I shall abhor you

by John Holbo on March 26, 2015

Do you ever wonder what a Wes Anderson horror film would be like? I have a good idea for one. It’s set in 1963, in a junior high school in Auburn, California, birthplace of “the bard of Auburn”, Clark Ashton Smith. An over-ambitious junior high drama director (Jason Schwartzman), in a misguided attempt to make the English teacher (Gwyneth Paltrow), fall in love with him, is staging an 8th grade production of Smith’s The Dead Will Cuckold You.

This is a truly unique play, in the Zothique cycle. I’m saving this Zothique zinger for some special occasion in comments, so be on your toes:

I shall abhor you, and my burning heart
Consume with hate till only meatless cinders
Remain to guest the mausolean maggots.

Also, for the ladies (for use in some eldritch, incantatory version of the Vagina Monologues):

You have a voice to melt a woman’s vitals
And make them run to passion’s turgid sluice.
How long have you been here?

How long, indeed!

The director is having problems because one of the moms (Cate Blanchett) wants to turn the play into a Rogers & Hammerstein-style musical, so her darling can have an appropriate star vehicle for belting out “Oklahoma!”-style showtunes.

Also, he has been telling concerned parents, and the Principal (Bill Murray) that The Dead Will Cuckold You is Shakespeare, so they won’t ask questions about what any of the lines mean. He has gotten the English teacher very annoyed, because he has hidden all the actual Shakespeare in the school, to cover up his deception. Meanwhile, the kids have been reading Clark Ashton Smith stories from very old issues of Weird Tales they bought from a beatnik (Owen Wilson). With the help of a really, really, really thick, unabridged dictionary, they have raised up a fearful Lamia (Tylda Swynton) from beneath the sunny ground of Auburn …

I mean: if Wes Anderson is going to direct an X-Men movie, why not?

We’re going through a bit of a Clark Ashton Smith ‘thing’ in our household. You should try it! $1.99 for 133 stories is a pretty fair deal. Also, you can get newer, critical editions for a bit more.



MPAVictoria 03.26.15 at 2:46 pm

I’d watch that.


John Holbo 03.26.15 at 2:53 pm

The only problem is that Clark Ashton Smith is real. If only he were made up it would work better. I’m not talking copyright or anything like that. It’s just that this is the sort of thing Wes Anderson would prefer to invent, maybe.


MPAVictoria 03.26.15 at 3:01 pm

By the way John have you seen the Grand Budapest Hotel yet? Truly a magnificent movie. I really did both laugh and cry (of course I am a bit of a crier). Everything about it is perfect.


AcademicLurker 03.26.15 at 3:01 pm

It’s nice to see Clark Ashton Smith going through a bit of a renaissance. Of the “big 3” from the Weird Tales era – Lovecraft, Howard and Smith – Smith seems to have been forgotten by all but hardcore fans until recently.


Rich Puchalsky 03.26.15 at 3:04 pm

“It’s nice to see Clark Ashton Smith going through a bit of a renaissance. ”

Why? It’s difficult enough convincing people that Lovecraft or Howard texts have some kind of enduring value. Did Clark Ashton Smith ever write anything that was actually good, for any accepted usage of “good”?


John Holbo 03.26.15 at 3:08 pm

Did Clark Ashton Smith ever write anything that was actually good, for any accepted usage of “good”?

It depends what you mean by ‘usage of “good”‘.

I say: when a man is tired of Clark Ashton Smith, he is tired of death!


AcademicLurker 03.26.15 at 3:09 pm


I just meant that B&N now puts hardcover faux leather bound editions of the collected stories of Lovecraft on the same display table with Poe, and Conan (if not Howard) is a household name, but for years you had venture into the scifi section of used bookstores to find anything by Smith.


