The Double Shadow: Spooky gothic tales

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsClark Ashton Smith The Double ShadowThe Double Shadow by Clark Ashton Smith

Halloween is right around the corner, so I thought I’d get in the mood by reading a collection of spooky stories by Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who’s known for his contributions to the pulp magazine Weird Tales. Smith was a friend of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and an influence on many of the later pulp writers.

The Double Shadow collects six of Clark Ashton Smith’s excellent short stories. You can read each of these at The Eldritch Dark, a website devoted to the writings of Clark Ashton Smith. They have posted the text of most of his stories online either because the story is in the public domain, or with permission from Smith’s estate. I don’t like to read stories from my computer screen, so I recommend the audio version I listened to by AudioRealms, which was beautifully narrated by Steve Cooper. But you can use the links below to at least read enough to determine whether you like Smith’s style:

  • The Double Shadow” — A necromancer is being followed by a sinister shadow.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  • The Devotee of Evil” — An eccentric rich man moves into a haunted house because he wants to study the physics of evil.
  • A Night in Malnéant” — Feeling guilty about his girlfriend’s suicide, a man can’t find the peace he seeks when he visits a city preparing for a funeral.
  • The Willow Landscape” — For financial reasons, a man is forced to sell his favorite possession – a painting of a willow landscape. Before the buyer takes it away, the man requests to spend one more evening with his beloved treasure. I knew where this was going from the beginning, but I loved it anyway.
  • The Maze of the Enchanter” — A man goes to a sorcerer’s house to retrieve the woman he loves.
  • The Voyage of King Euvoran” — King Euvoran’s famous crown has been carried off by a large exotic bird. To maintain his authority (and to cover his bald spot) the King needs to get it back. This story was quite humorous.

Writing about Clark Ashton Smith, L. Sprague de Camp said, “Nobody since Poe has so loved a well-rotted corpse,” but there’s more to Smith’s stories than evil, death, and rotting corpses. There’s so much beauty here, too. There are exotic landscapes, strange people and animals, chilling and ironic plot twists. The prose is rich, deep, and ornate:

With no other light than that of the four diminutive moons of Xiccarph, each in a different phase but all decrescent, Tiglari had crossed the bottomless swamp of Soorm, wherein no reptile dwelt and no dragon descended — but where the pitch-black ooze was alive with continual heavings and writhings.

If you’re in the mood for some spooky gothic tales, Clark Ashton Smith’s The Double Shadow may be just the right thing. The Double Shadow was my first exposure to Smith’s stories, but I have now made it a personal goal to read all of them.

The Double Shadow — (1933) Publisher: A collection of six stories ranging from contemporary horror to weird alternate-world fantasy, this book remains a fascinating introduction and Clark Ashton Smith The Double Shadowshowcase to Smith’s decadently jeweled prose.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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