Friday, October 31, 2008
HYPERBOREA, by Clark Ashton Smith
Some more fun from Klarkash-Ton, as he was known in Lovecraft circles. This time, instead of the far future, we've got the far-flung past, the lost continent of Hyperborea, slowly being taken over by glaciers.
While there are lots of similarities to the Zothique stories, there are some major differences. While the stories often have a sense of impending doom, it's not quite as relentless as Zothique. Hyperborea's doom is only one of a series of dooms; doom in Zothique is final. There's also a lack of Zothique's near-relentless decadence and frequent hints of necrophilia and carnal depravity.
The stories are, of course, great high fantasy. "The Seven Geases" is a classic of pulp fantasy, with a cursed man wandering the underworld, finding that every being that he's sent to isn't interested in him. "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan" is a nice bit of supernatural revenge. "The White Sibyl" is more subtle, a tale of fairy-tale romance with a sharply mundane ending that calls up some of the truths of human nature. "The Testament of Athammaus" is one of the better ones for sheer grotesquerie, in which a criminal of strange ancestry takes a horrible vengeance on a city, seemingly for no real reason except for the sheer joy of evil. "The Coming of the White Worm" is fairly standard pulp fantasy with tinges of horror. "Ubbo-Sathla" is unusual for being a story that involves the contemporary world, in which a man finds an antiquity that allows him to travel into the distant past of Hyperborea. "The Door to Saturn" is a perversely humorous tale of two enemies from Hypberborea finding themselves transported to an alien world and having to cope. "The Ice-Demon" is a fun bit of heroic fantasy, with a team of thieves seeking a treasure in a glacier. And the last two, "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" and "The Theft of Thirty-nine Girdles," are fun picaresque adventures of a master thief and his exploits.
The edition I have (Ballantine Books' Adult Fantasy line) also has Smith's "World's Rim" stories, which really are one actual short story, "The Abominations of Yondo," with a trio of brief vignettes. Nicely atmospheric but hard to put down in any sort of organized mythology or context. They just simply are.
This wasn't as tough going for me as the Zothique tales were...perhaps I'm getting used to Smith's style?