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by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger

Withith the completion of The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, all of Clark Ashton Smith’s mature stories in the genre have been brought back into print. There remains a sizeable body of work, mostly juvenile stories (some of which were published professionally) and a number of experiments in ironic writing that he made in the early twenties, and again in the early 1930s. Many readers have requested these works, which can not even be called journeyman’s pieces, so we bring them together here, where they are presented as not being more than what they are, the lesser works of a major fantasist, along with a few treats for the hardcore casophile.

Clark Ashton Smith was a lonely and precocious child who found comfort in books, and by the age of eleven he was writing fairy tales based upon those of Hans Christian Andersen and the Countess D’Aulnoy. The vistas of his writing were widened to encompass the Arabian Nights, William Beckford’s gothic phantasmagoria Vathek (one of whose uncompleted episodes he would later complete in an early exercise in “posthumous collaboration”), and Rudyard Kipling’s tales set in British colonial India. Stories told by his father, Timeus Ashton-Smith, who had traveled extensively in Asia and South America before settling in California, undoubtedly contributed to the young Smith’s developing imagination. Curiously, although the discovery of the works of Edgar Allan Poe at the age of thirteen seemed “to have confirmed me in a more or less permanent slant” toward the weird and decadent, Smith’s earliest stories fail to reveal much overt influence. Poe cast a more subtle, and profound, shadow on the fledgling writer in an unpublished document from this period, “Story-Writing”:

The first thing essential to a good short-story is clear and logical construction. Every incident should be in its place, and should tend to the climax. No incident or person unneccesary [sic] to the plot must be included. A good plot poorly developed or illy-constructed [sic] is inferior to a poor or commonplace plot well developed and constructed.

Clearness and terseness of style is the second requisite. Express your thoughts as clearly as possible and as tersely as is compatible with clearness—omit every unessential word, phrase, or sentence. The shorter the story the better—but nothing neccessary [sic] must be left out. The idea is to tell the tale in the fewest words possible without sacrificing clearness and force, or omitting any essential detail. Avoid all padding. Repetition of ideas in the same words is unbearable. A thorough knowledge of synonyms is invaluable to the story-writer.

Most stories are spoiled by lack of finish. A commonplace idea when well told is more acceptable than a brilliant thought poorly expressed.

Always revise your stories. Close and vigorous scrutiny will often reveal some hitherto unobserved crudity, and a crudity, no matter how small, spoils the story. All errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation must be corrected, for tho [sic] the tale is otherwise good, an editor has no time to correct such mistakes—and punctuation will save you many postage stamps. It is desirable that you should have some talent to begin with but talent without perseverance is of little use. Success in literature, as in other things, is largely a matter of hard work.1

Several points are apparent in this document. First, Smith had grasped the principle of “unity of effect” outlined by Poe in “The Philosophy of Composition.” Second, even at this early age he had a sense for the nuances of language. He had by this time read Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, making a thorough study of both the meanings and etymologies of its contents and would develop a knack for distinguishing the subtle variations between words of nearly (but not quite!) identical meaning. Third, the technique of composition which Sidney-Fryer describes in Emperor of Dreams2 and elsewhere, involving several re-writings and revisions, complete with reading aloud on strolls with a sense as to the musicality of the prose, originated early in Smith’s career. This is an altogether remarkable and not unsophisticated aesthetic theory for one not yet past the middle of his teenage years.

When dealing with the juvenilia of any given author, many factors are involved in the decision regarding whether or not to publish this material, assuming that the author is deceased or otherwise unable to grant his or her permission. The author’s wishes, insofar as they can be discerned, must still be considered, along with the actual literary quality of this material, the author’s reputation and popularity, what the writings contribute to our understanding of the author’s life and work, and the amount of such material already available to interested readers.

