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THE DEEP ONES: "The Disinterment of Venus" by Clark Ashton Smith

The Weird Tradition

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2artturnerjr
Dec 1, 2011, 9:43pm Top

Thanks for the links, Kenton. Didn't realize you could get all 5 of the Night Shade CAS volumes in ebook format for less than it costs to get one of the hardbacks. Bring me that Kindle, Santa! :D

The YouTube vid was pretty cool, too. Here's the complete text of the poem the narrator was reading:

To Clark Ashton Smith, Esq.,
upon His Phantastick Tales,
Verses, Pictures, and Sculptures
By H. P. Lovecraft


A time-black tower against dim banks of cloud;
Around its base the pathless, pressing wood.
Shadow and silence, moss and mould, enshroud
Grey, age-fell’d slabs that once as cromlechs stood.
No fall of foot, no song of bird awakes
The lethal aisles of sempiternal night,
Tho’ oft with stir of wings the dense air shakes,
As in the tower there glows a pallid light.

For here, apart, dwells one whose hands have wrought
Strange eidola that chill the world with fear;
Whose graven runes in tones of dread have taught
What things beyond the star-gulfs lurk and leer.
Dark Lord of Averoigne—whose windows stare
On pits of dream no other gaze could bear!


Looks like Howard borrowed Clark's Oxford English Dictionary to write that one. :)

***

Oh, yeah - I'm reading "Disinterment of Venus" out of my copy of 100 Wild Little Weird Tales.



3KentonSem
Edited: Dec 5, 2011, 2:20pm Top

>2 artturnerjr:

Thanks for posting the poem, Art. It contains some typically enjoyable Lovecraftisms, such as "Phantastick", "age-fell’d", "cromlechs" and "eidola", but "sempiternal"?! Ah, Howard, you scamp you, I actually had to look that one up!

"Disinterment of Venus" - haven't read it just yet, but I love the title!

4artturnerjr
Dec 5, 2011, 2:41pm Top

>3 KentonSem:

My pleasure, Kenton. (BTW, according to Wikipedia, it was a Webster's unabriged dictionary that Smith famously read cover-to-cover, not the OED. My mistake.)

5KentonSem
Edited: Dec 6, 2011, 8:51am Top

While finishing up the Centipede edition of Fritz Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness, I was a bit startled to find that "The Disinterment of Venus" makes up part of the "scholar's mistress" that plays such a sinister role in the climax. Coincidence?

6paradoxosalpha
Edited: Dec 6, 2011, 10:32am Top

Now, having read one of the online copies, I'm doubly frustrated that this story does not appear in A Rendezvous in Averoigne.

7artturnerjr
Dec 6, 2011, 10:31am Top

>5 KentonSem:

No, probably not. Leiber was a huge admirer of CAS - there was a quote from him in a book on fantasy writers that I just read that said some to the effect that the only writer who Leiber could think of that had as singular a body of work as Smith was Herman Melville. I thought that was one hell of a compliment, especially coming from a writer as important as Leiber.

Having said that, it is rather odd that you would come across a reference to TDOV (which is, after all, a fairly obscure story) right before we began our discussion of it. Wheels within wheels, my friend... :D

>6 paradoxosalpha:

Why's that? Did you want to do a re-read in a physical book?

8paradoxosalpha
Dec 6, 2011, 10:33am Top

> 7

Not right away. It's just that Rendezvous is my go-to CAS anthology, and I'd like the story to be accessible on my shelf, bound with the other Averoigne stories I've read.

9artturnerjr
Dec 6, 2011, 10:46am Top

>8 paradoxosalpha:

It's interesting - as much as I love CAS, I actually OWN very little of his stuff; almost everything I've read by him has been in library books or at the Eldritch Dark website. If he had written novels, I would probably feel the need to own those, but as he wrote short fiction and poetry almost exclusively, I'm generally okay with reading his stuff online or in a borrowed book.

10KentonSem
Dec 6, 2011, 11:09am Top

>7 artturnerjr:

I was just being a bit facetious - Clark Ashton Smith actually plays an important role throughout the entire book. Interesting that the particular story which we're about to examine was the one that Leiber saw fit to mention. though. It's a matter of Weird Serendipity.

11artturnerjr
Dec 7, 2011, 10:06am Top

Firsties? Wow. 8)

Let me say initially how glad I am that we got to do this one. I just think it's a little gem of a story.

