Tag Archives: Fantasy

No Sleep till Zothique—Part One

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No Sleep till Zothique—Part One

As part of my preparation for geeking out at Necronomicon 2017, I have determined to read all of the Zothique cycle stories written by Clark Ashton Smith in chronological order of their publication.

Necronomicon is essentially a huge Lovecraft-love fest but they also program panels for horror, markets, publishing, all the fun things. It takes place in downtown Providence, of course. They also cover other writers with Lovecraftian ties: Clark Ashton Smith was a contemporary of Lovecraft along with Robert E. Howard, and I generally prefer his stories.

Zothique is my favorite fantasy cycle because it depicts a grim, dying earth plagued by ecological decay and widespread anarchy. That said, this possible future appeals to me: our current religions have become extinct (superseded by regional cults practicing varying degrees of hospitality), and all technology has been replaced by sorcery and proto-medievalism. The new world has essentially reverted to the very, very old.

The first story in CAS Zothique is “The Empire of the Necromancers,” published in Weird Tales, September 1932. Of course, he starts grim right out of the gate with his description of Zothique (it reminds me of the Skeksis castle/valley in “The Dark Crystal” actually):

zothique map//**”The legend of Mmatmuor and Sodosma shall arise only in the latter cycles of Earth, when the glad legends of the prime have been forgotten. Before the time of its telling, many epochs shall have passed away, and the seas shall have fallen in their beds, and new continents shall have come to birth. Perhaps, in that day, it will serve to beguile for a little the black weariness of a dying race, grown hopeless of all but oblivion. I tell the tale as men shall tell it in Zothique, the last continent, beneath a dim sun and sad heavens where the stars come out in terrible brightness before eventide.”**//

Brother necromancers Mmatmuor and Sodosma are exiled from the west of the continent for political reasons. During their travels into the deserts of Cincor, once home to a great civilization, they raise an army made entirely of the dead and enslave the souls to their will. As the necromancers settle into the ruins of Yethlyreom in Cincor, however, they become lazy and complacent and forgetful of their own powers. Meanwhile, the dead long for a return to their rest. Ultimately, one of the enslaved nobles of a late Cincor dynasty uncovers a prophecy that offers the dead their liberation and vengeance upon their oppressors.

This is a characteristic Smith fantasy–excessive, bold, ribald–but entertaining nonetheless. I think other Zothique stories like “The Charnel God” and “The Weaver in the Vault” present a more tactile atmosphere, a more compelling cast of characters, along with more satisfying reversals of fortune, but this is the start of the Zothique cycle and I’ve signed on for the whole wild, grimdark ride.

So much of Smith’s influence obviously stems from The Arabian Nights, which I am ashamed to admit I have not read, but I purchased a good unabridged 3-volume set from Penguin Classics and I’m going to be reading those right along with Zothique. If and when I find vivid parallels between these sets of fables, I hope to share my insights.

The Empire of the Necromancers can of course be read in its entirety at The Eldritch Dark and The Double Shadow Clark Ashton Smith podcast devote an entire episode to the story (their insights are always entertaining, often hilarious). And yes, as you can tell, I am quite the CAS fangirl.

Enjoying the dim sun and sad heavens,
as always,
larissa

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