Atlantis, Xiccarph: Review of Lost Worlds

Marjorie Farber

This is the latest in a series of occult writings which Arkham House has been exhuming from the pages of Weird Tales, Wonder Stories, Strange Tales and Astounding Stories, to be enshrined in book form. This one, even more than its horrifying predecessors-the collected works of H. P. Lovecraft, Henry S. Whitehead and Donald Wandrei -- deserves to be put: on the shelf and admired; it cannot be read.

The object of all these tales is, of course, the creation of new worlds in which to house whatever of fantasy, horror or demonology the imagination can contrive. Mr. Smith deals with Atlantis, Hyperborea, Uzaldaroum, Mhu Thulan, Zoth- ique, Xiccarph and other "Lost Worlds" dating before the "great Ice Age."

What is most fascinating about the present volume is the kind of obfuscatory prose which readers of Weird Tales, etc., are apparently willing to overcome for the sake of getting ac whatever terror may lie at the end of the skull-dotted trail. For example:

"What loathly spawn of the primordial slime had come forth to confront us we did not pause to consider or conjecture. The monstrosity was too awful to permit of even a brief contemplation; also its Intentions were too plainly hostile, and it gave evidence of anthropophatic inclinations, for it slithered toward us with an unbelievable speed and celerity of motion, opening as it came a toothless mouch of amazing capacity."

Another feature of this style is its use of two words in place of one: "consider or conjecture," "speed and celerity of motion." Why Mr. Smith failed to say a "mouth of amazing and astounding capacity" I don't know; perhaps he was in a hurry. Dealing as he does with primordial monsters and with death and decay, he often has occasion to speak of the smells accompanying such phenomena. For these he has developed a wonderful set of synonyms, such as "the unfamiliar fetor I have spoken of previously, which had now increased uncomfortably in strength." Or "Opening the sealed door, they were met by a charnel odor, and were gratified to perceive in the figure the unmistakable signs of decomposition."

I have no doubt that the pages of this book, which I have been turning over so admiringly, conceal a wealth of imagination. But I am reminded of an old Cummulmluthian proverb which can be roughly translated as, "He who would sing must beware of the lotus," or "Do not give opium to those you would teach." There is another proverb, dating from the Age of Steam, which comments simply, "The blood of Poe is running very thin."

[Smith's reaction to this review is given in his letter to August Derleth. 13 December 1944:]

I too was rather amused by the N.Y. Times review; especially by the complacency with which the lady displays her ignorance of the finer shades of meaning in English words. One might well "consider" without conjecturing at all; and vice versa. Even her attempt at sarcasm falls down, since "amazing" is far from synonymous with "astounding," the first meaning to perplex or con- fuse with fear, terror, wonder, etc., and the latter to overwhelm or stun with awe, etc. But of course such nuances are lose on the average reader, and unknown to, or unheeded by, the average present-day writer. . . . However, if a style of writing both rounded and precise is an "obfuscatory" style, then I suppose I must plead guilty. I am wondering, too. what she would have had me write in place of the sentence that she quotes from "Malygris." I suppose I should have said, "The corpse stank," which would have been in accordance with modern standards of direct and stream-lined realism. Nurts to the slitch.

New York Times Book Review (November 19, 1944). Rpt. in Klarkash-Ton, 1 (June 1988), 26-27.

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