Read The Door to Saturn Online

Authors: Clark Ashton Smith

Tags: #Fantasy Fiction, #Comics & Graphic Novels, #General, #Fantasy, #American, #Fiction, #Short Stories

The Door to Saturn

BOOK: The Door to Saturn
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Volume two of

The Collected Fantasies Of



Edited by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger

With an Introduction by Ramsey Campbell





Night Shade Books

San Francisco

The Door to Saturn
© 2007 by The Estate of Clark Ashton Smith


This edition of
The Door to Saturn
© 2007

by Night Shade Books


Jacket art © 2007 by Jason Van Hollander

Jacket design by Claudia Noble

Interior layout and design by Jeremy Lassen





All rights reserved.



Introduction © 2007 by Tim Powers

A Note on the Texts © 2007 by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger

Story Notes © 2007 by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger

Bibliography © 2007 by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger



















First Edition



ISBN: 978-1-59780-029-7


Night Shade Books

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ehind all the colorful gods and heroes of Greek and Roman mythology—behind even Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who measured out and snipped off the length of a man’s life, and more unanswerable even than Zeus and Hera together—stood Fate. This force—not a person, personifying it would be as hard as personifying entropy—was what made Tantalus kill his own son and abominably serve him as dinner to the unwitting gods, what led Agamemnon to kill his daughter, what drove the Bacchantes to commit perverse murders incomprehensible even to themselves.

Those figures, so remote in ancient history, helplessly acted out their fated, prophesied roles. Free will was a mocking lie for Theseus and Oedipus and Hercules. Foreordained fatal error was the true story.

We live in a different universe now, or a differently-perceived one, at any rate. The Judeo-Christian world-view, even just coasting on past momentum as it mostly is these days, has introduced the ideas of justice and mercy—redemption. Even the Gnostic philosophy, with its bleak belief in an insane demiurge responsible for the creation of this world, acknowledged a perfect God, unapproachable but at least out there somewhere.

Modern writers can write stories set in those ancient Fate-cursed days, but they can’t really assume or convey the perspective of being an organic part of that sort of world. Well, none of them besides Clark Ashton Smith.

I leaned from some black precipice, to see
The pits beneath. One came, not far from me,
Who hurled therein the sockets of the stars
And shells of worlds that rattled emptily.
—Clark Ashton Smith

Really it’s only in dreams, when the oldest catacombs of our brains serve up symbols that mystify as much as terrify, that we dimly comprehend the grammar of that merciless unredeemed universe. And dreams, like fairy tales, have their own compelling pre-rational “logic”—as Chesterton said of the stories in mythology, “we do not know why something stirs in the subconsciousness, or why what is impossible seems almost inevitable.”

We don’t know why the culminating event in Smith’s “The Testament of Athammaus,” impossible though it is, is clearly inevitable. The Singing Flame, in its vast temple in the weirdly besieged city of Ydmos, is an image that seems to spring authoritatively from the earliest dreams we ever had.

I use the word “dreams,” not specifically “nightmares.” It would be careless to label Smith’s fantasies as “horror.” Certainly horror is an element in them, but the ugly or terrifying aspects are incidental features of a world that is simply not ours. They never seem to be the main point, and to focus on them is like paying attention only to the familiar-seeming instruments in a profoundly strange orchestra. The narrative voice often describes the most appalling scenes as dispassionately as it describes the most gorgeous ones. They’re often the same, in fact—the standard lumber of horror stories, all the decrepit old houses and possessed children and cosmopolitan vampires, fades to relative mundanity beside Smith’s vaultingly glamorous dooms.

Smith’s stories are truly “magic casements, opening on the foam/ Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.” They’re shot through with an antediluvian beauty which is indifferent to human security or even comprehension, but which is more siren-like because of that remoteness. Each of the creatures who gladly immolates itself in the Singing Flame has made a vast pilgrimage to attain it. And even then, Fate scrawls the last, bitter hieroglyph.

“And, leaning from the mouldered bed of lust,
Love’s skeleton writes Nada in the dust.”
—Clark Ashton Smith

Not surprisingly, true love never seems to work out, in Smith’s worlds. Smith’s typical luckless protagonist is more likely to be endlessly seeking a long-lost lover, or endlessly mourning an irretrievably dead one, than enjoying the beloved’s company. Eroticism abounds, though, whether as dangerous as the variously deadly ladies in “The Kiss of Zoraida” and “A Rendezvous in Averoigne,” or as grotesque and ultimately funny as the “national mother” in “The Door to Saturn,” but it’s a fatal eroticism, and to give in to it is generally to be obliterated—though often we can queasily sympathize with the brave and foolhardy souls who choose just that. Lamiae, succubi, sirens—for the duration of a story, at least, Smith can convince you that plain love between a human man and woman is the lowest possible reading on a meter than stretches very high, though nearly all of the calibrations are in the red-lit danger zone.