John Holbo 03.26.15 at 3:12 pm

Belle and I only recently discovered him – independently, as it happens. She read some story and then I started reading stuff about him, and got an audiobook edition, which kind of amazed me. And I was like: there’s this guy, Clark Ashton Smith! And she was like: I know, I told you about him last week. And I was like: oh, it was that guy? We’re like an old married couple, you see.


Rich Puchalsky 03.26.15 at 3:25 pm

AcademicLurker @7: But there is a reason for this, and I think it’s a good reason.

I did an informal study of pre-1940s science fiction and fantasy at one time. Leaving out well-known authors like Wells, Verne, Poe, and Lovecraft, a quick look at my shelves shows that I bought anything I could find by James Branch Cabell, Lord Dunsany, Olaf Stapledon, William Morris, and George MacDonald. Any one of those could stand rediscovery. Even something like David Lindsay’s one-shot _A Voyage to Arcturus_ — which has incredibly hilarious honor of a fanfic by Harold Bloom — could stand to be re-read. Clark Ashton Smith is the book tossed down by that guy in the Onion article who finally decides that he only has time to read things that are actually good.


John Holbo 03.26.15 at 3:30 pm

It’s funny because I consider myself not just a hardcore Lovecraft fan but also an unreconstructed Robert E. Howard fan. It’s like I never grew up or something. Go figure. But somehow I never heard about Smith until just recently; never heard about some ‘big three’. It’s like there’s been weird black hole in my otherwise fairly comprehensive reading list. Eerie, huh? But now I am making up for lost time.


Rich Puchalsky 03.26.15 at 3:32 pm

All right, if I had to go through Lin Carter’s series and pick out the worst books — not that I’ve read them all — I’m not sure Smith would make it. I’d probably pick _Vathek_ by William Beckford as the worst. Maybe the Kai Lung stories of Ernest Bramah.


ben w 03.26.15 at 4:38 pm

It seems as if your premise is too close to Rushmore‘s to be workable. This would be great, though, in the alternate universe in which Anderson hadn’t actually made Rushmore.


John Holbo 03.26.15 at 4:50 pm

I see the problem, ben, but I’m kind of imagining that Schwartzman, now playing a teacher not a student, will be a fond homage to his Rushmore role – sort of like Broderick in “Election”. I have faith this film can get made!


jake the antisoshul soshulist 03.26.15 at 5:03 pm

I seen to be one of the few who has not developed an appreciation for Wes Anderson. I really, really disliked The Life Aquatic, but only disliked Rushmore. I haven’t tried any of his other work.

Clark Ashton Smith was not the least talented of Lovecraft’s friends, but not the most. If CAS is making a comeback, can Frank Belknap Long be far behind.


bob mcmanus 03.26.15 at 5:15 pm

I read a whole book about CAS back in 2012. Freedom of Fantastic Things and then followed up with a lot of time spent at “The Eldritch Dark” (one link per comment) which is the only site you will need: stories, poetry, biography, criticism. I gained a renewed appreciation for his vision and art.

Because of the German plane crash, I have been reading about Diotima today. Funny coincidences, but hell, everything connects in the abyss.


bob mcmanus 03.26.15 at 5:28 pm

I’ll just link to the alphabetical first story The Abominations of Yondo to get you to The Eldritch Dark. Terrificly maintained site, labour of love.

Good black-metal album titled “Diotima”

Been a while since I’ve thought of CAS, currently lightly studying Melodrama and expressionism and their purposes. How would we get the effects in prose of Xenakis or Egon Schiele or Mark Rothko?


dsquared 03.26.15 at 5:49 pm

Do you ever wonder what a Wes Anderson horror film would be like?

What do you mean? I’ve seen three of the Freddy Krueger films, and “Wes Anderson’s New Nightmare”.


Kindred Winecoff 03.26.15 at 6:09 pm

SNL beat you to it, with *The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders*. (Starring Owen Edward Norton as Owen Wilson.)


rootlesscosmo 03.26.15 at 6:24 pm

Meatless Cinders would make a pretty good band name.


js. 03.26.15 at 6:32 pm

I seen to be one of the few who has not developed an appreciation for Wes Anderson.

