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The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies (Penguin Classics) Paperback – March 25, 2014
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“[Smith] is a fantasist with a much subtler graph of what gives the genre known as ‘weird fiction’ its own peculiar delights...Smith’s vision echoes through popular culture...‘The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis’ [is] the template for later science fiction horrors such as Alien and The Thing—just as ‘The Dark Eidolon’ itself looks ahead to every evil sorcerer in fantasy novels and films.”
—Peter Bebergal, Times Literary Supplement
"In sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, he is perhaps unexcelled by any other writer, dead or living. Who else has seen such gorgeous, luxurious, and feverishly distorted visions of infinite spheres and lived to tell the tale?"
—H. P. Lovecraft
"Smith is sui generis, one of the most uninfluenced and original writers I know of. A germ from Poe, a little fire from George Sterling, perhaps an acid drop from Bierce, the color and cruelty of Eastern Legends."
"Incredible worlds, impossibly beautiful cities, and still more fantastic creatures. . . Take one step across the threshold of his stories and you plunge into colour, sound, taste, smell and texture: into language."
"It is often impossible to say where man's inspirations come from . . . my impetus remains as bright and compelling as it was the day I removed it from a library shelf . . . and passed—incredibly!—out of that building through a portal to the City where the Singing Flame lived."
About the Author
Clark Ashton Smith (1893–1961) was a poet, an artist, and the author of more than a hundred tales of fantasy and horror. He was a member of the famous “Lovecraft circle” and was a major contributor to Weird Tales, along with Robert E. Howard and Lovecraft himself.
S. T. Joshi is a freelance writer and editor. He has edited several Penguin Classics volumes, including The Call of Cthulhu, The White People and Other Weird Stories, and American Supernatural Tales.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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As a selection, this book is not really the best of CAS's tales in my opinion, but it does contain some of his highlights: Dark Eidolon, Last Incantation, Double Shadow, etc. Penguin collections attempt to give an author's "range" rather than the absolute best stories of a given author. This selection leaves out some of CAS's best stories, such as Necromancy in Naat in favor of some run of the mill horror tales that Stephen King or someone would have done better. The best of CAS is probably in the Zothique cycle, but he is always superior in fantasy than stock horror such Devotee of Evil. On the other hand, this collection does contain City of Singing Flame, a favorite of Harlan Ellison, but sort of an oddball that doesn't fit in to many of the other CAS collections.
The book contains a helping of CAS's poetry. CAS, like Poe before him, considered himself a poet before a writer, but I find his poetry macabre and bereft of much poetic sentiment. In some cases, like the Last Incantation, his prose stories have more poetic sentiment than his verse. Still, we must thank Joshi for making a large sampling of CAS's poetry available to us at a very reasonable price. Almost any printing of CAS's work tends to go up in value after it goes out of print, so buy with confidence!
Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) was a poet, short story writer, sculptor, and painter. He is primarily remembered today as a friend and colleague of H.P. Lovecraft (of Cthulhu Mythos fame) and Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan), but, although his writing resembles that of both men, he was most assuredly his own man, both as a writer and an individual. Primarily a poet, Smith took to writing fiction, in part to earn income to support his ailing parents. Writing mostly in a genre that would now probably be described as dark fantasy fiction, his work was perhaps more aptly referred to by the great speculative fiction writer Fritz Leiber as simply sui generis.
On to the book itself. This volume is divided into five sections: a mid-length (15-20 page) introduction by editor S.T. Joshi, a lengthy section (about 250 pages, comprising the majority of the book) of short stories, a brief section (about 20 pages) of prose poetry, a longer section (about 60 pages) of non-prose poetry, and about 30 pages of explanatory notes. The short story selection is excellent, and probably does as good of a job is as possible in a relatively constrained space to demonstrate to the Smith neophyte the range of the author's fiction. The prose poetry is, for lack of a better word, delightful; Joshi has referred to Smith as the finest prose poet in the English language, and, after reading the selections included here, I think the reader will find it very hard to argue the point. I found the non-prose poems to be slightly more problematic, as Smith's (in)famous fondness for recondite words is more readily on display here than elsewhere; nevertheless, there is much to admire here, and a work like his long poem "The Hashish-Eater" probably surpasses anything I have ever read in terms of sheer phantasmagoric imagination. Finally, the footnotes, as they always are in Joshi-edited works, are excellent.
Should you purchase this? If you are a fan of writers like Dunsany, Lovecraft, Howard, and Tolkien, the answer is a resounding "yes". Smith is most certainly not to all tastes, but if you enjoy his work, you will almost certainly be an admirer of his for life.
He along with Lovecraft, Loveman, Kuttner and Howard, among others would get together and test their stories. Though for Howard he could only do it by mail since he lived in Texas. They would bounce ideas off of each other and some would write prodigious letters including poems and artwork.
CAS gives a different flavor in his writings from Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard so that the ready can get different literary taste testing as they explore new lands.