In the specific case of Clark Ashton Smith, we can surmise something of his intent regarding his juvenilia even though he left no direct instructions regarding it. The very fact that Smith saved his juvenilia for some fifty years before distributing it among his friends and family during his last years tells us that he obviously did not want it destroyed, and believed (or hoped) that his first literary endeavors would be of interest to someone, someday. This is in contrast to the destruction of much of his writings between the publication of his first two collections of poetry, The Star-Treader and Other Poems and Odes and Sonnets, in 1912 and 1918, respectively.

In recent years much of Smith’s juvenile writing has seen publication, beginning with The Black Diamonds, a long (over 90,000 words) and involved adventure story written before his fifteenth year, followed by another shorter novel, The Sword of Zagan, written a few years later. In addition to these substantial works, a number of short stories have also been published, but more remain unpublished among the Smith Papers deposited at the John Hay Library of Brown University, where they may be found alongside the manuscripts of Smith’s great friend H. P. Lovecraft. One story which has not previously been collected is a brief vignette entitled “Prince Alcouz and the Magician,” which was first published as a chapbook thirteen years after his death. (An earlier draft, “Prince Alcorez and the Magician,” was among the papers that Smith gave to a young friend, William C. Farmer, who published it along with The Sword of Zagan and other early works in 2004.) While not much more than a vignette, this brief story displays one of Smith’s principal themes, irony, in a manner that he would display to greater advantage in such stories as “The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan,” while also displaying a contempt for self-important autocrats that would come to fruition in such stories as “The Seven Geases” and “The Voyage of King Euvoran.”

Also published in The Sword of Zagan was an untitled fragment which concerned a stolen sapphire and a lost turban. While researching the index of the Clark Ashton Smith Papers at Brown University, it became apparent that a two page fragment titled “The Red Turban” might well be the lost beginning to this untitled piece. A subsequent examination of the pages in question confirmed that the two fragments fit together seamlessly, and detail the investigation by the chief of police in Delhi into the theft of a large and valuable sapphire. This hand-written piece is apparently influenced by the Indian tales of Rudyard Kipling, and closely resembles “The Bronze Image” in style and format. Written over one hundred years ago and separated shortly before Smith’s death in 1961, we proudly include this recently re-assembled tale as yet another example of the hard-working young Clark Ashton Smith.

And what of the quality of CAS’ juvenilia? If “The Animated Sword” (which dates from around 1905–06 when Smith was twelve or thirteen) is any indication it is obvious that the young Smith was light-years ahead of even the most precocious of his peers. Smith exhibits a natural talent for story telling even in his earliest works, a talent that he developed constantly throughout his lifetime. We are pleased to present this gem to Smith’s readers as a harbinger of future glories.

Smith’s first known appearance in print was with a poem, “The Sierras,” in the September 1910 issue of Munsey’s. The next month saw the appearance of his first published short story, “The Malay Krise,” in The Overland Monthly, a prominent West Coast magazine founded by Bret Harte. This is a reworking of a story called “The Afghan Knife” that may be found in a notebook bearing the title of Tales of India.

The November 1910 issue of the same magazine contained a second story, “The Ghost of Mohammed Din,” which is notable for being his first published story with a supernatural theme. As is evident from the title, the most apparent influence is that of Kipling, with perhaps some of Robert Louis Stevenson, but these stories also reveal a taste for exoticism and irony, as well as a surprising competence for plot. Some critics would charge that in his later stories Smith failed to handle plot well. If we follow the definition of Smith’s friend E. Hoffmann Price, that a story is a narrative in which something happens, then these early stories demonstrate Smith’s mastery of this aspect of the short story at a very early stage of his career. What these critics fail to grasp is that as Smith’s aesthetic evolved, he would advance the story less by action and more by atmosphere.

Two of Smith’s stories were also published in The Black Cat: “The Mahout” in August 1911 (later reworked for Oriental Stories in 1931 as “The Justice of the Elephant”), and “The Tiger” appeared in the February 1912 (as “The Raja and the Tiger.”) Smith was paid thirty dollars for the last story, which was not a bad sum for a lad still shy of his twentieth birthday.3 L. Sprague de Camp offered the opinion that they were “undistinguished tales of popular adventure but up to the professional standards of the popular fiction of the time”,4 but failed to see in them signs and portents of one who would become pre-eminent among American poets and fantasists of the twentieth century.

