Friday, 3 March 2017

Codex Zothique

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Cardinal Cox, Peterborough's premier poet of the numinous and strange, has published his eleventh pamphlet of Lovecraftian poetry. This collection of seven poems takes its inspiration from the works of Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961).

I have to admit that I never really 'got' CAS, and I suspect I never will. I think he is one of those writers you have to meet at the right time. I first encountered Lovecraft (and M.R. James, and Algernon Blackwood) in my late teens. I also became a huge fan of Jack Vance around that time. Smith I did not encounter till much later, and his blend of heroic fantasy and horror left me cold. Impressed, but cold.

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That said, Codex Zothique is a good read. It could be argued that poetry is a better literary form than the short story when it comes to 'Smithian' ideas. Less is more, and all that. Thus the four stanzas of 'Hyperborea' convey the sense of ancient civilizations falling to be replaced by others more effectively than a long saga. Mu gives way to Lemuria, Lemuria falls and Atlantis rises, only to suffer its well-known fate. 'Last Galley Out of Lephara' focuses on an 'Everyship' seeking a safe port in a world of shifting peoples and few certainties.

'Sing heave the oars - curse your birth
We're bound for the edge of the Earth'

The sense of multi-layered history and playful blending of fable and history informs 'Guns of Averoigne', with the King's Musketeers sent south to investigate reports of monsters. This recalls the Beast of Gevaudan, a genuine (?) werewolf story from 18th century France, The poem is also a neatly-crafted short story, complete with twist ending.

We move into the 20th century with 'Caliphornia', a condensed guide to all the fringe movements of the Western USA. There are quite a few, and Cox links these to both the first Jesuit missionaries and the corresponding societies that Smith and Lovecraft belonged to. 'Captain Volmar's Space War' launched itself playfully into the cosmos, and lists some of my favourite constellations. 'Xiccarph' offers the inevitable, Stapledonian end, with a vision of a decadent interstellar tyrant. Sauron meets Darth Vader.

'Zothique's Deserts' rounds off the collection with an elegy to the dead realm as 'the mill of time' grinds down all its former glories. 'Every aspiration is turned to rust', an apt sentiment for the modern realm of Britain, or so it seems to me. Oops, bit political there.

As always Cardinal Cox provides erudite and witty footnotes to add an extra dimension to his verses. Together with the poems these notes offer a more colourful and inspiring alternate history than the one we are stuck with.

If you'd like a copy of Codex Zothique, send an SAE to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough PE2 5RB

Or email

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Laura said...

Not about Zothique, but when loved Jack Vance in my late teens and re-read a few recently, some didn't stand up and most of his heroes where the same person, but I still enjoyed the demon princes and araminta station

valdemar said...

Good point, Vance is variable in quality but at his best he wrote good sf adventure/mysteries.