The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies is a collection of short stories, prose poems and poetry by Clark Ashton Smith, a writer who along with others, such as H.P. Lovecraft, would popularize the weird fiction genre.
While Lovecraft would mine tales of forbidden knowledge and the dark forces behind them, the majority of Smith’s output would center on strange fantasy worlds and the dark magic that surrounds them. The stories in this newly collected edition by Penguin Classics revolve around magicians, necromancers, and the curious, most of whom do not come out unscathed at the end of Smith’s macabre tales.
A couple of standouts include The Dark Eidolon, a necromancer’s vengeance upon a king where an unforgettable dinner leads to a chaotic and terrifying end, and The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis wherein archaeologists on Mars explore an ancient deserted city only to find a strange lifeform that elicits a stranger response to the sole survivors of the expedition.
A good portion of Smith’s stories takes place in different settings that include Averoigne, a fictional French province of ancient times; Hyperborea, where cosmic horror mingles with a prehistoric age; and Zothique, the last continent in a future Earth where necromancy and dark wizardry prevails.
Each of the settings is well presented in The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies, but I really enjoyed the stories of Zothique a bit more mainly because they reminded me of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth; both Smith and Vance utilize an extensive vocabulary and place their characters in weird, interesting environments in a future where magic has replaced technology.
The prose poems and poetry included in the collection is just as varied and fantastical such as the epic, 581-line The Hashish Eater of which the first lines are below:
Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-colored sun
Of secret worlds incredible, and take
Their trailing skies for vestment when I soar
I was not in any way a fan of poetry before, but after reading through Smith’s imaginative, deep and sometimes complex poems, I’m just as inclined to search for more of his stories as his poems.