Letter to H. P. Lovecraft

From Clark Ashton Smith

[37] [c. 4 December 1933]

From the black desert
of Zoir, beneath the
seven ultra-spectral

Dear E'ch-Pi-El:

I have just finished reading "The Thing on the Doorstep" for the second time, and am re-impressed by its power. The theme is carefully developed (needless to say) and the climax comes like a thunderclap. [. . .]

Edward Derby's character is well realized. I have one very minor suggestion to make, and this I offer with much doubt and hesitation. I wonder if it would be better to add a hint (perhaps no more than a sentence or phrase) to the effect that Derby's abnormal ability to animate the corpse of Asenath was due to his own far from negligible achievements in dark magic. However, this is perhaps implicit in the tale as it stands.

I trust that Conan [1] and most of the others on the circulation list fully appreciate the treat in store for them. The ms. goes forward to the Cimmerian monarch today.

One of my cards will have informed you of my pleasure in hearing that "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" has finally received the satrapic approval. Any of the ultramundane scenes in this story would be well adapted to my style of pictorial treatment. [. . .]

Speaking of covers, the current W.T. design, though pleasing enough in color, is curiously suggestive of a Christmas card! I don't wish to be ungallant: but Mrs. Brundage [2] (between you and me and the asymmetric eikon from Crater Ridge) has about as much genuine feeling for the weird as a Jersey cow is likely to possess. [. . .]

[. . . Re "The Holiness of Azéderac":] You have certainly pointed up my vagueness and ignorance in regard to Gallic history! Of course, if I had stopped to reflect, I ought to have known that the Romans were still strong in Gaul about the time of Moriamis, and that French, as a language, was not yet born from the Latin womb. I suppose that the fact that I was dealing with a realm no less mythical than Cabell's Poictesme made me doubly careless about correlating its chronology with that of historic Europe. If ever there is any prospect of issuing "Azéderac" and the other Averoigne tales in book form, I shall certainly correct the anachronistic reference to the "obsolete variant" of French spoken by Moriamis. I think, though, that the Druids can well stand: Averoigne was no doubt even more of a stronghold for the cult than Brittany; and the Roman occupation (though I have spoken of it in another tale, "The Disinterment of Venus") was quite nominal, especially in its religious effect on the Averoignians.[3]

[. . .]

[. . .] The Geography [4] is a veritable mine of evidence bearing on the witch-cult; and the dark identity of details in numberless cases far scattered in time and place is surely proof of the under-lying reality. No doubt the prevalence of the cult in medieval times was partly due to intolerable social misery: this flight into Satanism, supernaturalism and carnal orgy was an avenue of escape for the more neurotic or unfortunate. Also — granting the existence of supernatural powers and their influence on human life -- the belief in evil forces and the impulse to propitiate them and form alliances with them was certainly far from irrational. Manichaeism is a practical inference when one considers the world as it is, and tries to explain the world as a creation or playground of superhuman entities.

[. . .]

Thanks for the photo of the Ashton house! I knew there were some Ashtons in the South (Virginia, I believe) but had not seen the name before in conjunction with New England. Most of my family (the old direct line, anyway) were Catholics. One sometimes sees the name spelt Assheton; and there are evidently a lot of Assheton-Smiths or Smithes in England.

[. . .]

My Writing is still held up, and I have not finished anything, I hope my mother will be able to get around a little before long.

I enclose a recent letter from Desmond Hall.[5] "Play around with psychoanalysis . . . Suggest that nothing in the universe is inexplicable", etc. Grrrr! I'm afraid I'll have a hard time in suiting the requirements of that crew. Psychoanalysis is not my favorite superstition or form of pseudo-science. [. . .] In my own letter, I had expressed polite regret over the narrowing of policy, and had suggested that the magazine could well afford to run at least one tale of non-technical fantasy per issue. Also, I pointed out the glaring inconsistency of science fiction readers, who will swallow any sort of outrageous fairy tale if it is served up with an accompaniment of ray-guns, ether-ships, time-machines, etc.

[. . .]

Winter seems to have arrived, and the mercury hugs the freezing-point around sunrise. I envy your steam-heat!

Yours, in the name of Kamog,


  1. Robert E. Howard.
  2. Margaret Brundage, cover artist for Weird Tales.
  3. On the envelope of this letter Lovecraft. But some historical details of Averoigne in Roman times, and composed a poem or incantation to Tsathoggua: "Black and unshap'd, as pestilent a Clod/As Black Sadoqua, Averonia's God" (see SL 674).
  4. The Geography of Witchcraft by Montague Summers.
  5. Editor of Astounding Stories.

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

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