Saturday, March 29, 2014

Out-of-context follies with Clark Ashton Smith

Hervé Scott Flament
I'm still browsing the collected short stories of Clark Ashton Smith, which you can read for free online at The Eldritch Dark or download for free at MemoWare. One of his most famous stories is The Dweller in the Gulf. It tells the story of three adventurers on Mars who are abducted by a tribe of blind aliens and carried into lightless depths far underground. Along the way, they find themselves falling into a a half-ecstatic, half-horrified trance. Eventually they meet the creature causing the trance, but before they do, they encounter its idol, which the humans feel compelled to worship right along with the Martians.

Now, make no mistake: this is a horror story. It does not have a happy ending. But if you take this particular scene out of context, it should be right up your erotic-mind-control-loving alley. Then, if you like, you can read the alternate ending I came up with for the story. It combines elements of  "The Dweller in the Gulf" with elements of another of Smith's most famous works, The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis. But if you choose to read my ending, you'll have to beware of spoilers. First the quote from "The Dweller," then the revised ending.

The place was overpowering, it oppressed the senses, crushed the brain. The very stone was like an embodiment of darkness; and light and vision were ephemeral intruders in this demesne of the blind. Somehow, the earthmen were weighed down by a conviction that escape was impossible. A strange lethargy claimed them. They did not even discuss their situation, but stood listless and silent.

Anon, from the filthy gloom, a number of the Martians reappeared. With the same suggestion of controlled automatism that had marked all their actions, they gathered about the men once more, and urged them into the yawning cavern.

Hervé Scott Flament
Step by step, the three were borne along in that weird and leprous procession. The obscene columns multiplied, the cave deepened before them with endless vistas, like a revelation of foul things that drowse at the nadir of night. Faintly at first, but more strongly as they went on, there came to them an insidious feeling of somnolence, such as might have been caused by mephitical effluvia. They rebelled against it, for the drowsiness was somehow dark and evil. It grew heavier upon them—and then they came to the core of the horror.

Between the thick and seemingly topless pillars, the floor ascended in an altar of seven oblique and pyramidal tiers. On the top, there squatted an image of pale metal: a thing no larger than a hare, but monstrous beyond all imagining.

The Martians crowded about the earthmen. One of them took Bellman by the arm, as if urging him to climb the altar. With the slow steps of a dreamer, he mounted the sloping tiers, and Chivers and Maspic followed.

The image resembled nothing they had ever seen on the red planet—or elsewhere. It was carven of whitish gold, and it represented a humped animal with a smooth and overhanging carapace from beneath which its head and members issued in tortoise fashion. The head was venomously flat, triangular—and eyeless. From the drooping corners of the cruelly slitted mouth, two long proboscides curved upward, hollow and cuplike at the ends. The thing was furnished with a series of short legs, issuing at uniform intervals from under the carapace, and a curious double tail was coiled and braided beneath its crouching body. The feet were round, and had the shape of small, inverted goblets.

Unclean and bestial as a figment of some atavistic madness, the eidolon seemed to drowse on the altar. It troubled the mind with a slow, insidious horror, it assailed the senses with an emanating stupor, an effluence as of primal worlds before the creation of light, where life might teem and raven slothfully in the blind ooze.

Dimly the earthmen saw that the altar swarmed with the blind Martians, who were crowding past them about the image. As if in some fantastic ritual of touch, these creatures were fondling the eidolon with their lank fingers, were tracing its loathsome outlines. Upon their brutal faces a narcotic ecstasy was imprinted. Compelled like sleepers in some abhorrent dream, Bellman, Chivers and Maspic followed their example.

