Oh the horror! (of Clark Ashton Smith)

A small but faithful remnant of the Beamers met on Friday, February 22, for our rescheduled (due to snow) discussion of Clark Ashton Smith’s collection of short stories, The Return of the Sorcerer.
oh the horror Clark Ashton Smith was a
poet, artist and author of fantasy, horror and science fiction stories.  He was a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft and, along with him and Robert Howard, was known for his stories written for Weird Tales magazine.  He wrote his fiction mainly in the 1930s, ending in 1937.
There was general agreement that the stories in
this collection were mostly horror or horroresque (not really a  word but it works for me!)

We spent some time going over several of the stories that we had all read and came to the same conclusion almost every time although there were a few exceptions:
Someone works with magic/sorcery/otherworldly powers, something goes wrong, terrible things befall them, and finally someone dies or is otherwise horribly punished.

Nick commented that it seemed that in the majority of stories he read
that the sorcerer/magician/etc. wound up getting their comeuppance
for pushing the boundaries of their craft. See “Return of the
Sorcerer”, “The Double Shadow” and “The Empire of the Necromancers”
as examples of this.

We also discussed whether there were any with happy or at least not-so-horrible endings.  We concluded that “The Holiness of Azedarac” and “The Enchantress of Sylaire” came closet to that kind of ending.

We all agreed that reading these stories in a relatively short time frame as we did
made them more difficult to enjoy.  Alan suggested that perhaps they would be better
appreciated when read at the rate of one a month as they would have been in Weird Tales, which we agreed with.  That said, we did agree with Jon’s comment that if you don’t like a short story it is soon over.

Unfortunately though in this book the next story was most likely to be more of the same.  Alan, who has read other stories by Smith several years ago and had enjoyed them, was disappointed in this collection.  I really do not like horror of any kind, and while I did make it to the end of the book, it was with great difficulty, and I found myself commenting on most of the stories with “Didn’t like”, “Torture”, or “Horror!”.

The book received 2 5’s, a 4, and an 8.  Nick was its biggest fan and gave it an 8, stating that if he was looking to read this kind of story, he would certainly pick up something by Smith.  Fellow Beamers, I direct you to the e-mail reviews of Jon and Eugene and the subsequent comments for additional thoughts.

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5 Comments

  1. If the stock market hadn’t crashed in 1929, it’s likely that Ashton Smith never would have had a writing career. I wonder whether we can point to anyone who became a “writer” due to the financial crisis of 2008?

    • Eugene R.

      Clark Ashton Smith did publish poetry before the Great Depression, but he was definitely spurred into prose by the crash. As a consequence, though, I do not think that he took his prose too seriously, giving it a more humorous (not to say flippant) tone than his “partners” Lovecraft and Howard, which may explain his lack of devoted following akin to theirs.

      • The explanation for his relative lack of popularity seems weird –ahem– to me, as so much of today’s horror and fantasy is laced with humor.

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