Toward my seasonal Hallowe’en reading this year, I decided I’d dive back into the eldritch oeuvre of Clark Ashton Smith — it has been far too long since I did any kind of major rereading, though of course I have read his story cycles more than once over the decades.
One of my favorite authors forty years ago, still a fave today.
Plus I have a practical reason for the refresher course: I can use my expertise in Klarkash-Ton Studies as a backstop for John D. Haefele as he works on his next book, Lovecraft: The Great Tales. Some months ago we were chatting and “Out of the Aeons,” a story ghost-written by Lovecraft, came up. I’d just reread that one, and said, yeah, that’s Lovecraft doing his version of one of Smith’s tales of prehistoric Hyperborea — with another nod to Smith in the hapless thief invading a place he really should have steered clear of. . . . So many thieves scaling towers or towering mountains in Clark Ashton Smith, so many. And if you read “Aeons,” you can see Lovecraft paying homage to that action.
Haefele mentioned that many of the so-called major Lovecraft critics don’t know how to deal with Smith’s Hyperborean cycle, which obviously becomes a key component of the Cthulhu Mythos — but they don’t want to include it in the Mythos! Too much work, I guess.
Yet Lovecraft instantly adopted Smith’s funky little demon-god Tsathoggua into his pantheon, and that circle of writers traded influences back and forth constantly, played with each other. (Lovecraft snuck “Out of the Aeons” into print without giving Smith any warning, and when Smith asked if he’d had a hand in the story, Lovecraft replied that “I should say I did have a hand in it . . . I wrote the damn thing!” To amuse and delight one another, that was part of the fun — and what led quickly to the shared-world Cthulhu Mythos.)
So, at the least I figured I’d look over the Hyperborea tales again, and some others of my favorites. And as I read through “The Testament of Athammaus,” about a headsman trying to execute a bandit with some Tsathoggua blood on his mother’s side, I pointed out to Haefele that it shows heavy influence from Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” — in the third return of the beheaded bandito the “cephaloid appendage” came back on the chest, and “one eye had slipped away from all relation with its fellow or the head and was now occupying the navel, . . . arms had lengthened into tentacles, with fingers that were like knots of writhing vipers” and so forth. Obviously riffing on the large tentacled giant-face-on-the-back Dunwich Horror itself, in what Smith decided was his “best monster to date.”
And the way the Tsathoggua spawn climbs atop the execution block and grows, and grows, reminded me of the similar monster that appears atop the menhir in Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone”. . . .
Made me ponder. “Dunwich Horror” saw print in Weird Tales for April 1929 (but was written in 1928). “Black Stone” in WT for November 1931, but Haefele tells me HPL and REH were talking about subjects that might have inspired the monster in 1930. Apparently CAS thought of the plot of “Athammaus” in 1930 and after he finally wrote it up it hit print in WT for October 1932.
I’ll be curious to see how Haefele fits all these parts and influences together, as CAS nudges HPL’s imagination and HPL inspires CAS, with REH also in the thick of the initial Mythos tales.
And meantime, I get the deep pleasure of revisiting Klarkash-Ton, and at the right time of year.