P = Phil, R = Ruth, T = Tim.
R: I have called up in all my years of sorcery / P: inch by inch, with baleful terror / R: no god nor devil / T: the red moon, ominous and gibbous / R: no demon nor lich nor shadow / T: had declined above the terraces / P: of the wormy corpses that he dug with his hands from unconsecrated graves / R: and the thing was a streaming ooze of charnal pollution / R: dreaming of conquests / T: It is verily known by few / R: and of vaster necromancies / P: there were people — mostly priests and women, it is told — whom he picked up as they fled / T: It is verily known by few, but is nevertheless an attestable fact / P: and pulled limb from limb as a child might quarter an insect / T, P, R: The Double Shadow — A Clark Ashton Smith Podcast.
I thank you, friend, but I am no drinker of wine, not even if it be the rarest Canary or the oldest Amontillado. Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging… and more than others, I have reason to know the truth that was writ by Solomon the Jewish king. Give ear, if ye will, and I shall tell you a story such as would halt the half-drained cup on the lips of the hardiest bibber.
We were seven-and-thirty buccaneers, who raked the Spanish Main under Barnaby Dwale, he that was called Red Barnaby for the spilling of blood that attended him everywhere. Our ship, the Black Falcon, could outfly and outstrike all other craft that flew the Jolly Roger. Full often, Captain Dwale was wont to seek a remote isle on the eastward verge of the West Indies, and lighten the vessel of its weight of ingots and doubloons.
T: Welcome to Pirate Talk, the Clark Ashton Smith podcast! [P and R laugh]
R: This Be Pirates, with Clark Ashton Smith.
T: I’m Tim.
P: Oh, I’m Phil.
R: Arrr, I be Ruth.
T: And this week, we’re covering “A Vintage From Atlantis.” As you can tell, it’s a little different from the rest of the Poseidonis stories, and needless to say the Averoigne stories that we’ve handled so far.
P: I’m just wondering if we should all get our pirate voices out of the way right now so that we’re not tempted to do them all the way through the episode, because I can hear it, I can feel it, this tension in me that I’m just gonna want to keep saying it. So let’s just do it. Who wants to go first?
T: OK. But let’s say… I mean it’ll be later on in the reading, but let’s say “by the communion cup of Satan!” in our best…
R: Really? ‘Cause that’s a hard thing to… I would say that more in my necromancer voice.
P: Who’s going first?
R: No somebody else.
T: OK. [in pirate voice:] “By the communion cup of Satan!”
P: [in pirate voice:] “Arrr, by the communion cup of Satan!”
R: Wow, you guys did two really good takes on that. [in crone / witch voice:] “By the communion cup of Satan?!” [P laughs] That’s my crone pirate.
T: [laughing] I love the crone pirate! So yeah, obviously this isn’t a fantasy story — [R: A little bit.] — From just the intro, we’re on a pirate ship! This is a jaunty little pirate tale. [P laughs]
R: It’s a pirate tale against the sin o’ drinking, which incidentally, unlike Lovecraft, Smith drank as far as I can tell.
P: So the story originally appeared in the September 1933 issue of Weird Tales alongisde stories including Robert E. Howard, Hugh B. Cave, and a man named Hung Long Tom. [T laughs] Now, in a normal episode, we—
T: Wait, wait. Say that name again.
P: Hung… Long… Tom. [R laughs] Now, in a normal episode I would be making jokes about Hugh B. Cave — [T, laughing: Right!] — because it sounds like an Austin Powers joke or something, but here we have Hung Long Tom, and I, I just… I don’t even know what to say about it.
R: Well, he was an actual name of Frank Owen.
T: Why did he use… that name?
R: He used Richard Kent, which is a respectable pseudonym — [T: Yeah!] — and he used Hung Long Tom.
T: Was he writing, like, quote-unquote “Oriental” stories?
R: I should see what else — what the story was. Let’s see, this was published in, what was it, ’33? [T: Yeah.] So, in ’33, we have “The Ox-Cart,” a story, so it could be in Weird Tales…
P: In this issue, it was a poem called “Rain,” which doesn’t sound particularly… [T: No.]
R: Oh, later on he had one called “The Nanking Road” as Hung Long Tom.
T: Oh, OK. So he’s probably just trying to sell it…
R: “The Yellow River,” oh God, this… [P chuckles] … Racism!
P: What could possibly be racist about Hung Long Tom? [T and R laugh] He’s just a man who has a name… [laughing continues] … and we think it’s funny because penises — [R laughs] — but it’s just a name, you know?
