BOOK REVIEW: Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, The – Volume 1: The End of the Story
I wrote and published this review for Dread Central. See the original post here.
Written by Clark Ashton Smith
Edited by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger
Published by Night Shade Books
The End of the Story is, ironically, the beginning for author Clark Ashton Smith. If you’re not familiar with CAS, he was one of H.P. Lovecraft’s contemporaries. He was also one of Weird Fiction magazine’s largest contributors, focusing mainly on horrific fantasy tales and dark sci-fi.
The End of the Story is the first volume in a five-book series that chronologically lays out the short works of CAS. Editors Scott Connors and Ron Hilger worked with the author’s estate to painstakingly “remaster” each story. This remastering better represents CAS’s original vision for his work.
While alive, CAS would heavily edit the stories at the request of publications. Unlike Lovecraft, the editors tell us, CAS needed to be sure his stories would be accepted no matter what. Due to family circumstances he required the payment he earned, even if it meant “selling out.” Although unable to do so in the end, he had always vowed to publish a book of his tales as they were first intended. The editors’ unparalleled research has yielded a collection that is as close as humanly possible to the author’s original vision.
The End of the Story is not for the casual CAS fan or those not familiar with his work. It’s not a choice picking, but rather a chronological catalog that showcases how CAS grew as a writer. Although known as one of the masters of his day, many of these stories rely on the same themes and lack much in the way of plot. The descriptions were constructed by a master poet and are often too flowery for prose—all form and little function. The reader can easily become lost in the language and lose any sense of urgency or horror.
Despite the thin plots, CAS builds beautiful and vivid atmospheres. One of my favorite lines in the book demonstrates CAS’s mastery over the written word: “But, though these things and the power they held or symbolized were the terror of the peoples and the envy of all rival magicians, the thoughts of Malygris were dark with immitigable melancholy, and weariness filled his heart as ashes fill the hearth where a great fire has died.” It’s easy to see a brilliant author shining through sentences such as this.
Beautiful language aside, I can’t imagine anyone but the most avid of CAS fans enjoying this thick doorstop of a book. Although many of the stories deal with the “horrific,” the ideas seem quaint when compared to what’s considered mainstream in today’s world. Once there was a vibrant market for walking skeletons and men who were lured by the call of the Siren. These days I think much of the horror and fantasy in The End of the Story would easily feel at home in R.L. Stine’s children’s horror books under the Goosebumps umbrella.
What true fans will love, aside from the remastered text, is the history surrounding each of the short stories. It’s quite fascinating. The mass of background notes written by the editors tells the reader the stories behind each story. Unfortunately, the notes are also difficult to navigate. Although the editors took great pains to ensure the reader could understand the context of how each story came about, they did a disservice by compiling everything into front and back matter. It would have been ideal if the history, notes, and alternate ending accompanied each short story. Instead this information-dense material bookends the anthology, causing a lot of flipping back and forth.
For the average reader The End of the Story is three stars; its Grade B selection of CAS’s material, coupled with an unfriendly user format, will make it just an okay read. However, for the avid fan, this book is a solid four stars. Reading the work as it was originally intended to be and learning the history behind each story should be a real treat for those who can’t get enough CAS. Accordingly, taking both the average reader and the super-fan into account, I give The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith – Volume 1: The End of the Story 3-1/2 stars.