Since I’ve been in my teens I’ve had an intermittent liking for the works of a group of friends who, once upon a time, published stories in a Depression-era pulp magazine called Weird Tales. I don’t believe they ever met each other, back when travel was harder and the economy was straitened, but the three writers corresponded and their writings became somewhat incestuous; they created a world of terror influenced by the Bible, the Arabian Nights, and ancient Greek and Roman mythology.
These three writers were H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith.
Lovecraft, a New England resident, is perhaps the best known these days, for his tales of ancient evil well-seasoned (or ill-seasoned) with racial paranoia. My favorite is Clark Ashton Smith. Smith had a way of using obsolete words to create scenes of mythic weirdness. Here’s an example, an over-the-top scene which still impresses me; it’s from a short story called “The Dark Eidolon”:
Then, into the hall, there filed an array of tall mummies, clad in royal cerements of purple and scarlet, and wearing gold crowns on their withered craniums. And after them, like servitors, came gigantic skeletons who wore loin-cloths of nacarat orange and about whose upper skulls, from brow to crown, live serpents of banded saffron and ebon had wrapped themselves for head-dresses. And the mummies bowed before Zotulla, saying with thin, sere voices:
“We, who were kings of the wide realm of Tasuun aforetime, have been sent as a guard of honor for the emperor Zotulla, to attend him as is befitting when he goes forth to the feast prepared by Namirrha.”
Then with dry clickings of their teeth, and whistlings as of air through screens of fretted ivory, the skeletons spoke:
“We, who were giant warriors of a race forgotten, have also been sent by Namirrha, so that the emperor’s household, following him to the feast, should be guarded from all peril and should fare forth in such pageantry as is meet and proper.”
Witnessing these prodigies, the wine-bearers and other attendants cowered about the imperial dais or hid behind the pillars, while Zotulla, with pupils swimming starkly in a bloodshot white, with face bloated and ghastly pale, sat frozen on his throne and could utter no word in reply to the ministers of Namirrha.
Then, coming forward, the mummies said in dusty accents: “All is made ready, and the feast awaits the arrival of Zotulla.” And the cerements of the mummies stirred and fell open at the bosom, and small rodent monsters, brown as bitumen, eyed as with accursed rubies, reared forth from the eaten hearts of the mummies like rats from their holes and chittered shrilly in human speech, repeating the words. The skeletons in turn took up the solemn sentence; and the black and saffron serpents hissed it from their skulls; and the words were repeated lastly in baleful rumblings by certain furry creatures of dubious form, hitherto unseen by Zotulla, who sat behind the ribs of the skeletons as if in cages of white wicker.
Several of Smith’s strange tales can be found here: