Letter to Clark Ashton Smith

From H. P. Lovecraft

10 Barnes St.

Dece. 19, 1929

Dear C. A. S.:—

By this time I trust that Belknap has safely returned Satampra Zeiros. The enclosures preceding this letter will serve to tell you what a genuine kick he got out of the tale. As for me—Tsathoggua made such an impression on my fancy that I am using him in the "revision" (i.e. "ghostwriting") job I am now doing—telling of some things connected with his worship before be appeared on the earth's surface. As you know my tale concerns a nether world of unbelievable antiquity below the mound-&-pueblo region of the American southwest, and the visit thereto in 1541-45 by one of Coronado's men—Panfilio de Zamacona y Nuñez. It is a place litten by a blue radiance due to magnetic force & radio-activity, & is peopled by the primal proto-humans brought down from the stars by Great Cthulhu—a forgotten, decadent race who cut themselves off from the upper world when Atlantis & Lemuria sank. But there was a race of beings in the earth Infinitely older than they—the saurian quadrupeds of the red-litten caverns of Yoth which yawn underneath the blue-litten caverns of K'n-yan. When the first men came to K'n-yan they found the archaeological reliques of Yoth, & speculated curiously upon them. At the point where I introduce our friend Tsathoggua, the Spanish explorer has entered K'n-yan, has encountered a party of friendly natives led by one Gee'-Hthaa-Ynn, & is being escorted to the great city of Tsath-mounted on a monstrous horned & half-human quadruped.


About that "interplanetary" idea of mine—it would begin as a dream-phenomenon creeping on the victim in the form of recurrent nightmares, as a result of his concentration of mind on some dim transgalactic world. Eventually it would enmesh him totally—leaving his body to vegetate in a coma in some madhouse whilst his mind roamed desolate & unbodied for ever above the half-litten stones of an aeon-dead civilisation of alien Things on a world that was in decay before the solar system evolved from its primal nebula. I doubt if I'd handle it as a phantasy so much as a stark, macabre bit of quasi-realism. I would try to achieve what all other interplanetary writers blithely & deliberately reject—namely, the sense of awesome, utter, & almost mind-unhinging tremendousness implicit in the very notion of transportation to another world either in body or in mind. Virtually all writers wholly miss this point to a degree I cannot but regard as ludicrous. In cold realistic fact, any man with half an imagination would undergo a frightful mental shock at the mere idea of any contact with a planet other than this. This feeling would be the central element of any interplanetary story of mine; indeed, the whole thing would be more of a psychological study than an adventurous narrative—more a Poe-effect than a H. G. Wells or Jules Verne effect. As you see, this affords no possibility of infringement on any idea of yours—either the future's "Planet of the Dead" or the past's "Crypts of Memory." I admired the latter prodigiously in Ebony & Crystal. There is one basic difference in our work which would almost automatically eliminate the danger of parallelism, even when we work on identical themes. It is this—that you are fundamentally a poet, & think first of all in symbols, colour, & gorgeous imagery, whilst I am fundamentally a prose realist whose prime dependence is on the building up of atmosphere through the slow, pedestrian method of multitudinous suggestive detail & dark scientific verisimilitude. Whatever I produce must be the sombre result of a deadly, literal seriousness, & almost pedantic approach. The "art" atmosphere is never in my best stuff—instead, there is an impersonal, unsmiling, minutely reporting quality somewhere. I have to see a thing or scene with clear-cut visual distinctness before I can say anything whatever about it—then I describe it as an entomologist might describe an insect. Prose realism is behind everything of any importance that I write—a devilish odd quality, when one stops to think about it, to exist in conjunction with fantastic taste & vision! But I am a paradox anyway—for there have been periods when astronomy, geography, physics, chemistry, & anthropology meant more to me than any form of pure literature or aesthetics.

Yr most obt

Selected Letters (Arkham House) 387

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