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Lovecraft and the Bard of Auburn

28 Jan

I’ve made mention before of the Lovecraft Circle, the group of visionary young American writers who, in the early years of the 20th century, contributed their horror stories to pulp magazines such as Weird Tales and Black Cat. Whilst Robert E Howard and H P Lovecraft himself would go on to become the most famous of these authors, of all of them Clark Ashton Smith was perhaps the most gifted writer. Smith actually thought of himself primarily as a poet and only turned to prose due to the meagre financial rewards that his poetry had garnered. Even so, his longer work is marked chiefly by an extraordinarily wide and ornate vocabulary, a sort of ‘fleshed out’ version of his poetry, in which plot and characters are subservient to his literary milieu. Individually, Smith’s highly imaginative, genre-spanning visions of worlds of fantasy, horror and science fiction, combined with his profound understanding of the English language, have earned him wide and lasting acclaim. However, it is his collaboration with other members of the Lovecraft Circle to create a shared universe that is perhaps his greatest achievement. Smith, Howard and Lovecraft were the leaders of the Weird Tales school of fiction, and corresponded frequently although they never met (the writer of oriental fantasies, E Hoffman Price, is the only man known to have met all three in the flesh). Together they created and developed the alternate fictional worlds of Hyperborea, Poseidonis, Averoigne and Zothique, as well as the dark, disturbing and unique Cthulhu Mythos. For most of his life, Smith lived in physical and intellectual isolation in Auburn, California, which earned him the nickname ‘The Bard of Auburn’.

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