Pseudopod 331: The Ninth Skeleton

by Clark Ashton Smith

“The Ninth Skeleton” was first published in a 1928 issue of the Weird Tales. Most recently, the story was republished in THE END OF THE STORY: VOLUME ONE OF THE COLLECTED FANTASIES OF CLARK ASHTON SMITH – the first of six definitive volumes of Smith’s collected work published by Night Shade Books of San Francisco, from which this episode’s approved text was taken (and thanks to both Night Shade and the Smith Estate). To purchase this or other volumes of Smith, please visit them at the link: Night Shade Books – and tell them Pseudopod sent ya!

The iconic horror and fantasy fiction pulp magazine, Weird Tales, in its time published many if not all of the top writers in these genres, but according to critics, three stand out and have clearly endured: H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and CLARK ASHTON SMITH (1893-1961). Put simply, Smith is a master of fantasy prose. Noted author and editor, Richard Lupoff, says of Smith, “Every glittering image demands our time and attention.” Listening to the story, one might do well to keep in mind that Smith primarily considered himself a poet, which perhaps explains his ability to mesmerize his audiences with language, not just plot. Smith was a self-educated American poet, sculptor, painter and author of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories and was born January 13, 1893 in Long Valley, California, of English and Yankee parentage. He spent most of his life in the small town of Auburn, California, living in a small cabin built by his parents. His formal education was limited: he suffered from psychological disorders including a fear of crowds and was home schooled. But he was an insatiable reader and his education began with the reading of ROBINSON CRUSOE, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and Madame d’Aulnoy, THE ARABIAN NIGHTS and (at the age of 13) the poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Smith professed to hate the provinciality of the small town of Auburn but rarely left it until he married late in life. In his later youth, Smith made the acquaintance of the San Francisco poet George Sterling through a member of the local Auburn Monday Night Club, where he read several of his poems with considerable success. He became Sterling’s protégé and Sterling helped him to publish his first volume of poems, THE STAR-TREADER AND OTHER POEMS (1912). Smith received international acclaim for the collection and was received very favorably by American critics, one of whom named Smith “the Keats of the Pacific”. Smith briefly moved among the circle that included Ambrose Bierce and Jack London, but his early fame soon faded away. In 1920 Smith composed a celebrated long poem in blank verse, “The Hashish Eater, or The Apocalypse of Evil” which was published in EBONY AND CRYSTAL (1922). This was followed by a fan letter from H. P. Lovecraft, which was the beginning of 15 years of friendship and correspondence. Smith was poor for most of his life and often did hard manual jobs such as fruit picking and woodcutting in order to support himself and his parents. He was an able cook and made many kinds of wine. He also did well digging, typing and journalism, as well as contributing a column to The Auburn Journal and sometimes worked as its night editor. At the beginning of the Depression in 1929, with his aged parents’ health weakening, Smith resumed fiction writing and turned out more than a hundred short stories, nearly all of which can be classed as weird horror or science fiction. Like Lovecraft, he drew upon the nightmares that had plagued him during youthful spells of sickness. At age 61, he married Carol Jones Dorman. In August 1961 he quietly died in his sleep, aged 68.

Clark Ashton-Smith’s work is comprehensively discussed on the informative podcast The Double Shadows and the lovingly detailed website The Eldritch Dark. Please check them both out – you wont regret it.

Your reader this week – Corson Bremer – is an American living in France. He began acting professionally, as well as working as an on-air presenter in radio, while still in college in the States studying theater and technical communication. In his varied career he has been an actor, Technical Director and Set Designer for the theater; a commercial copywriter, Program Director, and producer for radio; a grant writer for non-profit organizations; and a technical writer writing user documentation for hardware and software for companies like Bull, Alcatel-Lucent, HP, and Thomson Reuters. After moving to France in 1990, and with the multimedia boom on the Internet, he combined his acting and narration skills with his technical writing experience to create voice-overs for e-learning and web videos. His big break in voice-over came when he was cast to perform characters in 2 video games for Ubisoft Paris. He set up his professional home studio and has worked internationally as a professional voice artist in commercials, video games, machinima, technical narration, audio guides, and corporate web videos since 2002. Other than “The Ninth Skeleton”, Corson’s most recent major project was voicing 5 different characters for Spiders Games’ new video game for XBox Live, PSN and PC, MARS: WAR LOGS scheduled for release in Spring 2013. Corson’s website can be found here.

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“It was beneath the immaculate blue of a morning in April that I set out to keep my appointment with Guenevere. We had agreed to meet on Boulder Ridge, at a spot well known to both of us, a small and circular field surrounded with pines and full of large stones, midway between her parents’ home at Newcastle and my cabin on the north-eastern extremity of the Ridge, near Auburn.”

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