Illustrating Zothique

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Cover art by George Barr, 1970.

A few years ago I wrote a short piece about Virgil Finlay’s illustrations for a Zothique story by Clark Ashton Smith, The Garden of Adompha, so this post may be regarded as a more substantial sequel. If Smith remains something of a cult author then Zothique is the pre-eminent cult creation from his career as a writer of weird fiction. Most of Smith’s stories can be grouped together according to their location: Atlantis, Hyperborea, Averoigne in medieval France, the planet Mars, and so on. Zothique was a more original conception than his other worlds, being the last continent on Earth in the final years of the planet, an idea which had precedents in earlier novels such as William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land but which hadn’t been used before as a setting for a cycle of stories. The distant future suggests science fiction but, as with the Zothique-influenced Dying Earth of Jack Vance, science and technology is long-forgotten and sorcery rules the day. The poetry that Smith wrote before he took to writing short stories had a distinctly Decadent quality—”like a verbal Gustave Moreau painting“—and Zothique is a richly Decadent world, with the entire planet in a state of decay along with its barbarous, demon-worshipping peoples.

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Weird Tales, September 1932. Art by T. Wyatt Nelson.

All the Zothique stories had their first printings in Weird Tales, a magazine that ran illustrations with most contributions, but unless you’re a pulp collector many of the illustrations have been difficult to see until very recently. One of the pleasures of looking through fiction magazines is seeing how their stories might have been illustrated when they were first published. Popular tales eventually find their way into book collections but their illustrations tend to be marooned in the titles where they first appeared unless the artist is of sufficient merit to warrant a collection of their own.

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Weird Tales, March 1933. Art by Jayem Wilcox.

The examples here are all from recent uploads at the Internet Archive which now has a complete run of Weird Tales from 1923 to 1954. The illustrations also run in order of publication with links to the relevant issues, although I agree with Lin Carter’s ordering of the stories. Smith never organised them himself, and the later reprints from Arkham House and others tend to scatter them through separate volumes. When Lin Carter edited the Zothique collection in 1970 he put the stories into an order that follows the very loose chronology running through the cycle.

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Weird Tales, January 1934. Art by Clark Ashton Smith.

One surprise of this search was discovering that Smith himself had provided illustrations for several of the stories. Some Smith enthusiasts like his drawings and paintings but I’m afraid I’m not among them, his sculpture work is better. It’s doubtful that these would have been printed at all if they weren’t the work of the author.

Continue reading “Illustrating Zothique”

The Garden of Adompha

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…the growths of that garden were such as no terrestrial sun could have fostered, and Dwerulas said that their seed was of like origin with the globe. There were pale, bifurcated trunks that strained upwards as if to disroot themselves from the ground, unfolding immense leaves like the dark and ribbed wings of dragons. There were amaranthine blossoms, broad as salvers, supported by arm-thick stems that trembled continually.

And there were many other weird plants, diverse as the seven hells, and having no common characteristics other than the scions which Dwerulas had grafted upon them here and there through his unnatural and necromantic art.

These scions were the various parts and members of human beings. Consummately, and with never failing 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, the 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.

Thus Clark Ashton Smith in The Garden of Adompha, one of the stories in the author’s Zothique cycle which was first published in Weird Tales in April, 1938. Zothique was Smith’s contribution to the Dying Earth subgenre, sixteen stories set on the last continent in the final days of the Earth, and a home to no end of sorcery and cruelty. I’ve always enjoyed this subgenre, especially in the hands of Jack Vance whose later Dying Earth stories show the influence of Zothique, so these are some of my favourites among Smith’s prodigious output. The Garden of Adompha is a particularly grotesque piece, concerning the sequestered garden of the title to which King Adompha has undesirables removed. Once there his wizard, Dwerulas, drugs the victims and grafts parts of their bodies to the garden’s hothouse plants. Virgil Finlay’s cover painting downplays the horror somewhat, and Dwerulas’s supine prey, Thuloneah, looks like a very typical American girl, but then for a story that reads like a pulp equivalent of Octave Mirbeau it’s surprising it made the cover at all.

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Re-reading some of Smith’s stories over the past week, The Garden of Adompha among them, there’s been the additional pleasure of searching for illustrations from their original publication. I knew that Virgil Finlay had painted this cover, one of the few cover features Smith received from Weird Tales, but Alistair Durie’s Weird Tales (1979) collection only has a monochrome reproduction. The always reliable Golden Age Comic Book Stories not only has a copy of Finlay’s original painting but also the interior illustration which looks like a litho drawing rather than the artist’s more usual scratchboard. The most recent book collection featuring the story was The Collected Fantasies Of Clark Ashton Smith Volume 5: The Last Hieroglyph (2010) from Night Shade Books. (I would have linked to the publisher’s page but their site seems to be broken.)

Update: Golden Age Comic Book Stories changed its name then vanished altogether. The picture links here have been updated.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Vathek illustrated
The Vengeance of Nitocris
The House of Orchids by George Sterling
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
Odes and Sonnets by Clark Ashton Smith
The King in Yellow
Clark Ashton Smith book covers