Ultimately we realize that the dazzling glamors we find in these stories are inextricable from, are in fact a consequence of, the merciless field-equations of Fate—the cold stone beneath the ornate and enchanted Bokhaira carpets. Even for the Emperor of Dreams, the narrator of Smith’s grandest poem, “The Hashish-Eater,” there waits at the end of all the splendors of a million universes,

“... a huge white eyeless Face
That fills the void and fills the universe,
And bloats against the limits of the world
With lips of flame that open…”
Tim Powers
March 2007


lark Ashton Smith considered himself primarily as a poet and artist, but he began his publishing career with a series of Oriental
contes cruels
that were published in such magazines as the
Overland Monthly
and the
Black Cat.
He ceased the writing of short stories for many years, but, under the influence of his correspondent H. P. Lovecraft, he began experimenting with the weird tale when he wrote “The Abominations of Yondo” in 1925. His friend Genevieve K. Sully suggested that writing for the pulps would be a reasonably congenial way for him to earn enough money to support himself and his parents.

Between the years 1930 and 1935, the name of Clark Ashton Smith appeared on the contents page of
Weird Tales
no fewer than fifty-three times, leaving his closest competitors, Robert E. Howard, Seabury Quinn, and August W. Derleth, in the dust, with forty-six, thirty-three and thirty stories, respectively. This prodigious output did not come at the price of sloppy composition, but was distinguished by its richness of imagination and expression. Smith put the same effort into one of his stories that he did into a bejeweled and gorgeous sonnet. Donald Sidney-Fryer has described Smith’s method of composition in his 1978 bio-bibliography
Emperor of Dreams
(Donald M. Grant, West Kingston, R.I.) thus:

First he would sketch the plot in longhand on some piece of note-paper, or in his notebook,
The Black Book,
which Smith used circa 1929-1961. He would then write the first draft, usually in longhand but occasionally directly on the typewriter. He would then rewrite the story 3 or 4 times (Smith’s own estimate); this he usually did directly on the typewriter. Also, he would subject each draft to considerable alteration and correction in longhand, taking the ms. with him on a stroll and reading aloud to himself [. . .]. (19)

Unlike Lovecraft, who would refuse to allow publication of his stories without assurances that they would be printed without editorial alteration, Clark Ashton Smith would revise a tale if it would ensure acceptance. Smith was not any less devoted to his art than his friend, but unlike HPL he had to consider his responsibilities in caring for his elderly and infirm parents. He tolerated these changes to his carefully crafted short stories with varying degrees of resentment, and vowed that if he ever had the opportunity to collect them between hard covers he would restore the excised text. Unfortunately, he experienced severe eyestrain during the preparation of his first Arkham House collections, so he provided magazine tear sheets to August Derleth for his secretary to use in the preparation of a manuscript.

Lin Carter was the first of Smith’s editors to attempt to provide the reader with pure Smith, but the efforts of Steve Behrends and Mark Michaud have revealed the extent to which Smith’s prose was compromised. Through their series of pamphlets, the
Unexpurgated Clark Ashton Smith,
the reader and critic could see precisely the severity of these compromises; while in the collections
Tales of Zothique
The Book of Hyperborea
Behrends and Will Murray presented for the first time the stories just as Smith wrote them.

In establishing what the editors believe to be what Smith would have preferred, we were fortunate in having access to several repositories of Smith’s manuscripts, most notably the Clark Ashton Smith Papers deposited at the John Hay Library of Brown University, but also including the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley, Special Collections of Brigham Young University, the California State Library, and several private collections. Priority was given to the latest known typescript prepared by Smith, except where he had indicated that the changes were made solely to satisfy editorial requirements. In these instances we compared the last version that satisfied Smith with the version sold. Changes made include the restoration of deleted material, except only in those instances where the change of a word or phrase seems consistent with an attempt by Smith to improve the story, as opposed to the change of a word or phrase to a less Latinate, and less graceful, near-equivalent. This represents a hybrid or fusion of two competing versions, but it is the only way that we see that Smith’s intentions as author may be honored. In a few instances a word might be changed in the Arkham House collections that isn’t indicated on the typescript.

We have also attempted to rationalize Smith’s spellings and hyphenation practices. Smith used British spellings early in his career but gradually switched to American usage. He could also vary spelling of certain words from story to story, e.g., “eerie” and “eery.” We have generally standardized on his later usage, except for certain distinct word choices such as “grey”. In doing so we have deviated from the “style sheet” prepared by the late Jim Turner for his 1988 omnibus collection for Arkham House,
A Rendezvous in Averoigne.
Turner did not have access to such a wonderful scholarly tool as Boyd Pearson’s website, By combining its extremely useful search engine with consultation of Smith’s actual manuscripts and typescripts, as well as seeing how he spelled a particular word in a poem or letter, the editors believe that they have reflected accurately Smith’s idiosyncracies of expression.

BOOK: The Door to Saturn
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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