As he went down the knoll into the valley, the enchanter heard an eery, plaintive singing, like that of sirens who bewail some irremediable misfortune. The singing came from a sisterhood of unusual creatures, half woman and half flower, that grew on the valley bottom beside a sleepy stream of purple water. There were several scores of these lovely and charming monsters, whose feminine bodies of pink and pearl reclined amid the vermilion velvet couches of billowing petals to which they were attached. These petals were borne on mattress-like leaves and heavy, short, well-rooted stems. The flowers were disposed in irregular circles, clustering thickly toward the center, and with open intervals in the outer rows.
Maal Dweb approached the flower-women with a certain caution; for he knew that they were vampires. Their arms ended in long tendrils, pale as ivory, swifter and more supple than the coils of darting serpents, with which they were wont to secure the unwary victims drawn by their singing. Of course, knowing in his wisdom the inexorable laws of nature, he felt no disapproval of such vampirism; but, on the other hand, he did not care to be its object.
—Clark Ashton Smith, “The Flower-Women” (Weird Tales, May 1935)
Weird Tales had three leading writers during the 1920s and 30s: H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. While not always the most popular or published, or even the most successful during their lifetimes, they stand above more prolific writers such as Seabury Quinn and H. Bedford Jones, and their work in the pulps is esteemed above the early work of successful later peers like Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, C. L. Moore, and Margaret St. Clair.
Howard died in 1936; Lovecraft in 1937. Clark Ashton Smith survived until 1961, the only one of the three to outlive Weird Tales, though the latter portion of his life involved far less fiction and poetry than his fans and admirers would have liked, living for the most part a quiet life with his family, doing seasonal labor and working as a gardener for his livelihood. Smith is the only one of those three masters for which a record of his voice survives, in the Elder Tapes; and his published letters are an invaluable record of the creation of the Cthulhu Mythos, tracing his contacts with both H. P. Lovecraft during his life and, afterwards, with August Derleth at Arkham House.
Smith was wonderfully weird, and left behind a body of work that puts the romance in necromancy; stories such as “Mother of Toads” and “The Witchcraft of Ulua” could not be published uncensored in Weird Tales, and in later life he even wrote a drama titled “The Dead Will Cuckold You.” Which is not to say he was in any sense pornographic; his few efforts to sell to the Spicy pulps largely didn’t, unlike his friend Robert E. Howard. Rather, his prose was sensuous, often filled with long and curious words that conveyed shades of meaning and suggestions of eroticism that could not be put into print.
These scions were the various parts and members of human beings. Consumately, and with never faillng success, the magician had joined them to the half-vegetable, half-animate stocks on which they lived and grew thereafter, drawing an ichor-like sap. Thus were preserved the carefully chosen souvenirs of a multitude of persons who had inspired Dwerulas and the king with distaste or ennui. On palmy boles, beneath feathery-tufted foliage, tbe heads of eunuchs hung in bunches, like enormous black drupes. A bare, leafless creeper was flowered with the ears of delinquent guardsmen. Misshapen cacti were fruited with the breasts of women, or foliated with their hair. Entire limbs or torsos had been united with monstrous trees. Some of the huge salver-like blossoms bore palpitating hearts, and certain smaller blooms were centered with eyes that still opened and closed amid their lashes. And there were other graftings, too obscene or repellent for narration.
Adompha went forward among the hybrid growths, which stirred and rustled at his approach. The heads appeared to crane towards him a little, the ears quivered, the breasts shuddered lightly, the eyes widened or narrowed as if watching his progress.
—Clark Ashton Smith, “The Garden of Adompha,” (Weird Tales, Apr 1938)
For all of his longevity and enormous influence, Clark Ashton Smith remains the most under-studied, and often under-appreciated of the three masters of the weird tale. The amount of critical literature, biographical materials, published letters, etc. regarding him is an order of magnitude less than might be found for Robert E. Howard, which is itself less than that of H. P. Lovecraft. While Smith’s Mythos fiction and creations like Tsathoggua have inspired many authors to expand on his work, it is more often through the Lovecraftian lens of “The Mound” (1940) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft than Smith directly. There are simply fewer fans writing stories and novels set in Smith’s Zothique or Hyperborea than there are those writing works set in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age.
