the Little Red Reviewer

The End of the Story, by Clark Ashton Smith

Posted on: January 19, 2016

end of the storyThe End of the Story, the Collected Fantasies Vol 1, by Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger

This collection published Sept 2015

Where I got it:  rec’d ARC from the publisher (Thanks Nightshade!)

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Last summer, I received an advanced reading copy of the new The End of the Story: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, vol 1, from Nightshade Books.  It’s funny, because these are short stories from the 1930s, yet this is a new printing, with a new introduction, new cover art, etc. It’s lucky this book arrived, as I’ve always heard the name Clark Ashton Smith, but never came across any of his work.

 

Skimming through the introduction and the table of contents, I quickly learned two things – Clark Ashton Smith is known for cosmic horror and weird fiction, writing in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft; and that most of these stories were blessedly short. Don’t get me wrong, I like a meaty short story, but sometimes a super quick 5 page story, one that’s practically flash fiction, is exactly what fits the bill.  These were short stories I could read half a dozen of before bed, or read one while cooking dinner in between steps of stirring occasionally, and seasoning to taste.

 

It’s funny reading stories that were written so long ago, and most of these were written between 1925 and 1935.  Just think, in ten years, these stories will be a hundred years old. So, are they dated? Oh completely. But what’s most fascinating to me, is things that readers would have been horrified at (vampires, waking nightmares, succubi, etc) in the late 1920s, most readers today are completely used to.   Do you remember the skinny “Scary Stories to Read in the Dark” books that were popular with the 3rd to 6th grade crowd in the 80s?  Ghost stories,  stories about people’s heads falling off, all rated G, but totally creepy to any nine year old?  This is not an insult, but many of the Clark Ashton Smith stories felt quite a bit like those.  His literary style is a nicer kind of horror in a way – nothing gruesome, nothing squicky.  Many of his “big reveals” are fairly cheesy by today’s standards, such as the man’s visions were all a dream, or the old person relating the scary story disappeared into thin air, and such.  I’d happily give this collection to any ten year old, and not only would it scare the pants off them (in a fun way, I swear!), but they’d learn all sorts of fun new words, like asphodels, psammite, innominable, obloquy, invultuations, and dilatoriness.

 

So, the stories are dated, the big reveals aren’t at all shocking, but the prose is illuminating, and poetic. Here’s a sample, from the beginning of “The Planet of the Dead”:

“For Melchior was one of those who are born with an immedicable distaste for all that is present or near at hand; one of those who have drunk too lightly of oblivion and have not wholly forgotten the transcendent glories of other aeons, and the worlds from they were exiled into human birth; so that their furtive, restless thoughts and dim, unquenchable longings return obscurely towards the vanishing shores of a lost heritage.  The earth is too narrow for such, and the compass of mortal time is too brief; and paucity and barrenness are everywhere; and in all places their lot is a never-ending weariness.”

 

Smith was the type of author who, when given constructive feedback or requests from a magazine editor, would change his stories to better match what the editor was looking for. If an editor said “our readers loved this particular story! Give me more like it!”, Smith would, and as such, many of his stories have pretty similar plots. It worked, because he was published more than 50 times in Weird Tales between 1930 and 1935. For example, I kept running into the same plot, where someone would have a what these days would be called portal adventure, they’d witness something indescribable and often impossible, and then return to where they came from, knowing that no one could possible believe their story. This type of plot line can be found in “The Ninth Skeleton”,  “The Uncharted Isle”, “The Necromantic Tale”, and others.  Are they still fun to read? Of course they are. But reading them back to back the similarities are impossible to miss.

 

Some of my favorites in this collection were the famous “The Abominations of Yondo”, prisoner has been released from his prison, but released into Yondo, a land of horrid and hungry creatures and has to try to survive; the titular “The End of the Story” in which the protagonist learns of a forbidden manuscript at a monestary and becomes obsessed with it (Are the Abbott and demon in league with each other? I think they are!); “The Last Incantation” in which a necromancer attempts to bring back to live his lost love, only to learn a tragic lesson; and “The Immeasurable Horror”, which is a fun one because it takes place during a trip to Venus in 1979, and Venus is described as a jungle planet.

 

As many of his characters have a portal adventure of sorts, this collection of short stories serves the same purpose for the reader.  Everytime you open the book, you’ll go back in time to the 1930s, to see what was shocking and horrifying to readers of Weird Tales. Closed the pages to return to yourself and to your own time.

2 Responses to "The End of the Story, by Clark Ashton Smith"

I love the old-fashioned poetic quality of that excerpt — would totally read this just to sink into that! And there’s something comforting in reading something “scary” but not really *that* scary — reminds me of childhood stories we used to tell in the dark!

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‘Everytime you open the book, you’ll go back in time to the 1930s, to see what was shocking and horrifying to readers of Weird Tales’ – I love that!😀

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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