T: Do you think he named himself that because of the innuendo?
R: I would really like to talk to him and find out.
T: That’s it, shut this podcast down. We’re gonna —
R: At least Nard Jones was kind of his real name.
P: Augh! I want Nard Jones and Hung Long Tom to duel at dawn. [R laughs]
R: OK, moving on from Hung Long Tom — which, incidentally, would be a good pirate name. Hung Long Tom would be a fantastic pirate name, but we’re not gonna test that part…
P: It would, and if I hadn’t made a rule of no more pirate voice for me, I would do it right now.
T: So we’re on the Black Falcon, the most dangerous ship on the seven seas…
P: I have to say, I want to criticize Clark Ashton Smith for his characterization of the Black Falcon as, like, “THE absolute best pirate ship, OMG, ever.” It doesn’t need to be, Smith. Pull it back. [R laughs] It can just — it doesn’t have to be THE pirate ship, it can be a pretty good pirate ship that does a pretty good job.
T: I’m sorry, but Red Barnaby would not be sailing on just any pirate ship.
R: That’s true. He is, like, famous, and spills lots of blood…
P: It just feels like he’s over-selling me. It’s like those first lines of “Azédarac.” It’s like, just pull it back, rein it in, and I’ll be there with you. I’ll go there with you, just…
T: Oh, maybe this is why it has to be THE pirate ship, because they’re prolific, they’re always pirating, and they’ve got a lot of stuff that they get, and they need to store this stuff somewhere. Of course you can’t always store it on your pirate ship, you’ve got to find a deserted island!
P: They’re pirates, not dummies. Of course they have to stash it.
R: It’s like in Skyrim, where you build a house to store your stuff!
T: Right! So they have an island that nobody knows about that they go and they drop their stuff off. They hide it there.
P: Is there ever… do they ever name this island? They don’t, do they?
R: No, I don’t think so.
P: And once again, I have to say, this is a number of stories that we’ve read in a row — well I guess that “Sfanomoë” isn’t, but the last one was — where we have an explicit narrator. And they begin conversationally.
T: He even has a name, right?
P: He does.
T: His name is Stephen Magbane.
R: Stephen Magbane, “the one Puritan among that Christless crew.” What is a Puritan doing on a pirate ship, I ask you?!
T: Who knows? Maybe he’s Red Barnaby’s biographer. [T and R laugh.]
R: It’s… it’s a weird setup. But yeah, he’s our narrator.
P: Everything about this story is weird. [laughs]
T: That just makes it fun.
R: One day, they go to the island and there’s a hurricane, unfortunately, and they’re doing their business but they spot some stuff that’s washed up, including this barnacle-laden thing which turns out to be a great glass jar, and it seems to have something in it.
P: Something that swishes.
T: And this thing is so big, it comes up to chest height, so they have to get a few people to roll it up on shore.
[reading, in pirate voice where appropriate]
“By the communion cup of Satan!” Red Barnaby swore. “If this thing is not an antique wine-jar, then I am a Bed-lamite. Such vessels-though mayhap they were not so huge-were employed by the Romans to store the goodly vintages of Falernus and Cecuba. Indeed, there is today a Spanish wine-that of Valdepenas – which is kept in earthen jars. But this, if I mistake not, is neither from Spain nor olden Rome. It is ancient enough, by its look, to have come from that long-sunken isle, the Atlantis whereof Plato speaks. Truly, there should be a rare vintage within, a wine that was mellowed in the youth of the world, before the founding of Rome and Athens; and which, perchance, has gathered fire and strength with the centuries. Ho! my rascal sea-bullies! We sail not from this harbor till the jar is broached. And if the liquor within be sound and potable, we shall make holiday this evening on the sands.”
“Belike, ’tis a funeral urn, full of plaguey cinders and ashes,” said the mate, Roger Aglone, who had a gloomy turn of thought.
[Muffled, aside:] Good pirate voices.
P: Red Barnaby, aside from his nickname — which I think may just be, like Red Wine Barnaby [T and R laugh] — he’s like “we’re gonna party tonight whether you pirates like it or not. Crack this thing open and we are gettin’ TRASHED like the Earth was young again.” [laughs]
T: And he’s so well-versed in wine!
P: Exactly! This is why I think that he’s not that fierce, he’s mostly just a drunk. So Barnaby mandates party. He’s like “OK, dudes: party.” And they try to start opening the jar, but it’s encased in seaweed and barnacles, and he just — he hacks at it with his sword! Which I think is just — he hops on the jar and just starts swinging his sword trying to get to this wine! [laughing]
T: Yeah, he’s got to cut through the barnacles! It’s been there for centuries, maybe!