What I particularly like about "The Disinterment of Venus" vis a vis Smith's other stories is that it really shows off his infamously sardonic sense of humor. He even starts it off like a joke so you know it's supposed to be funny: "So, there were these three monks spading in the garden..." :)

This is a story that can be interpreted in numerous ways. A few interpretations that occured to me: (a) it's about the uprising of pagan forces in a Christian society; (b) it's about the power of feminine sexuality and the male fear of the same; (c) it's about the interweaving of the pagan and feminine and the attempts of a patriachal society to repress the united power of these forces; (d) it's about some combination of the above. I don't think it's too hard to figure out from the story whose side Smith is on. The symbolism could be viewed as obtrusive, but I think the multiplicity of interpretations the symbols generate more than makes up for any obviousness in this area.

What else to say? Oh, yeah - the prose is immaculate. It's a Smith story - did you expect anything else? :)

12paradoxosalpha
Edited: Dec 7, 2011, 11:16am Top

Great summary, Art.

Without wanting to fault the story, I will say that I felt no sense of fear or horror at any point during my read. The fact that these were the reactions of the monks (when not overcome by the deplored effects of the idol) created a highly comic level of ironic detachment from the characters. This feature made it very akin to the work of James Branch Cabell, of whom I am a particular fan. (Averoigne itself is much like Cabell's imaginary medieval Poictesme, as critics often note.)

From the title itself, I was put in mind of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, in which a climactic passage involves C.R.C. discovering a crypt where Venus is entombed. This little CAS story also fit nicely with my studies of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a pagan fantasia of sporting nymphs and exotic architecture written by a fifteenth-century Dominican monk.

13KentonSem
Dec 7, 2011, 11:18am Top

>12 paradoxosalpha:

I'd agree that I felt no real horror at the situation, although the story itself was enjoyably ribald with a suitably gruesome punch line. Plus it's always a pleasure to simply read Smith's prose. I think that Hammer could have done a very successful adaptation of this tale ca. 1968.

14paradoxosalpha
Dec 7, 2011, 11:19am Top

> 13

After my recent screening of The Masque of the Red Death, I would nominate Roger Corman!

15KentonSem
Dec 7, 2011, 11:30am Top

>14 paradoxosalpha:

True, 1960's Corman would have done a fine job, but with Hammer, you'd get Ingrid Pitt or Martine Beswick playing Venus! :P



16KentonSem
Edited: Dec 7, 2011, 11:42am Top

Here is an interesting story note by editors Scott Connors and Ron Hilger on "The Disinterment of Venus" from The Maze of the Enchanter, the fourth of five volumes in the excellent "Collected Fantasies" set from Night Shade Books:

"When Smith finished the story in July 1932, he described it to August Derleth as 'a rather wicked story'- too wicked, as it turned out, for Farnsworth Wright, who rejected it with the indignant complaint that 'satyriasis is not a suitable theme for a WT story'. Smith revised and retyped the story, although he feared 'of all my recent tales, (it) will be the hardest to sell, since it combines the risque with the ghastly'. Wright accepted the story after four revisions, stating that he liked it "much better with the new ending" and offering thirty dollars. Although CAS told Derleth that this version, as published in the July 1934 issue of WT, 'practically restored' the original ending, he may have forgotten just how suggestive the story was originally."

I must admit I was a trifle disappointed at the literalness of the title - I was hoping for something a bit more... morbid.... from the excavation.

17KentonSem
Edited: Dec 7, 2011, 11:45am Top

On a positive note - "The Disinterment of Venus" has introduced me to the term "nympholepsy". You're always learning new things from Weird Fiction! :)

18artturnerjr
Dec 7, 2011, 2:18pm Top

>12 paradoxosalpha:

Great summary, Art.

Thanks!

Without wanting to fault the story, I will say that I felt no sense of fear or horror at any point during my read.

Me either, but I don't think that was Smith's intention, do you? One of things that I found so charming about the story is that Smith seems to have been in a particularly impish mood when he wrote it. One of the things that I admire most about CAS' work is his ability to catch such a wide variety of moods (from the gruesome terror of several of the Zothique tales to the elegiac beauty of a poem like "The Centaur" to the mischievious humor of this tale (and of many of his sculptures)) while remaining utterly & distinctly himself.

This feature made it very akin to the work of James Branch Cabell, of whom I am a particular fan. (Averoigne itself is much like Cabell's imaginary medieval Poictesme, as critics often note.)

Cabell is someone whose work I've been meaning to check out for quite some time now. He's one of those people like David Lindsay whose name always seems to be floating around those of classic weird fiction authors without being pigeonholed as a weird fiction writer himself. Perhaps I'll give his stuff a go after I've whittled Mt. TBR down to a more manageable size. :)

>15 KentonSem:

Re: the bikini-clad sweet thing: Oh... my. Which one's she?

>16 KentonSem:

LOL @ 'satyriasis is not a suitable theme for a WT story'. Some of my favorite stuff to read about re: the original Weird Tales writers is their interactions with the various pulp magazine editors that published their work. Wright and Hugo Gernsback really gave those guys hell (and vice versa, I suppose)!

19KentonSem
Dec 7, 2011, 2:59pm Top

>18 artturnerjr:

CAS was indeed quite mischievous, not to mention randy, when it came to, um, inserting certain erotic qualities into his work. I think that certainly comes into play with this tale.

Venus in the bikini would be Martine Beswick. You may remember her as Sister Hyde.

20paradoxosalpha
Edited: Dec 7, 2011, 3:10pm Top

> 18 I don't think that was Smith's intention, do you?

No, no. I don't. That's what I meant by "Without wanting" etc.

If you liked this story, you'll totally enjoy Cabell. As a point of departure, I would recommend The High Place, or if you'd rather start with a collection of interrelated short pieces, The Silver Stallion. Both are Poictesme books that exhibit the most characteristic and enjoyable features of Cabell's work.

21artturnerjr
Dec 7, 2011, 4:57pm Top

>19 KentonSem:

CAS was indeed quite mischievous, not to mention randy, when it came to, um, inserting certain erotic qualities into his work. I think that certainly comes into play with this tale.

Oh, yeah - look at the language he uses: "...three monks were spading lustily...";"The figure stood erect";...a strange powerful excitement... seemed to arise..." - you can practically hear Smith chortling to himself as you read.

Venus in the bikini would be Martine Beswick. You may remember her as Sister Hyde.

Much obliged for the info. Haven't seen the Hyde film, but a quick glance at her IMDb page (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000936/) reminds me that I have seen her in some of the 60s Bond films. "Venus" is right - she's hot even by Bond girl standards. :D

>20 paradoxosalpha:

No, no. I don't. That's what I meant by "Without wanting" etc.

Sorry - didn't sleep real well last night & correspondingly am not reading as attentively as I might otherwise be. :(

If you liked this story, you'll totally enjoy Cabell. As a point of departure, I would recommend The High Place, or if you'd rather start with a collection of interrelated short pieces, The Silver Stallion. Both are Poictesme books that exhibit the most characteristic and enjoyable features of Cabell's work.

Thanks for the recommendations. Looking at his Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Branch_Cabell#Influence), I see that his fan club is almost as impressive as Lindsay's, so I'll have to make it a point to check him out as well. :)

22paradoxosalpha
Dec 7, 2011, 6:38pm Top

Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus is a phenomenon I hadn't snapped to until I encountered it in LT. It's on my TBR pile. Cabell, on the other hand, is a longstanding affection amounting nearly to religious affiliation.

23Crypto-Willobie
Jun 4, 2:22pm Top

Late addition to this thread.... I finally got around to reading "Disinterment of Venus" long after it was recommended by paradoxosalpha over in LT's Cabell discussion group (http://www.librarything.com/groups/therabblediscusscabe), in a thread called "Cabell's Heirs?" (http://www.librarything.com/topic/73484).

As I started reading it I experienced a pang of deja vu -- had I read this before after all? But as I continued I realized I had not -- it was some other story that was nagging at me. I finished it, enjoying it well enough, and then put on my thinking cap. At first I thought I was recalling a story from Richard Garnett's criminally neglected The Twilight of the Gods, but eventually realized I was thinking of a story by Vernon Lee called "St Eudamon and his Orange Tree." (http://books.google.com/books?id=jJsxAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA185&lpg=PA185&dq=...) This story also tells of a Christian holy man who unearths a statue of Venus in his garden, though St Eudamon is much more tolerant, and the outcome of the story is a happy one. But in my researches it was pointed out that the Lee story appeared to have been influenced by Prosper Merimee's novella "Venus d'Ille," yet another tale of the disinterment of an ancient statue of Venus. (http://books.google.com/books?id=h5bHfwkEUOUC&pg=PA241&lpg=PA241&dq=... ) In both Lee's and Merimee's stories the disinterrer has occasion to slip his wedding ring onto the statue's hand, only to find that the statue refuses to relinquish it. The widowed St Eudamon gets his ring back but M. ALphonse in Merimee's tale is embraced and crushed to death by the statue which he has "betrothed."

Vernon Lee's story was included in Pope Jacynth and other fantastic tales (1904). Merimee's dates from 1837 and was translated by none other than Edgar Saltus in Tales before supper (1887). (http://books.google.com/books?id=7KIVAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA188&dq=tales+before+s...).

Anyone have any idea whether CAS would have been familiar with either or both of these tales? Not saying he stole the story -- many of the greatest artists are synthesists of the work of other poeple (e.g. Shakespeare, Robert Johnson etc etc). I just find it interesting that Smith's story starts out like Lee's and ends up like Merimee's. Sort of....

24paradoxosalpha
Jun 4, 2:38pm Top

>23 Crypto-Willobie:

Well, that is interesting. I had forgotten comparing CAS to Cabell in this earlier discussion, and just did it again today as we contemplate "The Holiness of Azederac."

Chaste fellows digging up buried Venus statues is a symbolic trope composed of 200-proof Freudianism, it seems to me. I guess it's possible that none of these authors read each other, but more likely that there is a line of conscious influence throughout.

25prosfilaes
Jun 13, 11:07pm Top

>23 Crypto-Willobie: Merimee's dates from 1837 and was translated by none other than Edgar Saltus in Tales before supper (1887).

Interesting story quite reminiscent of the CAS story. I think, however, that's translated by Myndart Verelst, at least according to the cover.

26Crypto-Willobie
Edited: Jun 14, 12:02am Top

>25 prosfilaes:
Myndart Verelst was a pseudonym that Saltus used sometimes. He wrote the preface to that book under his own name but used the pseudonym to mask that he was the translator too. Here's another book where Saltus used the same pseudonym: http://www.lwcurrey.com/pages/books/118565/theophile-gautier/tales-from-theophil...

(Btw, I see you have a copy of my uncle Henry's book: http://www.librarything.com/work/6388431/summary/36464186 )

27Crypto-Willobie
Edited: Jun 15, 6:43pm Top

>23 Crypto-Willobie:
Ha! just answered my own question, in psrt. I had forgotten that I just received a copy of Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, but had set it aside unlooked at for cataloguing later.
And now 'later' has arrived and having entered it, decided to check for Lee and Merimee in the index. And "eh, wallah" as they say in Ontario! In August 1930, in a letter to Lovecraft, CAS writes of telling tales around the campfire on a recent camping trip: several were by HPL(!) and another was "Merimee's great story 'The Venus of Ille.'" (pp. 117-18). ( I wonder if he memorized them, paraphrased them, or read them out...) So, what year was Smith's story written?

28artturnerjr
Jun 15, 6:06pm Top

>23 Crypto-Willobie:

Great info! Thanks for sharing. :)

>27 Crypto-Willobie:

So, what year was Smith's story written?

It was completed in July of 1932, and was indeed influenced by the Mérimée tale:

http://books.google.com/books?id=jQwSAwAAQBAJ&lpg=PT369&ots=dXiJcbOk-M&a...

29Crypto-Willobie
Jun 15, 7:07pm Top

>28 artturnerjr:
Thanks atj -- I've got to start reading my own books. There is too much to read in this world, on too many subjects, so sometimes I've just let stuff slide by. Recently I decided I needed to come to grips with Clark Ashton Smith, and bought some stuff earlier this year which I have barely looked at yet. One of those is the Coll. Fantasies V4 from which you qute so appositely.

(Btw, that series appears to be very nice in content and appearance, but wtf is up with volume two? I've managed to acquire 1, 3, 4, & 5, a couple of which were a little pricey but nothing over $100. But volume 2 seems to be going for $400!! I guess I'll have to get the TOC and make sure I have its contents in other volumes. And of course that Eldritch Dark site probably has most of it in e-texts, though really I'm a paper guy.)

(p.p.s. OK, Trout Mask, Astral & Bollocks, but I don't think I could narrow my godlike vinyl slabs down to 5 -- 20, maybe.)

30artturnerjr
Jun 15, 8:35pm Top

>29 Crypto-Willobie:

And of course that Eldritch Dark site probably has most of it in e-texts, though really I'm a paper guy

That's somewhat unfortunate, as the Kindle editions of the Collected Fantasies volumes can be had for less than 8 bucks a pop:

http://amzn.com/B00725WJS2

I'm with you on the print books thing, however, if for no other reason than to get a break from staring at a screen all the time. (Those Kindle Collected Fantasies sure are a great bargain, though. Damn! Tempting.)

OK, Trout Mask, Astral & Bollocks, but I don't think I could narrow my godlike vinyl slabs down to 5 -- 20, maybe.

Yeah, it was tough narrowing it down to 5. I'm sure that list would be different if I were to rewrite it today - it's intended more as a snapshot than something that is carved in stone.

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