Her Letters To Clark Ashton Smith: C. L. Moore

There is no volume of The Selected Letters of C. L. Moore, and perhaps there never will be. Like many pulp authors that achieved more lasting and commercial success during her life than peers like H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Moore’s longevity has been coupled with a relative paucity of critical interest in her life and letters. Lovecraft and Howard both benefited from scholarly attention, if mostly by fans, while they remained within living memory…but Moore died in 1987, and if any concerted effort was made to interview her relatives, friends, and peers or otherwise document her life, it has not yet come to light.

Which makes Moore difficult to research. While her surviving letters with H. P. Lovecraft have been published by Hippocampus Press as Letters to C. L. Moore and Others (2017), this is almost all of her correspondence that has been published. More letters remain in university archives, and possibly in private hands, but the lack of easy access to these letters limits critical and biographical research into Moore’s life and work. Information on her life is thus slow to emerge into the popular consciousness, and to answer even simple questions often requires collating data from different sources.

For example: did C. L. Moore correspond with Clark Ashton Smith?

Without a collection of Moore’s correspondence, a researcher’s first stop might be The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith (2003, Arkham House)—and they might come away disappointed; not only are there no letters from Smith to Moore in the book, but there are very few references to Moore or her fiction. Continuing on in this line, a researcher might look at the other collections of Smith’s letters to see if there is any further reference to Moore or evidence of a correspondence with her—given that Moore popped onto the Weird Tales scene in 1933 with the publication of “Shambleau,” collections of correspondence before this date like The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith (2005, Hippocampus Press) and Born Under Saturn: The Letters of Samuel Loveman and Clark Ashton Smith (2021, Hippocampus Press) do us no good. Collections of Smith’s correspondence with his Weird Tales peers Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith (2020, Hippocampus Press) and Eccentric, Impractical Devils: The Letters of August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith (2020, Hippocampus Press) have some mentions of Moore, but relatively few and nothing about a correspondence.

While there is nothing direct in Smith’s letters about correspondence with Moore, we can infer a few things:

First, Moore and Smith had mutual friends and correspondents in H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Robert H. Barlow, Henry Kuttner, and probably others. This is evident by their surviving letters to or references to correspondence to these mutuals.

Two, the lack of any mention of a correspondence in Smith’s surviving letters suggests that if there was a correspondence between Smith and Moore, it probably wasn’t extensive or involved. This is not a great surprise: both Smith and Moore were known to sometimes have long gaps between answering letters in the 1930s, and if they didn’t hit it off right away one or the other might easily have dropped a correspondence, even one who was friends with other friends. While a short correspondence could be easily lost (as not all letters from Smith, Lovecraft, etc. survive), a longer correspondence is more likely to have been mentioned in letters to their friends.

Third, when Henry Kuttner died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1958, Smith wrote to Derleth for details—and neither Smith or Derleth ever mention C. L. Moore, who had married Kuttner in 1940 and was still his wife. This suggests that Smith was probably not then corresponding with or closely associated with Moore; if he was, he would either have written to her directly (no need to ask Derleth) or asked after her. Since Smith did not mention Moore at all, it suggests he was unaware of the connection, or at least not in contact with Moore and Kuttner.

As it happens, there is evidence that Moore and Smith corresponded briefly in the 1930s. For this we have to look at the only readily available source of her letters, her correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft:

Also have just written Clark Ashton Smith for a copy of his “Double Shadow, etc.” the advertisement for which you enclosed in your last letter. He is another fantasy writer whose work it is such a pleasure to read, and for almost opposite reasons from those that make R. E. Howard’s writing so good. Exquisite and fantastic enough to lift one clear out of the present. I’m awfully flad of the opportunity to get more of his work to read.

C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 24 Apr 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 31

The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (1933, Auburn Journal) was a privately-printed chapbook that was one of Smith’s efforts at remunerative self-publication, with copies to Robert E. Howard, R. H. Barlow, and others sold by mail—Lovecraft helped distribute the advertising flyers among his group of correspondents. This would be a natural start to their brief correspondence, and we know Smith wrote her back:

I am expecting the CAS “Double Shadow, etc.” any day now. I had a note from him Saturday saying it was on the way. Yes, Barlow has lent me “Ebony and Crystal” and the “Hashish-Eater” is haunting me still. I am so sorry for people who don’t like that sort of thing—they miss such an awful lot! There must be very few people who can produce prose, poetry and drawings of such superlative quality.

C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 May 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 35

Ebony and Crystal (1922, Auburn Journal) was an early collection of Smith’s fantastic poetry, which included the epic poem “The Hashish Eater -or- the Apocalypse of Evil,” whose opening line gave Smith one of his epithets: “Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;” according to further letters to Lovecraft, Moore received her copy of The Double Shadow in May, and finished it before the 27th (Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 41-42).

Moore does not mention anything further about correspondence with Smith for some months, and it may be the two fantasists did not continue to write one another after the sale was complete. Smith, for his part, was increasingly occupied with his mother’s failing health during this period and went weeks or months without answering letters. This would seem to be supported by the final reference in her letters to Lovecraft, written when he informed Moore of the death of Fanny Gaylord Smith, Clark’s mother, on 9 September 1935:

I was sorry to hear about Mr. Smith’s mother. I had a debate with myself whether to write, since we have exchanged a note or two, but decided not to both because our correspondence has been so brief and formal, and because in his place I think I’d rather not hear from anyone or be reminded at all of such a bereavement.

C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 16 Oct 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 69

Which is, as far as can be ascertained at this point, the end of it. We might conjecture whys and wherefores Smith and Moore did not renew their correspondence—with Robert E. Howard’s death in 1936 and H. P. Lovecraft’s death in 1937 their major correspondent in common would probably have been R. H. Barlow, and after Lovecraft’s death Smith and Barlow would have a falling-out—but we don’t know. Perhaps they did write to one another sometime in the 40s or 50s, and the letters simply haven’t come to light yet; but for the most part, even though Moore’s marriage with Kuttner would bring her to California where Smith was, the orbits of their careers seem to have shifted.

As far as we know, all of their correspondence was limited to a couple of notes in 1935, and we are fortunate to be able to say that much, given the limited materials on C. L. Moore currently available.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

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