Great Yet Affordable Writers: Clark Ashton Smith

Great Yet Affordable Writers: Clark Ashton Smith

aka "Klarkash-Ton"

He's not as widely read or remembered these days as Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft, the other two greats of “Weird Tales” magazine, but he was a pen-pal of both men and his stories are just as interesting as theirs. His name was Clark Ashton Smith, and what he really wanted to be was a poet. In fact, he enjoyed a pretty solid reputation as a poet in his own lifetime, though the fact that his work is openly romanticist and traditional has caused it to be largely ignored now.

Like most other writers, he had to work for a living, so he wrote stories for the pulp magazines to earn money on the side. Clark Ashton Smith's fiction is like Howard crossed with Lovecraft. Many of his stories feature big brawny barbarian swordsmen, like Howard's “Conan.” They also feature evil yet brilliant sorcerers in league with the obscenely horrible Elder Gods. In Smith's stories, the sorcerers always win and the barbarians always lose. Brawn is no match for brain in Smith's conception of reality.


Perhaps because he really wanted to be writing poetry, Smith used a lot of beautiful and poetic imagery. And perhaps for the same reasons, his stories are frequently ironic in tone, as if he never took his job as an affordable pulp writer all that seriously.


In fact, when you realize that Lovecraft's “evil Atlantean priest Klarkash-Ton” is just his pen-pal Clark Ashton inserted into the Lovecraftian universe as a private joke, you have to wonder how seriously any of them took this kind of work!