Despite these early successes, Smith wrote no more short stories for many years. This is due to a great extent to the influence of the uncrowned King of Bohemia, George Sterling, with whom Smith began a correspondence and a friendship in 1911. Under Sterling’s tutelage, Smith devoted his energies to mastering pure poetry, resulting in several fine collections beginning with 1912’s The Star-Treader and Other Poems. A close reading of the letters exchanged between Smith and Sterling reveals that Sterling regarded prose as an inferior form of expression to poetry. This attitude was not peculiar to Sterling, but was a part of the Romantic aesthetic that went back to John Milton and his “Essay on Education.” (Put succinctly, poetry was regarded as the product of imagination and emotion, while prose [also called “history,” “philosophy” and “science,” depending upon the commentator] was the product of reason and depicts what is “real.”) For example, shortly after writing what may well be the most remarkable poem in The Star-Treader, the dramatic monologue “Nero,” Smith half-apologized to Sterling, describing it as “four-fifths [...] prose, and not particularly good prose at that”.5 When Sterling attempted to write some short stories for sale to magazines, he sheepishly referred to his efforts “to earn a dishonest living”.6 As late as 1927 Smith would commiserate with Sterling: “Too bad you have to write prose. It’s a beastly occupation” (SL 91). And “I don’t blame you for writing prose, if you can make money by it. But it’s a hateful task, for a poet, and wouldn’t be necessary [sic], in any true civilization” (SU 292).

Despite these reservations, Smith would attempt some short stories before 1925. CAS wrote Sterling on September 9, 1915 that he had “a few short-story plots” (SU 132). Sterling had some influence with a romance magazine called Snappy Stories, and he encouraged Smith to submit some of his work, such as the prose poem “In Cocaigne.” CAS reported that “Snappy Stories has accepted a little prose-sketch of mine, entitled ‘The Flirt.’ They pay 2 cents a word for prose. Maybe I’ll do some more whore-mongering, at that price” (SL 65). For many years the only clue to the publication of “The Flirt” was a tear sheet or galley proof of the story found among the papers of Smith’s friend Genevieve K. Sully. In 2007 Phil Stephensen-Payne announced on Fictionmags ( a Yahoo newsgroup) that he had located “The Flirt” in the March 1, 1923 issue of Live Stories, a companion magazine to Snappy Stories.

Another sketch, “Something New,” appeared in the August 1924 issue of 10 Story Book, for which CAS received the munificent sum of $6. He told Sterling that “the story was rotten, anyhow—except for the spanking—which was what I ought to have administered, some time back, to a certain badly spoiled female person.” (SU 242)

After completing (on February 28, 1923), and failing to sell, “The Perfect Woman,” Smith would not write another short story until early 1925, when he wrote his first true weird tale, “The Abominations of Yondo.” When he began the composition of short stories for commercial markets in late 1929, CAS directed most of his efforts to markets such as Weird Tales and Wonder Stories, but he apparently still harbored hopes that he might expand upon his prior beachhead in the realm of “sophisticated” adult irony by writing “The Parrot” (also “The Pawnbroker’s Parrot” and “The Parrot in the Pawn-Shop” [written January 5, 1930]), “A Copy of Burns” (February 27, 1930), “Checkmate” (November 7, 1930). It does not appear that Clark ever submitted these to any markets. All of these stories, along with “A Platonic Entanglement” and “The Expert Lover,” are discussed in more detail by Donald Sidney-Fryer in his essay “O Amor Atque Realitas!” elsewhere in this volume.

