Letter on Clark Ashton Smith

August Derleth

Good luck with your projected bibliography of Clark Ashton Smith! I think it very much worthwhile, and it is entirely likely that scholars of some future time will bless you for it. Not that there is no appreciation of Smith's fine work today — there is a solid core of admirers, and the steady sales of Smith books here at Arkham House testify to it. But there are not enough of those admirers to do justice to Smith's work, which is genuinely unique, for Smith was far more the true fantasiste than any professional writer of his time; he had the authentic fantastic vision, and he had moreover, a style no other writer could hope to equal, one that was uniquely his own — rich, vivid, colorful — indeed, his prose is clearly integral to the success of his imaginative fiction.

H. P. Lovecraft said of him — "None strikes the note of cosmic horror so well. 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, luxuriant, and feverishly distorted visions of infinite spheres and multiple dimensions and lived to tell the tale?" And who else has told such tales so well? I can name no other writer. It was only natural that, when I wanted to expand Arkham House beyond Lovecraft, I should turn to Smith — once having published our initial omnibus and put out a less costly experiment to test the possible market.

Smith was diffident about his work. So too Lovecraft. But he did sign our contracts — contracts because Out of Space and Time was intended to be only the first collection — of his "best" stories, as chosen by himself. But he himself selected the contents of its successors -- Lost Worlds, Genius Loci and Other Tales, The Abominations of Yondo, Tales of Science and Sorcery — as well as of the poetry collections Arkham House published and the forthcoming Selected Poems. We had left only those tales hitherto uncollected for Other Dimensions. Always, unfailing courteous and helpful, Smith was patient in the face of repeated delays after publication of Lost Worlds in 1944, and no Arkham House author was more surprised than he at the steady sale of his books.

I suppose he knew very well that his work would never command a place on bestseller lists, for there are never very many readers who appreciate a superb prose style or so rich an imagination. Yet his time may come, and I suspect it will. His worlds, after all, exist in a time-stream parallel to and in part belonging to that same great world of Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth and their weird company, though for brilliance in conception and execution, they take second place to none. And his worlds are actually more than those of the Cthulhu Mythos, for all the contributions he made to that Mythos — they are the worlds of outer space and Hyperborea, of past and future time, of Zothique and Averoigne, Xiccarph and Atlantis — to name but a few of the worlds he made forever and memorably real.

Every publication does a little more to enlarge his fame, and yours will perform a signal and valuable service.


From: Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography, Donald Sidney-Fryer. Donald M. Grant, 1978.

Top of Page