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An artist, poet, and prolific contributor to Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith (1893–1967) is an influential figure in the history of pulp fiction. A close correspondent and collaborator with H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Smith was widely celebrated as a master by his contemporaries. Back in print for the first time since 1971, Out of Space and Time showcases the many facets of Smith's unique prose that make him one of the greatest ...
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An artist, poet, and prolific contributor to Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith (1893–1967) is an influential figure in the history of pulp fiction. A close correspondent and collaborator with H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Smith was widely celebrated as a master by his contemporaries. Back in print for the first time since 1971, Out of Space and Time showcases the many facets of Smith's unique prose that make him one of the greatest American writers of macabre and fantastic tales.
Here are tales of Averoigne, tales belonging to the Cthulhu, stories of sheer horror, and one or two of sardonic comedy. Jeff VanderMeer provides an introduction for this Bison Books edition.
All right reserved.
When Clark Ashton Smith was twenty, Marcel Proust published
Swann's Way and D. H. Lawrence published Sons and
Lovers. By the time Smith was twenty-five, James Joyce had
written Dubliners, Virginia Woolf had written The Voyage Out,
and Oswald Spengler had completed The Decline of the West.
Throughout his thirties and forties, Smith could have encountered
new works by Pirandello, Eliot, Mansfield, Hemingway, Kafka,
Breton, Faulkner, and even Nabokov. He would have had the
opportunity to read all of the twentieth century's modernists and
the godfathers of postmodernism.
However, it doesn't appear that any of these writers, with
the possible exception of Kafka, had any influence on Smith's
own work. He focused instead on French Symbolists, already
well in decline by the time Smith became an adult-although
it is probably more honest to say that he focused on the French
Decadents as well. (Many of the "Symbolists" were identified as
"Decadents" before academia legitimized them.)
This identification with a literary group that influenced other
important writers but that largely did not reflect the mainstream
of American literature is one reason why Smith remainedobscure
during his lifetime. Another, of course, was his love of pulp
fiction, in the form of H. P. Lovecraft's work, among others. Is it
any surprise that aligning himself with two "outsider" groups led
to his own obscurity? Smith's reputation may also have improved
had he written novels rather than poetry and short stories, since
it seems to be an unspoken rule of writing careers that novels
usually lead to greater recognition.
We can find evidence of Smith's dual highbrow-lowbrow
sensibility in his personal life as well. As August Derleth and
Donald Wandrei pointed out in the original introduction to Out
of Space and Time, Smith was
the descendent of Norman-French counts and barons, of
Lancashire baronets and Crusaders. One of his Ashton forebears
was beheaded for his part in the famed Gunpowder Plot. His
mother's family, the Gaylords, came to New England in 1630-Huguenot
Gaillards who fled persecution in France after the
revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Smith's father, Timeus Smith,
was a world-traveler in his early years, but settled at last in Auburn,
where he died less than a decade ago.
But Smith's experiences as a "journalist, a fruit picker and
packer, a woodchopper, a typist, a cement-mixer, a gardener,
a hard-rock miner, mucker, and windlasser" can hardly be
called aristocratic. Just because he used a diverse, archaic, and
formidable vocabulary does not mean readers should assume
that Smith was an erudite man of letters. It is precisely his
overreaching for literary authenticity in some of his stories that
shows us he was not.
And it is in a proletarian, pulp mode that Smith has been
rescued from complete obscurity-through genre publications
and publishers. This detail of his resurrection initially resulted
in his work being discussed in terms of other pulp writers or
with vague generalizations and nods to the Symbolists (who
perhaps more specifically influenced his poetry). The pulp-genre
comparison seems valid in terms of the purported "purple"
quality of Smith's prose. At first glance, and sometimes second,
Smith's writing does seem overwrought. It's easy to dismiss it
as amateurish, in much the same way as others have dismissed
Lovecraft's writing. I don't believe that this conclusion is false so
much as incomplete.
Smith's prose is not always lush-it tends to become lush as he
adds more and more descriptive passages to a particular story.
In scenes dominated by dialog, however, the lushness recedes
into the background, and the action tends to be better paced as a
result. This is not always a good thing, given that we read Smith's
prose precisely for a certain amount of escapism, for those flights
of fancy that some critics condemn. (Is it odd to suggest that the
French seem to like Smith because in translation a translator can
flense those flights that are just a bit too fanciful?)
Excerpted from Out of Space and Time
by Clark Ashton Smith
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press .
Excerpted by permission.
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