Illustrating Zothique


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.


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.


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.


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.


Weird Tales, February 1934.

Two of the stories lack illustrations but the headings are included here for the links to the magazines.


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


Weird Tales, May 1934.


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


Weird Tales, January 1935. Art by Clark Ashton Smith.


Weird Tales, April 1935. Art by Jack Binder.


Weird Tales, March 1936. Art by Virgil Finlay.

After some lacklustre art the great Virgil Finlay rides to the rescue. Finlay’s detailed renderings always had to fight against poor paper stock, and in the picture below it’s difficult to make out the blood-sucking weasel-demon fastened to the breast of its unfortunate victim.


Weird Tales, July 1936. Art by Virgil Finlay.


Weird Tales, September 1937. Art by Virgil Finlay.


Weird Tales, April 1938. Art by Virgil Finlay.


Weird Tales, April 1938. Art by Virgil Finlay.


Weird Tales, September 1947. Art by Boris Dolgov. (The story as published is Quest of the Gazolba which is a variant of The Voyage of King Euvoran.)


Weird Tales, March 1948. Art by Lee Brown Coye.


Weird Tales, May 1953. Art by WH Silvey.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Plutonian Drug
More trip texts
Yuggoth details
The Garden of Adompha
The City of the Singing Flame
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
Odes and Sonnets by Clark Ashton Smith
Clark Ashton Smith book covers

5 thoughts on “Illustrating Zothique”

  1. Curiously enough, I was thinking of Zothique, and Smith’s work in general, this morning. I have always found his short stories hit or miss, as it was a way of earning an income, seeing as he could not survive on writing Decadent poetry, especially in the aesthetically inhospitable clime of Depression-era America; but Zothique is my favourite of his story cycles. Smith’s father came from Lancashire; I have sometimes wondered, though he normally completely envisioned his own worlds, if his writings would have possessed that same quality had he grown up in England, among the grey, industrial cotton mills.

  2. I don’t think surroundings have as much of an influence as people think they do if your imagination is following obsessive pathways. Hodgson was living in Blackburn, Lancs when he started writing, and while his sea stories are informed by his own experiences the same can’t be said for his fantasy novels. Smith’s work seems more influenced by his reading of Vathek and the like. I often like to inform people that the first few chapters of Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan were written in Blackpool (where I grew up) when Peake was stationed there during the early years of the war.

  3. This weekend I type up the final draft of an fore/after(?)ward I have written for the upcoming HASHISH EATER & OTHER POEMS to come out from Necronomicon Press this Spring, with additional new illustrations by one of their stalwarts, Robert H. Knox. An idol of mine, the eminent Donald Sidney Fryer will be writing the other non-fiction inclusion.

    My piece will focus on RHK’s work illustrating Smith. Spoiler Alert: IMNSHO He is THE preminent CAS illustrator today (ESP. his definitive take on “The Tomb Spawn”), albeit there is great work also being done under that gease by Ms Justine Jones of Baltimore & thet Wizard of The West Coast, SKINNER of Berkeley. For ye Feuilleton fans, note Une semaine de bonté is brought into the conversation as well

  4. For the sake of completion: Other CAS illustrations of note inc.
    J. K. Potter’s for Rendezvous in Averoigne (Arkham House), esp. that for “The Dark Eidolon”; Richard Corben’s “Empire of Necromancers”;
    and that George Barr cover for ZOTHIQUE which started everything off for me and a generation of nascent Smith fans. THAT Ballantine edition is a treasured volume in mine own collection, redolent of a grimoire found midst sand-washed rubies…

  5. I didn’t know Corben had done anything based on Zothique so that’s good to see. The Ballantine books weren’t easy to find over here so my CAS volumes are the Panther reprints of the Arkham House editions, most of which they divided in two. Bruce Pennington did the covers for several of those:

    I wouldn’t mind illustrating an edition of Zothique myself if someone made a serious offer, and gave me enough time to do all the stories.

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