Although we have generally decided not to include fragmentary stories in this edition (these are available in Strange Shadows, edited by Steve Behrends, and published by Greenwood Press in 1989), it was decided that “The Infernal Star”, which is even in its unfinished state still one of Clark Ashton Smith’s longest chunks of prose, deserves inclusion. Smith recorded its germ in his notebook of story ideas, the fabled Black Book, thus: “An extra-galactic world from which an influence of stupendous evil emanates, seeping through the farthest reaches of the cosmos”.7 This theme, which would appear to be an expansion of the core idea of “The Devotee of Evil,” also appears in the famous lines from “Nyctalops,” “We have seen the black suns/ Pouring forth the night.” He described it in a letter to August Derleth as

a weird-interstellar novelette de luxe. The tale involves a harmless bibliophile in a series of wild mysterious happenings, ending in his translation to Yamil Zacra, a star which is the fountain-head of all the evil and bale and sorcery in the universe. It mixes wizardry and necromancy with the latest scientific theory of “radiogens,” or atoms of sun-fire, burning at a temperature of 1500 Centigrade in the human body. I am using the innocuousness of the hero’s normal personality as a foil to that which he temporarily assumes beneath the influence of an amulet that stimulates those particles in his body which have come from Yamil Zacra. (SL 199)

As Smith worked on “The Infernal Star” he realized that it was rapidly becoming a novel. Weird Tales ran one or two serials per issue during this period. While Farnsworth Wright was willing to publish stories that he perhaps thought might be too good for his readership (the list of tales that the fickle Farnsworth originally rejected includes H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” Donald Wandrei’s “The Red Brain,” Carl Jacobi’s “Revelations in Black,” Robert E. Howard’s “The Phoenix on the Sword” [the first adventure of Conan of Cimmeria], Smith’s “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” and “The Seven Geases,” among many others), he was much more conservative in his choice of serials; of all the serials that ran in Weird Tales, only those by Robert E. Howard, as well as Jack Williamson’s “Golden Blood” (April to September 1933) are generally well-regarded today. One reason why “The Infernal Star” (which according to a fragmentary holograph first draft was originally to be titled “The Dark Star”) grew was that it seemed that CAS wanted to use it in the same manner that Lovecraft did “The Whisperer in Darkness,” tying together elements of his own invented mythologies (Hyperborea, Averoigne, Poseidonis, Zothique) along with those of Lovecraft and Ambrose Bierce. Smith eventually bowed to reality and put “The Infernal Star” aside “since there is no prospect of landing it as a serial even if completed. Wright is so heavily loaded down with long tales (all of them tripe, I dare say) that he can’t even consider anything over 15,000 words till next year” (SL 203).

After a brief spurt of productivity in the early fifties, Smith began to exhibit a reluctance to write anything, even letters. He had toyed with the idea of completing “The Infernal Star”, and August Derleth encouraged him with an offer of Arkham House publication despite his own lack of enthusiasm for the work itself.

“Dawn of Discord” and “House of Monoceros” appear on Smith’s completed stories log after “Double Cosmos” (originally “Secondary Cosmos”), which was completed on March 25, 1940 although he had been working on it intermittently since 1934.

Late in 1938 Weird Tales was purchased by a New York businessman, William J. Delaney, who already published the highly successful pulp Short Stories. Delaney relocated the operation to New York City. Wright was kept on as editor and made the move, but was let go with the March 1940 issue. An interview with Delaney appeared in a fanzine at the time of Wright’s dismissal that boded ill for Smith. After promising that Weird Tales would continue to publish “all types of weird and fantasy fiction,” the interview went on to add:

There is one rule, however: Weird Tales does not want stories which center about sheer repulsiveness, stories which leave an impression not to be described by any other word than “nasty”. This is not to imply that the “grim” story, or the tale which leaves the reader gasping at the verge of the unknown, is eliminated. Mr. Delaney believes that the story which leaves a sickish feeling in the reader is not truly weird and has no place in Weird Tales. . . . And, finally, stories wherein the characters are continually talking in French, German, Latin, etc. will be frowned upon, as well as stories wherein the reader must constantly consult an unabridged dictionary.8

The interviewer was Robert A. W. Lowndes, who shed some light on this in a letter published years later:

