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1/24/2010

Clark Ashton Smith - "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros"

I have long felt that Clark Ashton Smith is by far the most overlooked of the famous "big three" Weird Tales writers. He has never gotten the fame or recognition that H.P. Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard have gotten. It's hard to say why this is. CAS was a brilliant writer of poetry and prose. His command of words is staggering. I think it is safe to say that he was a writer's writer, and both Lovecraft and Howard admired him greatly.

Tonight I finished rereading "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" for the first time in a very long time. This story is one of my favorites by Smith, and I feel it captures the essence of this blog perfectly. It is the perfect culmination of sword & sorcery literature and cosmic horror.

Though it lacks the flashing blade element of most sword & sorcery stories I feel "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" is s&s nonetheless. The story opens with a pair of fool hearty rogues (Satampra Zeiros and Tirouv Ompallios) who have had well documented adventures together, but are now down on their luck and out of coin, so they set off on a perilous adventure to alleviate their boredom and hopefully get rich while they are at it. Sadly for them they decide to make a long abandoned city their destination, despite the promise that doom will meet anyone who comes to visit.

Smith delivers a tale that is dripping in atmosphere. His description of the ancient jungle brings the reader deep into the story, and makes you feel you are there hacking away at the overgrowth. He also allows the reader to feel the fun and excitement that the adventurers are having along their journey... that is until the doom and dread sets in when they realize what a mess they have gotten themselves into!

As inspiration for gamers, "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" can also be read as a great example of the exploits of a textbook Dungeons & Dragons thief. Thieving skills like hide in shadows and move silently are present in the story. Citizens of Satampra's hometown have had to beef up security and purchase "new and perplexing" locks due to the exploits of he and his companion Tirouv. Satampra describes how he had to use a particular type of acid to silently open a box, as so not to be detected by nearby guards. The no-guts-no-glory attitude a thief must possess is present in every decision and move the duo makes in the story. I love it!
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