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Episode 26 of 28

The Nameless Offspring by Clark Ashton Smith

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Classic Ghost Stories by Tony Walker
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The Nameless Offspring A bleak night, an ancient, lonely house, a decayed retainer...
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Clark Ashton Smith
Clark Ashton Smith was an American writer born in Long Valley, California in 1893 who died in Pacific Grove, California in 1961, aged 68. They are actually four hundred and twenty eight miles apart which is longer than the whole of England. For comparison I have only made two hundred yards from the place I was born to the place I now live. He lived most of his life in the small town of Auburn, California.
He was madly neurotic, agoraphobic and as with Lovecraft, the existential unease he no doubt felt in life, intrudes into his stories, giving them their unsettling quality, I would guess.
Because of his nerves, he was educated at home and was intelligent with a fantastic memory and educated himself by reading, including The Encyclopaedia Britannica all volumes cover to cover more than once.
He taught himself French and Spanish and translated poetry from those languages, including Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil. Naturally.
Clark was a weird poet and one of the now defunct West Coast Romantics. I can see him playing guitar for Mazzy Star (if he’d been spared).
He was one of the ‘big three’ authors of Weird Tales, the others being Robert E Howard and H P Lovecraft. As a teen (though in those days I wouldn’t have been familiar with that word) I lapped up all three, though I preferred Ashton Smith. There is something more poetic and less rude about his style than either the barbarous, muscle-bound stories of Howard and the off-kilter, prolix and baroque tales of H P. Though, as I say, I read them all, aye. All.
We have done an Ashton Smith story before: (The Maker of Gargoyles).
This story: The Nameless Offspring is another tomb story. We seem to have done a run of these recently: (The Catacomb), (The Secret of The Vault). And previously we did The (Fall of the House of Usher).
It was published in Strange Tales in 1932, and in those days publishing in these pulp magazine was the standard process. Many of the writers of pulps purveyed Cosmic Horror. Of course the primary voice here is H P Lovecraft and his taste seems to have stamped itself on his followers and his approval, given them a significant advantage. Lovecraft was a great admirer of Ashton Smith.
You will recall that to write a classic story in this period: first set it somewhere obscure either in time or distance from your average reader> Make the weather bad. Have a gothic edifice: a castle, though in this case and old (Cornish from the name) Manor House will do. Have an aged retainer, an obscure history that is not fully discussed, an aristocrat, poor light then you just need a monster and you’re on. This tale has it all. And let’s face it what Hollywood producers say (though not to me) ‘We want more of the same, but different.” This is what we have.
Smith is great with descriptions. I prefer his prose to Lovecraft. IT was the fashion to use obscure words and lots of them, but he does it in a less awkward way than Lovecraft and one that is not as open to parody.
The story begins with a little background that makes sense of what is to follow along with a warning that he never foresaw the terrible truth, etc. he goes on a trip and inadvertently comes across the evil Tremoth Hall. How likely is that actually? The place receives few visitors in common with nearly every Manor House in all the stories we have read. None of them are open to the National Trust. I read one recently by Sarah Perry (author of Melnoth the Wanderer and the Essex Serpent) in a collection by English Heritage, that had as its scene a historic property open to the public, though the action there happened when the public were not present.
The horrible history is not too hidden, but what is well done is the weird scratching that grows and...