I for one developed an intense aversion to Wes Anderson, starting with Life Aquatic (man, that movie was awful). I do like Rushmore though, and Bottle Rocket, his first film, is great. Royal Tenenbaums is also good, but I would avoid everything after that.


Hob 03.26.15 at 7:22 pm

John, I hope you’ve read Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness, which deals with the consequences of a failed attempt by someone who reeeeeeally hates Clark Ashton Smith to magically destroy him in the early 20th century.


Shatterface 03.26.15 at 8:04 pm

The Dark Eidolon & Other Stories was released as a Penguin Classic towards the end of last year, canonising CAS along with Arthur Machen.

‘The Phoenix’ has the same story as the film Sunshine.


DavidtheK 03.26.15 at 9:04 pm

William Morris’ book “The Well At the World’s End” was enormously popular in England on the eve of WWI. From what I know of the book it was sort of a retelling of the Pilgrims’ Progress story from the point of view of late 19th century sensibilities. The Harry Potter books are in a direct line with both, reiterating the themes for schoolkids of century 21.

PS What do you know it’s available free in several e-formats at Gutenberg.org. The wonders of the internet :)


Anderson 03.26.15 at 9:40 pm

21: I love Leiber, I want to love that book, & every time I reread it, I have no idea what’s going on. The guy’s books attack him at the end … WTF?


John Holbo 03.27.15 at 2:53 am

I love Leiber, grew up reading and rereading my Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books. Later I branched out into his other stuff, sf like “The Wanderer”; “Coming Attraction” is a great, classic short sf story; but I haven’t read “Our Lady of Darkness”. I guess I really just have had a blind spot for Smith all these years. What does it mean?

Oh, well, I can console myself with a story Leiber told. His favorite novelist was Thomas Mann, and he read “Magic Mountain” over and over. He actually got to meet Mann, and Mann told him his own favorite of his books was “Buddenbrooks” and it was … the only one Leiber hadn’t read. So he couldn’t talk to his idol about it.


John Holbo 03.27.15 at 2:57 am

Damn, I hadn’t seen that SNL skit.


John Holbo 03.27.15 at 3:11 am

Also, Fritz Leiber “Big Time”. Won the Hugo in 1958. I remember that one well.


bob mcmanus 03.27.15 at 3:49 am

24: Wikipedia gives some of what is important about OLoD. It belongs to the SF New Wave of the 60s in a sense because it was so obviously autobiographical, Leiber was very active and popular in the West Coast SF community, so a lot of people knew his story. There is a sense of using the materials of his life, his concrete surroundings, local history and color, and mythologizing it as therapy or confession that maybe wasn’t matched until Malzberg and Stephen King. Ellison tried sometimes. It also references the Frisco fantasy scene of George Sterling and Ashton Smith and maybe Henry Miller. Maybe Nathanael West. Maybe Chandler and Hammett. So very Californian it amazes. An amazing masterpiece.

I think the key is understanding the way Sterling and CAS are Californian.

“Conjure Wife” about modern witches and faculty politics by Leiber is comparable. Leiber always had a rooted warm humanism.


ZM 03.27.15 at 4:10 am

For those of us who are not that enthusiastic about Wes Anderson films I think it could be moderately enjoyable in a bad sort of way to watch his usual actors get killed off one by one — but who do you plan to leave as the survivor ?


The Dark Avenger 03.27.15 at 4:23 am

I still have the paperback CAS stories collected by Lin Carter from back in 1970.

If you want a nice, short story with a happy ending(for a CAS story), I would suggest The Charnel God.


js. 03.27.15 at 4:23 am

It could end with a murder-suicide…


John Holbo 03.27.15 at 4:52 am

“but who do you plan to leave as the survivor ?”

