Letter to H. P. Lovecraft

From Clark Ashton Smith

[26] [c. March 1932]

The demon-haunted house of
Avyctes, on the
northernmost promontory of
Poseidonis, at the
epiphany of the double

Dear E'ch-Pi-El:

[. . .]

Yes, "Innsmouth" [1] has an atmosphere that one can't shake off in a hurry. I can still smell and taste it! I think that you will find that Melmoth's [2] opinion is no less favorable than mine.[3] I am indeed rejoiced to hear that you have written another tale, which begins to sound like old times. I shall certainly look forward to it with great and shuddersome expectations when you get around to typing it. I hope it will be followed very shortly by others — you couldn't write enough to suit me.

I guess I wrote you that "Uther Magbane"[4] had been definitely accepted by the Clayton Co. [5] "The Seed from the Sepulcher" pleased Bates, too, but he wanted me to make some slight alterations before showing it to Clayton. He seemed to think there was an inconsistency in the development of the devil-plant; but, as I pointed out to him, the plant merely propagated itself through spores, after death, but had the power of extending its individual life-term through an extension of the root-system from one victim to another. However, I made several minor changes, adding some horrific details, and mentioning a second skull in the lattice-work of bones, roots, etc., in the burial-pit. Derleth's suggestions were very good, but I rather like the thing as it stands. It might have been worked out more gradually, at greater length, as Wandrei suggests; but the present development, as far as I am concerned, has, through its very acceleration, a strong connotation of the unnatural, the diabolic, the supernatural.

You will have seen "Ubbo-Sathla" by now. Wright returned it, to my disgust, seeming to think that it would be over the heads of his clientele. Wright, it seems to me, is more than likely to fire back anything that is genuinely original, or so unusual that he can't align it with something he has previously published and found satisfactory from a reader standpoint.

[. . .] My rejected tales, on examination, seem to fall mainly into two classes — the highly odd, unusual and novel, and the definitely mediocre and hackneyed. There is a third class, mainly scientifiction, consisting of several items that could be greatly improved by revision. However, out of 62 finished yarns, I have succeeded in working off 44 or so, and will probably be able to dispose of several others that are hanging fire at present. If there were only one or two more editors in the market for that sort of thing, I believe I could sell nearly all my weirds: individual taste differs more in regard to horror and fantasy, as Dorothy Sayers observes, than in regard to anything else. Bates, Wright and Swanson [6] all seem to differ markedly in their perceptions.

[. . . S]piritualism is about on a par with fetishism — "human, all too human . . ." But there is a magnificent chance for tales dealing with a future state or life — tales that would break utterly with the mere extension of mundane emotions and morals beyond the grave. Sometime I'm going to write a yarn dealing with some moribund who promises a friend, wife or sweetheart that he will return after death . . . but, when he does return, it is in the form of a typhoid bacillus, with no other consciousness or proclivities than would be proper to a bug of that species.

Yours, in eager anticipation of
"The Dreams of Walter Gilman", [7]

P.S.: Your "In the Vault" certainly stands out in the current W.T. [. . .] Hamilton, consarn him, has ruined an idea somewhat similar to one that I had in mind, for a tale to be called "The Lunar Brain", based on the notion that there is a vast living brain in the center of the Moon.


  1. Lovecraft's "The Shadow over Innsmouth".
  2. Melmoth is Donald Wandrei.
  3. Sadly, the letter in which Smith gave Lovecraft his first reactions to "The Shadow over Innsmouth" is not extant. However, we learn something of Smith's opinions from a pair of letters to August Derleth, written at about this time: "I liked it greatly, especially in its rendering of a decadent atmosphere, and of course urged H. P. to submit it to Wright. I did, however, make what seemed to me a rather obvious suggestion about the addition of a new chapter, which could be worked in next to the last with very little verbal alteration of the story as it stands. This chapter would be made of the narrator's broken, nightmare-like memories of being captured by the rout of monsters, who take him back to Innsmouth, but do him no vulgar harm, since they recognize his latent kinship to themselves. Without his guessing the reason at the time, they subject him to some horrible rite that is calculated to accelerate the development of the alien strain in his blood, and then let him go. I fear, though, that he won't care for the suggestion" (16 February 1932); ". . . [T]here should be more emphasis on the development of the taint, which, as it stands, has more the effect of an after-thought than an integral part of the story. Something very tremendous could be made of it" (24 February 1932).
  4. "The Second Interment of Uther Magbane", published as "The Second Interment" (Out of Space and Time (1942)).
  5. Publishers of the short-lived Strange Tales. The magazine's editor was Harry Bates.
  6. Carl Swanson, editor of the proposed weird fiction magazine, Galaxy.
  7. An early title for Lovecraft's "The Dreams in the Witch House".

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

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