R: I just… don’t want to drink whatever’s inside this really… crusty… thing. It’s sealed really well, we know that…
T: Yeah, he gets all the barnacles off, and then there’s a wax seal around whatever the lid is on. But the wax is hardened, so even his sword can’t break it off. So what does he do?
P: Smashes it.
T: He smashes it!
P: It’s like the Gordian Knot. [R: Mm-hmm.] He is just like “screw this.”
T: He smashes it at the neck and takes the whole top off. And I think even the narrator mentions how good the wine actually smells.
R: Mm-hmm. Everybody’s sniffing greedily at it, and he smells the “heathen spices, heavy and strange; and the very inhalation thereof caused me to feel a sort of giddiness.” Oh, Puritan boy. Just you wait.
P: [laughing] I love this story, it’s so cute!
T: I know, it’s really good.
P: So they all smell it, but Red Barnaby again, because he knows wine like nobody else, is still like: “that’s ROYAL wine. The best stuff we could possibly find!” [laughing]
R: “ARRR, it’s a royal vintage! Let’s get BLITZED!”
T: “Avast, ye slumgullions!” [R laughs]
P: Wait, what’s the full “slumgullions” quote?
T: He says “Avast, ye slumgullions! Stow the water-casks on board, and summon all hands ashore, leaving only a watch there to ward the vessel. We’ll have a gala night before we sack any more Spaniards.” And then they all yell, yaaaaay!
P: [laughing] He is so hardy for a party, it’s crazy.
R: Except for the three grumbling men stuck on board. Maybe he knows that once he gets them drunk— oh, I shouldn’t.
T: [whispering] Yeah, not yet.
P: What is a slumgullion, and how can I become one?
T: [laughing] I know! I don’t know. We could just say you are one.
R: It’s a kind of watery meat stew — [T: What?] — if I’m not mistaken. I… I don’t know, because I’ve heard it, it’s like a thing that you get in an inn.
T: That’s really gross! Imagine eating slumgullion for dinner.
P: [laughing] I wanna be one! So, it’s just… Red Barnaby, I mean he’s no Oigos, and he’s no necromancer, but he is a fairly enjoyable and peculiar Clark Ashton Smith character. ‘Cause he’s just like — he just strikes me as a drunken [bleeped]. He’s like “everybody party! Except you three dudes who have to stay on the ship!”
R: And he makes one of our heroes, or rather, our hero, who doesn’t drink, come to the party instead of letting him stay on the ship.
T: Poor Stephen’s like “I’ll stay on the boat, I don’t need to party, I’m not gonna drink,” but no, just because he doesn’t drink, Red Barnaby forces him to be at the party.
P: It says “expressly commanded his presence.”
R: [laughing] Although he does get the fresh tortoise meat, which he thinks is a fair trade-off.
T: He likes the fresh tortoise meat. They have like a beach party, and they hunt up tortoises, and tortoise eggs, and cook it all up — it’s like Beach Blanket Bingo night.
R: But with 37 — or rather, 34 — pirates.
T: Yep. And a Christian Puritan.
R: [laughing] Yes. But the weird thing is, once they start drinking, and you expect it to get wilder, it actually calms down, and everybody gets really quiet. And that’s kinda creepy.
T: Yeah, even Red Barnaby, who started drinking right when they opened it, just sat there.
R: And then they start muttering… and then they start gibbering. And they’re staring out into the sea, and the stars go dark…
T: That was a really creepy part, where they’re all standing there quietly, just staring out at the sea.
P: How does that make you feel, Tim?
T: It’s really creepy! Because the whole beginning of the story is kind of farcical and over the top — [R: Mm-hmm.] — and then all of a sudden, there’s this quiet that comes over it, and you just picture maybe Stephen was writing in his little diary, trying to ignore the boisterousness that’s going around, and then he notices there is no boisterousness, and everybody’s just quietly drinking, and then just standing by the shore, looking out at the black sea.
