The Obscurity of Clark Ashton Smith

The 117th anniversary of Clark Ashton Smith’s birth last week was marked by The Cimmerian (here, here, and here), Grognardia, Black Gate, and others with accolades and remembrances. As well it should. Smith, along with Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, formed the weird fiction triptych of the 1920s and ’30s — and in my opinion, he was the most talented member of a talented group. Yet a recurring question in many of these memorials is why Smith remains uncelebrated in comparison to his partners. This is especially vexing when you consider he outlived the other two by almost a quarter-century.

Answer: Because Smith’s estate has kept him unknown.

Lovecraft and Howard are popular today because we have had a full generation grow up with easy access to inexpensive volumes of their work. Lovecraft’s writing has been in paperback fairly consistently since the 1970s; Del Rey alone has been printing his stuff since the mid-1980s. Howard’s legacy, while certainly boosted by Marvel’s Conan comics, is due in large part to the Lancer/Ace mass-market paperbacks of the ’60s and ’70s with their wonderful Frazetta and Vallejo covers.

Smith’s work, alas, has never been managed as well.

Continue reading