I’m imagining the director and the English teacher get killed off surprisingly early (with the Lamia taking her place). Bill Murray and the 8th graders need to band together to defeat the Lamia, bringing their respective competencies to the table. Murray is a Principal who knows how to push people around, and is protected from a lot of harsh realities by his boredom with most things. He persists in referring to the Lamia as ‘the Shakespeare woman’. The 8th graders are the only ones who understand what is going on – some of them – but the problem is that the ones who understand what has happened have had their vocabulary so warped by reading Ashton Clark Smith that they keep having to pass the unabridged dictionary around, just to talk to each other. The Beatnik offers some bogus words of wisdom from the sidelines but never helps. I think in the end, after everything else fails, Bill Murray just knocks her out cold with the unabridged dictionary.

It is also important that it should always be referred to as the ‘unabridged dictionary’. Compare: ‘lefty scissors’, in Moonrise Kingdom.


ZM 03.27.15 at 5:11 am

“I think in the end, after everything else fails, Bill Murray just knocks her out cold with the unabridged dictionary.”

I think two deaths are not enough deaths — the 8th graders are too young to kill so really at the very least the Principal and the Beatnik and the Stage Mother must die — too few deaths would be unsatisfactory for both horror fans and non-fans of Wes Anderson and this could be his big cross over movie.

And who is going to stage the play if you kill off the director early?


John Holbo 03.27.15 at 5:29 am

Definitely the Beatnik has to die. But you can’t kill Bill Murray.

Bill Murray is going to stage the play, but will do so in a bored and confused way. The 8th graders, plus the mom who wants to stage it as a musical, need to step up to help. Somehow, staging the play is going to stop the Lamia. Of course, this turns out to be wrong. (Possibly because Bill Murray is a lousy director.) The play is staged. The Lamia is not stopped. So Bill Murray knocks her out with the dictionary.


John Holbo 03.27.15 at 5:30 am

The stage mom has to die, too, obviously.


Brett Bellmore 03.27.15 at 9:42 am

So long as we’re on this subject, I’d just like to recommend The Color Out of Space, which I ran across on Amazon streaming video. It’s probably the only *good* Lovecraft movie adaptation I’ve ever seen.


jake the antisoshul soshulist 03.27.15 at 1:48 pm

It is hard to find a good Lovecraft film, or even a watchable one. The two produced by the Lovecraft Historical Society are pretty good. I would say that The Call of Cthulhu is better than The Whisperer in Darkness, probably because The Call of Cthulhu is better source material. Stuart Gordon’s versions are always problematical even when he sticks close to the source as in Dagon or Dreams in the Witch House.


AcademicLurker 03.27.15 at 1:55 pm

The Lovecraft Historical Society’s version of The Call of Cthulhu is indeed quite good.

In general “Lovecraft inspired” movies turn out better than direct adaptations of his stories.


Brett Bellmore 03.27.15 at 2:04 pm

Has anyone here seen Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath? That’s my favorite of all the Lovecraft novels, (More like Dunsany than Lovecraft, really.) and I’m interested in whether it’s worth watching.


Brett Bellmore 03.27.15 at 2:38 pm

It was a nice cinematic touch, in the Color Out of Space, that it was filmed in black and white, which made the Color creeping into scenes have just the right alien feel.


William Berry 03.27.15 at 3:27 pm

“But you can’t kill Bill Murray”

Too late. That was taken care of in a sudden manner in “Zombieland”.

Murray is out.


anon 03.27.15 at 3:32 pm

I find the suggestion of a “The Beatnik” character interesting, since it seems to be the one hipster trope that is mysteriously *absent* from Anderson’s work. Even temporally it’s surprisingly cut out: the dominant styles are either quaintly early 20th century or kitchily or hip late 20th century, Jules Verne and diaramas or the Rolling Stones and sweatbands.

Where are the 1940s to early 60s? Where is swing and WWII pop? Where is midcentury modernism. Where is jazz? Perhaps telling also are the locations locations: New York, maritime northeast, Europe. Where is the west, literally or figuratively? Anderson’s oeuvre is almost anti-Beatnik.