Hervé Scott Flament
The thing was cold to the touch, and clammy as if it had lain recently in a bed of slime. But it seemed to live, to throb and swell under their finger-tips. From it, in heavy, ceaseless waves, a dark vibration surged: an opiate power that clouded the eyes; that poured its baleful slumber into the blood.
With senses that swam in a strange darkness, they were vaguely aware of the pressure of thronging bodies that displaced them at the altar-summit. Anon, certain of these, recoiling as if satiate with the drug-like effluence, bore them along the oblique tiers to the cavern-floor. Still retaining their torches in nerveless fingers, they saw that the place teemed with the white people, who had gathered for that unholy ceremony. Through blackening blurs of shadow, the men watched them as they seethed up and down on the pyramid like a leprous, living frieze.

Chivers and Maspic, yielding first to the influence, slid to the floor in utter sopor. But Bellman, more resistant, seemed to fall and drift through a world of lightless dreams. His sensations were anomalous, unfamiliar to the last degree. Everywhere there was a brooding, palpable Power for which he could find no visual image: a Power that exhaled a miasmal slumber. In those dreams, by insensible graduations, forgetting the last glimmer of his human self, he somehow identified himself with the eyeless people; he lived and moved as they, in profound caverns, on nighted roads. And yet he was something else: an Entity without name that ruled over the blind and was worshipped by them; a thing that dwelt in the ancient putrescent waters, in the nether deep, and came forth at intervals to raven unspeakably. In that duality of being, he sated himself at blind feasts—and was also devoured. With all this, like a third element of identity, the eidolon was associated: but only a tactile sense, and not as an optic memory. There was no light anywhere—and not even the recollection of light.

Now here's my idea for a less horrifying, much sexier ending. Just remember, I'll have to spoil "The Dweller in the Gulf" and "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" in order to give it to you, so bail out now if you don't want to know how those stories ended.

In Smith's version of "The Dweller in the Gulf," the creature blinds its victims by sucking out their eyeballs. Meanwhile, the creatures in the vaults of Yoh-Vombis encase the top halves of their victims heads, blinding them and turning them into shambling zombies - but they control their victims by eating away most of the victims' brains.

Hervé Scott Flament
In my alternate ending, the Dweller and the vault-creatures have developed a symbiotic relationship which doesn't require them to feed on their victims' bodies. The humans are captured and stupefied by the influence of the Dweller. Then, when their minds are fully subdued, the vault-creatures float down from the ceiling and engulf their heads. As soon as any spark of self-will reawakens in their victim's minds, the vault-creatures suck it away. They live on the thoughts and wills of other creatures and exude their own commands into their heads. But the Dweller lives on worship, and on the toil of the slaves it shares with the vault-creatures. They farm fungi and blind cave animals for the Dweller. And whenever they capture a a new slave, they hold a drugged orgy of devotion to both their symbiotic masters.

*All the art in this post comes from Herve Scott-Flament. None of it relates directly to the stories I discuss here, but Clark Ashton Smith is one of Scott-Flament's influences.


xxVeretta said...

Read the story to completion, Lovecraftian stories never fail to impress, it's a shame they are so lacking in the Erotic MC niche.

thrall said...

It is a shame, but I guess you have to be even kinkier than the usual MC fetishist to find eros in a story by Smith or Lovecraft. Dammit. I do wish there were more of us!

Anonymous said...

I only read the first part of your post (I want to avoid spoilers), but your description reminded me of a story with a somewhat similar plot. Have you read A Song for Lya by George R.R. Martin?

I wonder what the old horror writers would have thought back then if they knew that much of their concepts would be used by future writers of erotic fiction.

I read an old story called The Spider, by Hanns Heinz Ewers. Like so much of his fiction (or so I have heard, because that is as far as I know the only that has been translated into my language, which is not English), it's about controlling others. Since we are talking about horror here, The Spider does not end happy. He was accused of writing "perverse" stories later in his career, but I have as mentioned not read any of those so I can't say how much he lives up to the accusations, or what it was that was so perverse about them then.

thrall said...

No, I haven't read any George R. R. Martin. I'm honestly afraid to. ;-P But what you say sounds interesting!