Delaney, who was a pleasant and cultured man, was very fond of weird stories, but he was also a strict Catholic. . . . He also found some of the Clark Ashton Smith stories on the ‘disgusting’ side and told me that he had returned one that Wright had in his inventory when he left. It was about a monstrous worm which, when attacked and pierced, shed forth rivers of slime. Later in 1940, when Donald A. Wollheim was starting Stirring Science Stories, Smith sent him ‘The Coming of the White Worm’ and Don used it. When I read it, there was no doubt that this was the story Delaney had been talking about. . . . Concerned about the magazine’s slipping circulation, he felt that the “more esoteric” type of story was a handicap, so this was mostly cut out.9

The memoirs of E. Hoffmann Price illustrate just how frustrated and upset Smith was with this development and with magazine publishing in general. When Price visited Smith later that year, Smith presented him with the typescripts of “House of the Monoceros” and “Dawn of Discord.” Smith told Price to do what he wanted to do with them: “Scrap the god-damn things if after all you don’t like them. The less I hear of them—.” Price’s take on this was that Smith realized “his stories did not fit into the publisher’s new pattern. Clark, fed up with adverse criticism or outright rejection, rejected the rejector, and gave me the scripts.”10

The Spicy line of pulps that were published by Culture Publications (a subsidiary imprint of Harry Donenfeld’s Trojan Publications) were one of Price’s main markets, and he pared Smith’s prose to fit their formula, which he, according to fellow writer Henry Kuttner, described as “sex, sadism, and destruction of valuable property.”11 (Kuttner also observed that “words over three syllables seem to be out, definitely.”) “Dawn of Discord” appeared in the October 1940 issue of Spicy Mystery Stories, while “House of the Monoceros” was published (as “The Old Gods Eat”) in the February 1941 issue. According to Price’s records, the proceeds were split 33-67 in CAS’ favor,12 although both stories appeared under Price’s byline alone. Smith did acknowledge his authorship to friends, writing in a letter that “My latest yarn is a filthy mixture of sex and pseudo science...which won’t appear under my own name but under that of a friend, a very successful pulp-writer, who had more commissions on hand than he could get through with.” (SL 330) “House of the Monoceros” was reprinted, under its original title, in Price’s collection Far Lands, Other Days (Carcosa, 1975), without credit to Smith, but “Dawn of Discord” has not been reprinted until now.

When Price was asked about the whereabouts of CAS’ original versions many years later, Price claimed that he destroyed them, stating that “Scripts were not sacred relics.” In the absence of Smith’s original manuscript it is impossible to determine just where Smith ends and Price begins, but it is still possible to wager a guess. “Dawn of Discord” resembles the science fiction stories that CAS had written for Hugo Gernsback, especially “The Letter from Mohaun Los” and “The Dark Age,” but the misanthropy that had long embued Smith’s work had taken center stage. Smith’s letters make it clear that he was observing the deteriorating world situation with alarm. Writing shortly after Lovecraft’s death to R. H. Barlow, who was at that time advocating communism as a panacea to contemporary social-economic problems, Smith observed bitterly that:

I have no faith in any political or economic isms, schisms, and panaceas. Theoretically, almost any kind of a system might serve well enough, if human beings were not the stupidest and greediest and most cruel of the fauna on this particular planet. No matter what system you have—capitalism, Fascism, Bolshevism—the greed and power-lust of men will produce the same widespread injustice, the same evils and abuses: or, will merely force them to take slightly different forms.

He concluded “In my opinion, the whole fabric of western civilization is nearly due for a grand debacle” (SL 300). A few letters later, he told Barlow that “the word ‘civilization’ would make a jackal vomit in view of the general situation” (SL 313) We speculate that the conclusion of Smith’s version of “Dawn of Discord” ended with the discovery that John King’s temporal excursion itself was responsible for introducing warfare into history, but unless the original typescript should turn up in the late Mr. Price’s papers, it remains mere conjecture.

We suspect that “House of the Monoceros” originally was similar to Smith’s contemporary horror stories such as “The Nameless Offspring,” but where bits of Smith occasionally flash through in “Dawn of Discord,” little remains outside of the name Treganneth and the word “monoceros” itself. There may be little of Smith’s original concepts left in these two stories, but the Smith afficionado may find something of interest in them.

