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Biography of

Clark Ashton Smith

(Sergio Fritz Roa) 

The macabre and fantastic Literature of this century has been influenced of almost imperceptible way by the work of the great dreamer of Auburn (small point within North American geography); it is to say by the mind and hand of Clark Ashton Smith. This subtle force - but effective it has sailed like maddening incense in the brains of some of the most important writers of this type of Literature (Lovecraft and Bradbury, come immediately to our memory), piercing deep in his own narrative manifestations. Nobody - they recognize it or no, which stops these effects is to say the same thing seems to be free of that acid influence, of that exuberante and ominous prose: August Derleth, Moorcock, Bradbury, Lin Carter, Lovecraft, Sprague de Camp, Robert Howard, Sturgeon, to mention some. Its spell has demonstrated unsuspected seriousness. Its melancholic figure, in whose watched we appreciated that perversion with which Hermann Hesse characterizes to those who takes in himself Signo de Caín, and that is revealed to us in that book so little human, called Demian. In effect, Smith knew that abyss that does not have bottom (the endless Hell decipher in the excellent story "The inhabitants of the well" of Abraham Merritt (* 1)). He drank like Poe, Lovecraft or Emil Sinclair - the fictitious personage of the Demian novel -, or like Dante, the bitterest wine; the one that leads to immortality, because he kills the horrible Worm, that corrodes the life from its beginning. Their misled eyes demonstrate it. Their texts corroborate it, without possibility of appeal or defense.

He was born the 13 of January of 1893, in Long Valley. Once their parents left course to Auburn, he no longer would leave more there, as it happened to him to his great Lovecraft friend with his loved Providence, to which divinized in its prose and poetry. From Auburn he will travel mentally to the times of the old Hiperborea - giving a macabre aspect to this place that, of course, nothing has to do with the Traditional idea of such center (* 2) -. Like Lovecraft, he was enemy of modernity, and dedicated important part of his time to the creation of worlds absolutely differents from ours, where all the possibilities coexist in harmonious form. Its life would be simple, even precarious. Far from the money, the noise. From small it will little give remarkable and usual samples of love by the printed letter. Thus, for example, to very short age or it had completely devoured "Thousands and the One Nights" or the "British Encyclopedia". And this, according to Lin Carter, not one, but several times (* 3). The reading of dictionaries, together with the study, always self-taught, of some languages (he was written poems even in Spanish), will transform it into a man of great handling of concepts, which is appraised in the fluidity obtained in its better narrations.

Between its favorite authors can count: Ambrose Bierce, George Sterling, William Beckford, E.A.Poe, Charles Fort (the famous author of the strange "Book of the condemned", so many times mentioned by H.P.Lovecraft and August Derleth), Lovecraft, Baudelaire, Robert W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, specially. This as far as writers. With respect to his more dear sketchers, we can indicate to Harry Clarke, Rackham, Sime, and Alaistar (* 4). Some of these, like Clarke or Alaistar, are remarkable artists, possessors of the same "demoniac" dose that can be in smithians texts (* 5). In their beginnings like writer, Smith rambled by the circle of authors frequented by Jack London, Ambrose Bierce and George Sterling. With this last one he will have a very good friendship, that he will express himself in the quality of literary mentor who Sterling would have on Smith, and who will only interrupt itself with the suicide of the poet in November of 1926, done that it would mark our man deeply, and that would follow other unequal devastating effects: the suicide of the creator of "Conan the Barbarian", Robert E. Howard, in 1936, and the death of Lovecraft in March of 1937. These events are of importance, since with the death of this last one, Smith no longer will write with the quality and previous continuity, as if she leaves from his literary vigor lost quality with the death of his friends.

The first fantastic story of Smith (after of write some original poetries, he derived to a commercial Literature, who little interest presents/displays at the moment for the fans to Smith), is "The abominations of Yondo", published in the month of April of 1925, in the "Overland Monthly". Soon and thanks to the suggestions of Lovecraft, which already was its comrade to epistolar, Smith would begin to prove luck with which it would be the magazine of horror and more famous fantasy of all the times: Weird Tales. From there, authors like both would arise already mentioned, next to Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Ray Bradbury, to only mention to some colossuses.


(1) - This story was published initially in the number of the 5 of January of 1918 in the famous All-Story magazine, and published in Spanish in the "Antología del miedo y terror ", of the Spanish publishing house Dronte. The influence of this work of Merritt - author of the novel best sellers of its time "The moon pool" - in authors as Lovecraft or same Smith is a subject not even deepened seriously by the students of Fantastic Literature. (2) - For knowing more about Hyperborea can be considered like general reference, the saying by the same Lin Carter in the introduction to the text compilation of C.A.Smith "Hiperbórea" (Publishing Edaf, Spain, 1978). From a Traditional perspective, some works of René Guénon are useful, like for example the test "Atlántis e Hiperbórea", published in the book "Formas tradicionales y ciclos cósmicos" (Publishing Obelisco, Spain.1984). At heart, which one is when we traditionally talked about Hyperborea, is to the idea of the Center, like symbol and place of which the purity emanates. It is also the place of the origins. However, Smith only occupies east name like literary tool, since he evokes in all the idea of something very remote, and of which history practically nothing knows. (3). It see the introduction of Lin Carter to the text of Smith "Zothique" (Publishing Edaf, Spain,1977) (4). See the letter sent by C.A.Smith to Virgil Finlay, the sketcher of Weird Tales, of date 15 of May of 1937. (5). Few texts, if there is more than one, have been published in Spanish where it studies to these sketchers of the exotic thing. The only one which we know is "En búsuqeda de Abraxas" (Felmar Editions, Spain, 1975) of N.Drury and S.Skinner, which is related to them, at least indirectly, and includes drawings of symbolists like Clarke, Alaistair and Spare, among others.


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