Also: stop with The Life Aquatic hate, it’s a decade old already.


bianca steele 03.27.15 at 4:54 pm

The Beatnik, maybe, is the audience. I persuaded Mr. Steele to see the summer camp one after a long post-Tanenbaum break. It was . . . unnecessarily peculiar.


William Berry 03.27.15 at 5:05 pm

I have a Blu-Ray of the “The Life Aquatic”. It is admittedly rather silly, but I like it anyway. And it is gorgeously colored and shot.


anon 03.27.15 at 6:10 pm

William Berry,

It is indeed gorgeously colored and shot–perhaps the most gorgeous of his films on a strictly visual level. And yes, it’s rather silly, but aren’t all of his movies, and isn’t that silliness inseparable from their charms?

Likewise, Bianca, isn’t it almost a distinctive and author-intended feature of his work that Anderson’s movies are all “unnecessarily peculiar”?

I find The Life Aquatic to be his only really moving and unsettling work, and I find Moonrise Kingdom his sweetest (in a positive sense, which is rare!) film. Rushmore and Tenenbaums are his most well-balanced, well-crafted films. So, sure, if we judge art by the same categories as tables and beer and mental health, they’re the best.

I also have my list of Anderson bombs: I have no love at all for Darjeeling, Mr. Fox, or Budapest. But I can’t take my own contempt for those too seriously, the differences are of relatively minor degree.

There’s no good quality possessed by some of his films and absent in others. And there are no flaws you’ll find in one film that aren’t substantially present in others. I have more sympathy with those who flat out hate Anderson than those who make strong distinctions on a work by work basis.


bianca steele 03.27.15 at 6:19 pm

Likewise, Bianca, isn’t it almost a distinctive and author-intended feature of his work that Anderson’s movies are all “unnecessarily peculiar”?

What about my comment gave rise to that question? It’s almost as if you believe that my knee-jerk answer would have been “no,” until you set me to thinking about it. I don’t mean to be snippish, but really, that’s the kind of question you’d ask a child who you think is going about everything in entirely the wrong way.

If I answer, “my reaction was that it was unnecessarily unnecessarily peculiar,” will that satisfy you as an aesthetic description of the film, or is there something about my response (taken all together) that seems to you in need of further defense?

Be that answer as it may, surely it’s not up to the director’s intention, what will be necessary or unnecessary?


AcademicLurker 03.27.15 at 6:29 pm

I think I would parse the distinction between unnecessarily peculiar and unnecessarily unnecessarily peculiar (bianca steele, feel free to correct me if I’m misinterpreting) as the difference between being odd and quirky on the one hand and waving a big banner reading “Look at how odd and quirky I am!” on the other.

I enjoyed Rushmore, but I can see how a little of that could go a long way with some people.


bianca steele 03.27.15 at 7:11 pm


Yes, something like that. I was left unsatisfied, there seemed something underdetermined and hollow about the choice of particular quirks (I’m not against showoffiness in itself).


anon 03.27.15 at 8:05 pm


I asked thinking you’d agree. I just meant “we can probably agree that…” If we all agree silliness and excessive peculiarity are defining Anderson traits, why criticize one of his movies on *those* grounds? As AcademicLurker puts it, this invites a debate about the difference between “unnecessarily peculiar” and “*unnecessarily* unnecessarily peculiar.”

But surely that’s a fruitless debate. We’ve already defined *excessive* peculiarity as a good quality, so why draw lines about “too excessive” or try to convince someone there’s a right and wrong degree of too much?

It’s like debating whether a John Waters movie was too kitschy compared to other John Waters movies. I can see criticizing Waters movies for kitsch, but it seems unfair to me to criticize one of his films against another on grounds of kitschiness: excess is the ground rule.

