Legacy of Clark Ashton Smith

Clark Ashton Smith gets credit for a lot of things, at least by those who are aware of his work. He was arguably the first poet to versify from a truly cosmic viewpoint when he wrote his legendary “The Hashish-Eater.” His poetry and prose, as well as his inimitable drawings, paintings and sculptures, captured the attention and respect of H.P. Lovecraft, who name-checked CAS in his own tales more than any writer, even Dunsany. Smith was a highly valued correspondent of Robert E. Howard. Clark Ashton Smith was admired by (and sometimes mentored) younger authors such as Bradbury, C.L. Moore and Leiber. His tales of Zothique were patent inspirations for later works by Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe.

One thing that Clark Ashton Smith decidedly does not receive much credit for is being one of the founding fathers of the heroic fantasy genre. On this, his one hundred and seventeenth birthday, I’d like to give him his due.

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John Carter of Mars Is Coming to the Silver Screen

[redacted]’s impassioned post regarding Almuric got me to thinking about that novel’s primary inspiration and the fact that The Cimmerian has yet to even mention the forthcoming screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel, A Princess of Mars.

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