Letter to H. P. Lovecraft

From Clark Ashton Smith

[13] [c. early October 1930]

Temple of Rhalu, the moon
goddess, at the hour of
the blood-sacrifice, in
the last cycle of Mu.

Dear E'ch-Pi-El:

I hope you have received ere this the nameless, pre-human statuette of a divinity who must have come down from ulterior stars and planets with Cthulhu and Tsathoggua. Perhaps You can give it a name; and I will be glad of any information which you can afford me, regarding its origin and attributes, all of which are undoubtedly dark and awful, not to say sinister.

I was delighted with your letter; and I can picture those fields near the river-bank where you began it in the Autumn twilight. And thanks for your commendation of my last tales and the loan of "The White Ship", which, to my taste, is perhaps the best of your purely fanciful, poetic stories, after "The Silver Key". It has an abiding undiminishable charm, like a chapter out of Sir John Maundeville, or the voyages of Sinbad; and certainly I do not think it in any wise inferior to Dunsany. I believe you underrate this side of your work; though I agree with you that the quasi-realistic mode of treatment is your best metier. I never cease to marvel at the patient, monumental accumulation of veridic details which, in such stories as "Cthulhu" and "The Dunwich Horror", produces in combination with the unearthly imaginative element an absolutely overwhelming effect. But it is only fair to say that I would not care for the realism without the other element.

I hope to see "The Whisperer in Darkness" before long. I, too, find that the results are more satisfying when composition is not strung out over a long period. [. . .]

[. . .]

Wright accepted "A Rendezvous in Averoigne", which seems to have pleased his fancy. He is also taking "The Immeasurable Horror", but has asked me to make an alteration which will account for two of the characters, who, it seems, I dropped rather summarily before the end. This is now done — it involved only the addition of two brief sentences. I will send you the carbon of "Averoigne" in a few days.

Wright is certainly capricious in his rejections and acceptances; though I, for one, am the last to blame him for trying to please his public. But it seems to me that he makes mistakes even from this view-point. I thought the last issue of W.T. rather punk, apart from the verses, the frontispiece decoration by Senf, [1] and one or two fine passages in Howard's [2] tale. I couldn't stomach this last as a whole that bloody battle stuff is so stale that it gives me what Sterling [3] called "the Molossian pip". Still,it was better than Hamilton's current re-dishing of his immemorial moth-eaten plot, and the commonplace detective thriller by Quinn. [4]

[. . .]

As for the problem of phantasy, my own standpoint is that there is absolutely no justification for literature unless it serves to release the imagination from the bounds of every-day life. I have undergone a complete revulsion against the purely realistic school, including the French, and can no longer stomach even Anatole France. God knows what I can find to read, after I have exhausted the last of your reloaned mss.! [. . .]

The future of phantasy is certainly a most problematic one. You analyze very clearly the reasons backing the present attitude; and I suppose you are right about the purifying process. [. . .] When the novelty of modern discoveries, etc., has worn off, it seems to me that people must go back to a realization of the environing, undissipated mystery, which will make for a restoration of the imaginative. Science, philosophy, psychology, humanism, after all, are only candle-flares in the face of the eternal night with its infinite reserves of strangeness, terror, sublimity. And surely literature cannot always confine itself to the archives of the anthill and the annals of the hog-sty, as it seems to be doing at present.

That picture of me in Wonder Stories is a bum drawing from a villainous, passport-like photograph. No one likes it; so please don't get the idea that it looks very much like me.

[. . .]

Probably you have seen "The Uncharted Isle" in W.T., which has two or three misprints. The bull about Lima as a sea-port was uncorrected, though I have the impression that I told Wright. Personally, I don't mind — it's like the celebrated "sea-coast of Bohemia"! [5]

I have come to the conclusion that it is hardly worthwhile to write stories under three or four thousand words. For one thing, anything shorter than this seldom makes any deep or lasting impression, no longer how good or well-done. It doesn't seem to have the requisite "body" and carrying power.

[. . .]

As ever, yr. friend,


  1. C. C. Senf, illustrator for Weird Tales.
  2. Robert E. Howard's "Kings of the Night", published in the November 1930 issue of Weird Tales.
  3. George Sterling, California poet and early mentor of Smith.
  4. Seabury Quinn, popular Weird Tales writer.
  5. A famous error in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.

From: Clark Ashton Smith: LETTERS TO H. P. LOVECRAFT, edited by and footnotes by Steve Behrends (July 1987) Necronomicon Press.

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