“The Dead Will Cuckold You” was described by Smith as one of his “few unpublished masterpieces” (SL 373). While the author’s omnipresent touch of irony was almost certainly not entirely absent from this evaluation, this play in blank verse (written during the winter of 1951 and revised in 1956) his penultimate story set in Zothique (the last continent of earth under a dying red sun) contains some of his most vivid, and most macabre, writing. Although it remained unpublished until after Smith’s death, he and his friends enjoyed acting out or reading aloud its sonorous, rhythmic lines.13

“The Hashish-Eater; or, The Apocalypse of Evil” is Clark Ashton Smith’s longest and most well-known poem; and was described by his friend H.P. Lovecraft as “the greatest imaginative orgy in English literature.”4 Written in early 1922 and published later that same year in Ebony and Crystal, this epic poem owes at least some of its inspiration to George Sterling and “A Wine of Wizardry,” which the young Smith discovered in the pages of Cosmopolitan in 1907. Smith would later describe his intentions and rationale behind his cosmic masterpiece in a letter to S.J. Sackett: (SL 259)

. . . The Hashish-Eater, a much misunderstood poem, which was intended as a study in cosmic consciousness, drawing heavily on myth and fable for much of its imagery. It is my own theory that, if the infinite worlds of the cosmos were opened to human vision, the visionary would be overwhelmed by horror in the end, like the hero of the poem.

During the preparation of his Selected Poems, Smith would slightly revise the poem, removing many commas and asterisks and adding a few lines and word-changes. He would also replace such British spellings as colour, harbour, and rigour, with standard American. More significantly, Smith increased the number of episodes from ten to twelve, perhaps to impart more of a classic aesthetic structure. Although this revised version has superseded the original as Smith’s own preferred text, the editors felt it important to keep the Ebony and Crystal version in print as well for the sake of the CAS scholar who may wish to compare texts or, perhaps, who wish to experience Smith’s magnum opus exactly as it appeared in 1922.

Unlike the other works that we have included in the Night Shade Books edition of Clark Ashton Smith, “The Hashish-Eater” is not prose, yet it contains so many germs and ideas that would find maturation in his short stories that its inclusion is warranted. This may also be said of the other pieces included in this collection: they do not represent his best work, but for the devout acolyte at the altar of Klarkash-Ton they provide glimpses of ideas that failed to come together for some reason, as well as signs and portents of wonders yet to come.


1. Clark Ashton Smith, “Story-Writing Hints” (Ms, Clark Ashton Smith Papers, John Hay Library, Brown University).

2. Donald Sidney-Fryer, Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (West Kingston, RI: Donald M. Grant, 1978): 19.

3. F. E. Dyer (President, The Shortstory Publishing Co.), letter to Clark Ashton Smith, April 13, 1910 (TLS, Clark Ashton Smith Papers, John Hay Library, Brown University).

4. L. Sprague de Camp, “Sierra Shaman.” Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1976): 198.

5. Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, ed. David E. Schultz and Scott Connors (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 2003): 11 (hence SL).

6. The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2005): 86.

7. The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith, ed. Donald Sidney-Fryer and Rah Hoffman (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1979), item 65.

8. “Weird Tales Stays Weird.” Science Fiction Weekly (March 24, 1940): 1.

9. Robert A. W. Lowndes, “Letters.” Weird Tales Collector no. 5 (1979): 31.

10. Henry Kuttner, letter to Clark Ashton Smith, September 5, 1937 (TLS, private collection).

11. See Don Herron, “Notes on Clark Ashton Smith,” Hyperborian League mailing 12 (July 1978).

12. See William C. Farmer, “Clark Ashton Smith: A Memoir,” in Smith’s The Sword of Zagan and Other Writing, ed. W. C. Farmer (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2004): 178.

13. Quoted in George Haas, “Memories of Klarkash-Ton.” In The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith. Ed. Donald Sidney-Fryer and Rah Hoffman (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1979): 137.

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