R: Gives me a proper shudder. And Stephen tries to move away. He’s a little freaked out by all of this. Instead of letting him move away, they try to force him to drink some of the wine as well, which is also weird. Apparently they’ve been OK with just teasing him up until now, on every occasion…
I fought against them, doubly unwilling to quaff that nameless vintage, and much of it was spilled. The stuff was sweet as liquid honey to the taste, but burned like hell-fire in my throat. The air about me seemed to brighten, with a redness of ghostly blood that was everywhere. Mad and unholy was the vision that I saw: for the harbor waves no longer lapped on the sand, and the sea had wholly vanished. The Black Falcon was gone, and where the reefs had been, great marble walls ascended, flushed as if with the ruby of lost sunsets. Above them were haughty domes of heathen temples, and spires of pagan palaces; and beneath were mighty streets and causeys where people passed in a never—ending throng. I thought that I gazed upon some immemorial city, such as had flourished in Earth’s prime; and I saw the trees of its terraced gardens, fairer than the palms of Eden. Listening, I heard the sound of dulcimers that were sweet as the moaning of women; and the cry of horns that told forgotten glorious things; and the wild sweet singing of people who passed to some hidden, sacred festival within the walls.
One building there was, a high fane above the rest, from which the light streamed in a muddier flood; and from its open portals music came, sorcerous and beguiling as the far voices of bygone years. The weird music seemed to call me and entice me; and I longed to tread the streets of the alien city, and a deep desire was upon me to mingle with its people and pass into the glowing fane.
P: Do you think that description of Atlantis fits the Atlantis presented to us in the past three stories?
R: Well, we’re in Poseidonis, which is like the leftovers of Atlantis.
P: Right, but Poseidonis is still considered part of Atlantis, so do you think that in the writing of this story, Smith is actually referring to HIS conception of Atlantis, or do you think that this story actually stands outside of that version, and is just, oh here’s another thing.
T: I don’t know. I think we never really get a good — I mean the best so far, the best picture we get of street life in Poseidonis / Atlantis is in “A Voyage to Sfanomoë” when they’re lifting off and they’re watching the people party, and that kind of fits with what he’s describing here. But other than that…
R: I think that Atlantis somehow is grander.
T: Yeah, right. And this seems pretty grand. What, did you disagree, Philip?
P: No, I don’t disagree at all. I guess I just asked the question because I really have no way of answering it… which I guess is kind of interesting too. All of these stories, we put them together because they all reference Poseidonis or Atlantis or whatever, but aside from like the Malygris stuff, they all just feel so different. [T: Yeah, they do.] [R: Mm-hmm.] It makes me wonder if it’s even wrong to call this part of that group of stories. I don’t think it is, but it’s worth asking the question, I guess. I also think that this is, like, if you wanted to pick “the thing” that Clark Ashton Smith is always all about, this is another example of it, and it’s like —
T: The past.
P: — The past, but let’s call it, like, the lure of…
R: The mythic past?
P: Well, the lure of fantasy as dangerous. Because I think the real emblematic version of this exact situation is in “The City of Singing Flame” — [T: Yeah.] [R: Mm-hmm, that’s what I thought of.] — where this exact situation comes up again. But it’s not like, that’s not the past, that’s just some other weird plane of existence, it’s not coded as past or future or anything, it’s just some other place.
T: He sees this vision, they all see this vision, and then a road appears that leads down into this vision. And then all of the sailors start walking towards it.
R: And he feels like he should, but he doesn’t… probably because he’s only had a taste of the wine. Just enough to see it, and just enough to feel it.
P: There’s this moment where he says, as he feels the pull into this tower, “all this, which the wine had remembered through its sleep in the ocean depths, was mine to behold and conceive for a moment.” I just think it’s interesting that he more or less personifies the wine. The wine itself has a memory, that by drinking it has somehow inhabited his own mind.
R: It’s like a time capsule wine.
T: Yeah, it remembers where it came from.
P: And it wants everybody to go to there.
R: Not sure why… and maybe not the best idea. But I also wonder what would have happened if this had happened on land. Like in Kansas.
T: [laughing] Right.
R: Would they have still just seen it and wandered off into the cornfields? Pirates of the corn! [T laughs.]
Well it was that I had drunk less of that evil and pagan vintage than the others, and was less besotted than they with its luring vision. For, even as Captain Dwale and his crew went toward the city, it appeared to me that the rosy glow began to fade a little. The walls took on a wavering thinness, and the domes grew insubstantial. The rose departed, the light was pale as a phosphor of the tomb; and the people went to and fro like phantoms, with a thin crying of ghostly horns and a ghostly singing. Dimly above the sunken causey the harbor waves returned; and Red Barnaby and his men walked down beneath them. Slowly the waters darkened above the fading spires and walls; and the midnight blackened upon the sea; and the city was lost like the vanished bubbles of wine.
A terror came upon me, knowing the fate of those others. I fled swiftly, stumbling in darkness toward the palmy hill that crowned the isle. No vestige remained of the rosy light; and the sky was filled with returning stars. And looking oceanward as I climbed the hill, I saw a lantern that burned on the Black Falcon in the harbor, and discerned the embers of our fire that smoldered on the sands. Then, praying with a fearful fervor, I waited for dawn.