“there seemed something underdetermined and hollow about the choice of particular quirks”

I could sympathize with this direction of critique, but it seems a bit different. If the quirks are determined and not hollow, they’re not really “unnecessary” peculiarities.

I’d then return to my original question: I think it’s the *unnecessariness* of the peculiarities that is so characteristic, distinguishing his movies from others. And I think that’s part of the fun, the satisfaction, the playfulness of his work.


bianca steele 03.27.15 at 8:27 pm


All well and good, but you seem determined to take both sides in the debate yourself! Please do clarify your own position at whatever length seems good to you. I still fail to see what you gain by labeling your post a reply to me. But whatever.


mattski 03.27.15 at 8:51 pm

I still fail to see what you gain by labeling your post a reply to me.

A sneaky glimpse of somebodies monkey?!


Anon 03.27.15 at 11:32 pm

Huh. I don’t see why my reply was so strange:
A) Moonrise Paradise is too peculiar (because unnecessarily so)
B) No, it’s not too peculiar (because unnecessary peculiarity is characteristic of Anderson).

B seems like a direct reply to A to me. True, since many in the thread made a point of saying they liked some of his films and disliked others, I did assume you meant something more like: Moonrise Kingdom is too peculiar *in comparison to his other movies*.

If so, my reply might not be to the point. But that’s just run of the mill internet misunderstanding, it still seems like a pretty direct reply.


On second thought, perhaps I’m too quick to dismiss the “unnecessarily unnecessarily” distinction. I just thought of a case I’d sympathize with: Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine, Science of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind, Mood Indigo) is, like Anderson, as a rule, unnecessarily whimsical or fanciful. But in Anderson’s case, I can usually appreciate it, while in Gondry’s case, I sometimes feel that it’s too much of too much.

On the other hand, I don’t think it’s of the banner waving, look at how peculiar I am variety. I really get the impression that Anderson just *is* peculiar, and that’s reflected in his work. Even if his aesthetic sensibility is too much of too much, but I don’t believe it’s because he’s trying too hard to be so.


John Holbo 03.28.15 at 1:35 am

While we’re on the subject, I think it would be great to do a Wes Anderson version of the Teletubbies. Very “Royal Tenenbaums”-ish. They have all grown up but are still trapped in the same old ‘house’ (or whatever it is), with the Noo-Noo making them tubby toast and tubby tustdard and cleaning up after them. Own Wilson will definitely be the sullen, purple-clad Dipsy, chain-smoking tubby tigarettes. Wes Anderson will get to play lots of games with aspect ratios, when the time comes to show the exceedingly embarrassing movies on their belly tvs. Maybe we’ll have a Luke Wilson/Gwyneth Paltrow romance (Tinky Winky/La-La). Who should play the Po and the Noo-Noo? I think Ed Norton can be the Noo-Noo, reprising his scoutmaster role from “Moonrise”.


Anon 03.28.15 at 4:22 pm

Sort of related. Teletubbies in black and white with a Joy Division “Atmosphere” soundtrack is pretty creepy: http://www.ifc.com/fix/2015/03/teletubbies-nightmare.

The recent movie Foxcatcher struck me as a kind of accidental sequel to Rushmore: what Max Fischer would be like 30 years later.


dilbert dogbert 03.31.15 at 3:34 am

Thanks for the post on CAS. We live just a few miles south of Auburn CA. Never thought it had any interesting critters other than the bearded motorcycle riding retired boomers. I was going to suggest to our little theater group that we might try that play. MMMMM? Don’t think so. Got a hoot out of the links. Thanks again.


ragweed 03.31.15 at 10:53 pm

I’ve never actually read Lovecraft, though I have been exposed to many a discussion of his work and various derivative works. So I pulled out a book-on tape of the Dunwich Horror and the Call of Cthulu. I suppose I should have expected it from the time it was written, but goodness that was a lot of “deviant half-breeds” and “savage mulattos.” I don’t know about the eldritch horrors, but the racist horrors will really give you nightmares.

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