More specifically, fans tend to be somewhat less apt to pastiche the work of Clark Ashton Smith, either in textual style or content. While many pasticheurs find some joy in aping H. P. Lovecraft’s occasionally ultraviolet prose and descriptions of the unnamable, or Robert E. Howard’s terse exclamations (“By Crom!”) and strive to emulate his fast-moving action, Smith doesn’t seem to attract quite the same effort. Whether the particular sardonic style and rich vocabulary is off-putting to would-be pastiche writers, or those who try simply fall a bit too far short of the real thing to be recognized as such, it remains that very few have tried to capture the peculiar and iconic mix of cosmic horror and sensuality that Clark Ashton Smith made seem so effortless in so many stories and poems.
Which is what resulted in Tales of Sex and Sorcery (2008) by “Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe.”
Chained with gold in chaises percées, slender ankles pedicled apart and tender vulvae exposed between silken thighs, the garden-girls of the emperor Vuutsavek first cursed the youth and beauty that doomed them, but came in time to new gratitude therefor, dying with ecstasies greater and more numerous than a hundred lifetimes of ordinary length might have granted them.
—Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe, “The Vulviflora of Vuutsavek” in Tales of Sex and Sorcery 18
Tales of Sex and Sorcery is number 87 in the ongoing chapbook series published by Rainfall in the United Kingdom, who have been publishing original fiction, poetry, and artwork in the vein of weird fiction and the pulps for years; the print runs are small and several of their works have become collector’s items because they featured the work of notable Mythos writers like W. H. Pugmire and Ann K. Schwader.
The 36-page chapbook by Smythe is as close to an erotic pastiche of Clark Ashton Smith’s prose as has probably ever been seriously attempted. There are 11 stories, so each of these qualifies as a “short-short” in terms of length, usually no more than two pages; some like “The Quarry” are set in Averoigne or some other of Smith’s settings, while others are more ambiguous. There is no “Vuutsavek” in the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, yet neither would the name or the theme be out of place in the body of work cultivated by the author of “The Flower-Women” and “The Garden of Adompha.” The stories get a touch more explicit than Smith ever did, but the language is precise: Smith liked to weave exposition into his prose fiction as much as he liked to hint and suggest.
Girls swallowed; seeds sprouted; florists succored: till at last the buds of the vulviflora, the quim-flowers wherefor the emperor waited, began to show between the girls’ writhing netherlips, having crept down the quim-sheath between orgasms.
—Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe, “The Vulviflora of Vuutsavek” in Tales of Sex and Sorcery 18
Who is “Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe?” No clue is given; the style is sufficiently consistent that it is probably a single author, and the most likely candidate is Simon Whitechapel, a self-declared “Logomagician” who has written a respectable amount of interesting Smith pastiche before, a good chunk of it published by Rainfall in its chapbook series, and other Smith-related anthologies. “The Vulvilora of Vuutsavek,” “The Nyctonymph,” “The Mastophilia of Amlimla,” and “The WIldering of the Capnomancer” from Tales of Sex and Sorcery would certainly fit right in with Whitechapel’s “The Erotodendra of Silcud-Psunur” “The Tears of the Melomancer,” “The Ascent of the Lepidopteromacher,” and “Walpurgisnachtmusik.” Whitechapel, at the least, has studied Smith’s style in depth:
Anyone who can read a Clark Ashton Smith story without reaching for the dictionary at least half-a-dozen times is either extremely well-read in a lot of recondite corners of literature or has read the story a few times before. Or prefers to go with the flow and let the meaning look after itself. If it’s the last, then the reader isn’t getting the most out of Smith, because watching the way he deploys the illimitable resources of his lexicon is, for me, one of the most enjoyable things about his work. When he uses an unusual word, it’s always because it’s the right word for the occasion, never simply for the sake of it.
—Simon Whitechapel, “Wizard with Words: An Appreciation of Clark Ashton Smith”
in Tales of Science & Sortilege (2005), 76
Tales of Sex and Sorcery is out of print, and the contents have not been reprinted.