R: And he doesn’t go back to the ship!
T: No, he runs.
R: He goes up the hill, and I wonder if he still feels that pull. [T: Yeah.] And he doesn’t trust himself, and so he tries to get as far away from the water as you can on an island.
T: Do you guys think that the pirates were actually transported to this world? Or they just went under the sea and drowned?
P: I think they died. I think they went under the sea and drowned.
R: I think they died too. We’re all voting for death here.
P: I mean I guess there’s no way of knowing, but… and I can’t even think how to make a case for them all dying except that that’s just how I think it went.
R: “A terror came upon me, knowing the fate of those others.” I think he would be freaked out if they went to Atlantis, but curious. Whereas here, he’s like “I have to keep myself from dying by walking into the water.”
T: I think it is pretty clear that they went under the waves and died, but I think there’s just a slight ambiguity about it.
P: I’m gonna give it 98.5% that they died.
T: Um, I’m gonna give it 98.1%.
P: I had something else that I was gonna say… about something… but I can’t remember what it was.
R: Well, I noticed in a letter from Smith that he had said that he had sold this story to Wright, but only after the third rewrite of the ending. Which made me think, how did he end it the first two times? Was it just the manner and style? Did he cut it down? What did he change?
T: Yeah, was it more explicit, or less explicit?
P: Phil and I of course didn’t see the drafts of that one when we were looking at drafts, because they weren’t in the Lovecraft archive. That would be a fantastic set of drafts to look at. [T: Yeah.] And I didn’t see any more info on people giving him feedback, though of course that was probably redacted out of the selected letters. So it may be in a letter out there somewhere.
P: How weird is it that we read a pirate story? That’s all I kept thinking about while reading this, is that it’s just like… it’s an OK Clark Ashton Smith story, but I think it is notable because it’s a pirate story — [T: Yeah, yeah.] — it’s like what? Why is this a pirate story? I don’t understand…
T: Well we had our magic story — [R: Mm-hmm.] — about regret.
R: And we had our science story!
T: We had our science story about the hubris of humanity, and now our pirate story. What’s next, cowboys?
P: [laughing] Oh man, I wish that Clark Ashton Smith had done a cowboy story, that would be amazing.
R: Sorry guys. [P laughs] Next time, we’re going to have to cope with “The Death of Malygris.”
T: Oooh, I’m gonna re-cast it as a cowboy story.
T: He dies in a shoot-out. [R laughs.]
P: It’s possible that at some point, maybe he tried to do a Robert E. Howard-like cowboy-style story, who knows.
R: Well there is one about a dead rattlesnake, that’s kind of cowboy-ish.
P: Tim, when we party with Red Barnaby next time, I want to be one of the guys left back on the ship.
T: [laughing] Right.
R: You want to watch.
P: [laughing] I just want to watch.
T: I want to be gloomy Roger Aglone, or whatever his name is.
R: But what do you think that they thought they saw? Our guy tasted a little of the wine, so he saw what he saw. They probably just saw the entire crew walk into the ocean. How freaky is that?
R: And our guy might be able to tell them; Stephen might go back to the ship and say “guys, that wine was freaky.”
P: Let’s wrap it up! Tim, wrap it up.
R: Wrap it up like a mummy. Let’s see you wrap it up like Oigos.
T: Well Oigos would just be like “mmmrrrrrrrrrggghhh.”
P: Do Red Barnaby and Oigos partying under the sea.
T: [in pirate voice:] “Avast, ye slum-mummion!”
P: [laughs] [in pirate voice:] “Ya better start drinkin’!”
T: [laughing] And Oigos says “ooouuuuurrrrggghh” and looks at his burned hands.
T: Yeah, right? It’s so sad!
P: And he starts drinking.
T: OK, so this was “A Vintage From Atlantis” by Clark Ashton Smith. Next time, we’ll be reading the last story in the Poseidonis setting, entitled “The Death of Malygris.”
P: [blows ominously into microphone]
T: [does likewise]
P: I do really get a kick out of Red Barnaby the party pirate. [T and R laugh]. This story should be taught in D.A.R.E. classes, ’cause it’s really all about how peer pressure will get you sucked under the waves of addiction!
R: Wow, that’s deep, Phil.
T: That’s very true. I think we just cracked the code for this one.
P: Did we just solve Atlantis again?
T: I think we did! I’m very proud of you guys.
P: Two episodes in a row, we’ve solved Atlantis.