Monday, September 1, 2008

More Smith and other stuff

For September, I'm getting back on the review wagon...

I finally, FINALLY finished the stories in Clark Ashton Smith's ZOTHIQUE collection. Nothing was up to the level of "The Dark Eidolon" or "Morthylla," but all were enjoyable.

"The Black Abbot of Puthuum" was a fun little heroic-fantasy story, with echoes of Conan adventures to come. A group of soldiers escorting a king's new concubine back to civilization end up in the midst of ghouls and cannibals disguised as monks in a desert hermitage. A rare happy ending.

"The Tomb-Spawn" is a gruesome little bit of horror/fantasy, basically an expanded vignette of two merchants who, chased by desert ghouls, end up confronting a hideous beast.

"The Last Hieroglyph" is one of the better ones. A fake astronomer suddenly finds himself caught in an inexorable march toward some unknown fate, escorted by mummies and mermen and flame creatures. It's a good Weird Tale, and an amusing twist on the old saw that "even a broken clock is right twice a day."

"The Isle of the Torturers" and "The Garden of Adompha" are both nice little exercises in decadent excess, coupled with some fairly nasty revenge elements, but I couldn't help but think that they were basically elaborate literary versions of EC comics stories.

The last story, "The Voyage of King Euvoran," is amusing, as a necromancer brings back to life a stuffed bird that sits upon a king's crown. Following a prophecy, he sets out on a long sea voyage to catch and shoot the bird again and put it back on his throne. There's some diversions along the way, including an island dominated by talking, militant birds, but the end is ironic, amusing, and actually halfway happy.

While Smith is worth reading, I'm going to give him a rest for a little bit. Like I said, a little Smith goes a long way and with some stories, reading too many in succession can be oppressive. I half-expected fungus to sprout and limbs to fall off, it got so decadent.

I also finished off BRITISH GOBLINS: WELSH FOLK-LORE, FAIRY MYTHOLOGY, LEGENDS AND TRADITIONS by Wirt Sikes. Sikes was a U.S. consul in Cardiff, appointed in 1871 and serving until his death in 1883, and while there he published a series of works on Welsh history and folklore, as well as some travel writing and art criticism. Now, I wondered while reading BRITISH GOBLINS if it was only part of a larger work, perhaps with other volumes dealing with Scot, Cornish, and other stories, but nope, from all appearances Sikes only dealt with the Welsh, making the book's title a bit of a misnomer. Still, it's a fun, fairly brief collection of bits of fairy lore from Wales, and often surprisingly dark. In modern times we tend to think of fairy tales as all sweetness and light, little winged godmothers waving their wands and princesses with blond braids waiting to be rescued from castles, etc. etc. etc. But the old tales could often be very dark and macabre, and the fairies could by turns be benificent and malicious depending on their whim. It makes for good reading on a late summer evening, or perhaps later in the fall, while you sit by the fireside. If you have a fireside.

I downloaded a free PDF copy from Munsey's but it's missing the illustrations. You can find an illustrated version at Google Books and read it online, if your eyes can stand it. Forgotten Books has an illustrated facsimile version for sale at Amazon, should you be so inclined.

And, to close, I read a charming poem, "The Dream," by David Macbeth Moir, which can be read here at the excellent Literary Gothic site. "The Dream" is amusing; while I'm sure it was rather gruesome for its time, today it reads almost like a fancier version of "The Worms Crawl In, The Worms Crawl Out."

That's all for today...more coming later.

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