P = Phil, R = Ruth, T = Tim.
R: I have called up in all my years of horror / P: inch by inch, with baleful terror / R: no god nor devil / T: the red moon, ominous and gibbeous / 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.
T: Hello, and welcome to The Double Shadow, a podcast exploring the weird fiction of 20th century writer, Clark Ashton Smith. I’m Tim…
P: I’m Phil.
R: And I’m Ruth.
T: And this week we’ll be covering “The Mandrakes.” But before we start with the actual story, we just wanted to announce the winners for our contest. And what were the details for the contest?
R: We were asking people to write a synopsis of a lost or unwritten Averoigne story, and submit it through our Twitter, our Facebook, our website, et cetera. We got quite a number of submissions, ah, some very excellent ideas in case people are interested in writing some of these up — that would be awesome — and from them we picked four winners.
T: Our first winner was Jason, and his submission went as follows: [reading]
In the decaying ruins of an unnamed abbey, a young woman finds a manuscript purporting to be a true and accurate account of the habits and deeds of the wild loup–garou. She returns to her village and becomes obsessed with proving the validity of the document (and the veracity of the existence of the feral beasts) to the disbelieving townsfolk, going so far as to maul an old woman in a manner consistent with the manuscript to provide “evidence.” She is caught and cast out of the village, wandering in madness through the primeval forest until, joyously vindicated at last, she meets her death on the claws and teeth of a loup–garou.
T: So that was Jason’s, and that was excellent. The next one is from Guido, and his was: [reading]
In modern day Averoigne two friends embark on a road trip to sight see the horror haunted historical sights of the Averoignian countryside. Their adventure turns perilous when they realize that their journey is closely tailed by a stalking, flesh–hungry werebeast and they have to keep moving to survive.
T: That’s a tense one. Our next winner is Janey Lich, and here’s her contribution for a lost Averoigne story: [reading]
A highwayman is hiding out in the woods of Averoigne at night when he comes upon a young woman; she tells him a disturbing story about a village whose inhabitants were picked off one by one by a loup–garou. At the end of the story the girl reveals that she herself was the loup–garou, and devours him.
T: And then our last winner is Pete, and his submission went as follows: [reading]
The body of a sorcerer washes up on the shore of the Isoile River; whispers of his death begin surfacing around Averoigne and of the binding spell that died with him. Now free from the sorceries that imprisoned their shapeshifting abilities, an ancient family attempt to reclaim their wolfen birthright.
T: So, great job to all of our winners; awesome stuff.
R: I feel like we should make a clarification. We didn’t just choose all of these because they have werewolves in them? Um…
T: I know! That’s such a clear theme!
R: Yeah…the rules of the contest were that we were going to pick one — which was Jason’s — and the rest would be chosen from all the submissions at random, and I think we just had such a large percentage of werewolf–based submissions that we ended up picking three of them.
P: “Werewolf–Based Submission” is my next erotica. [all laugh]
R: However, today’s story actually also sort of doesn’t quite have a werewolf in it.
R: It has another werewolf tease for Phil. He got excited.
P: Awwww yeah.
T: Okay, so what do we know about “The Mandrakes,” by Clark Ashton Smith?
R: Well, we know it was originally published in Weird Tales, and that it was published in February of 1933, alongside stories by Lovecraft, Derleth, Kirk Mashburn, Otis Adelbert Kline, and others. Now, this is the place where we have a little egg on our face.
T: We have to hang our heads in…weird shame.
P: Internet shame.
R: Internet shame!
P: It’s the internet’s fault.
R: I know. We blame Phil, though. If you’re looking for a scapegoat.
P: That’s fair! I put…I put the list together.
R: The, um…Phil put together a list, which was supposedly based off of…when the dates were…when the stories were originally published. Unfortunately, he got some bad data off of Wikipedia, and some odd ordering, and we ended up going back through it with the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, which provided us with the dates of the original publications, as well as covers, listings, whatnots, and got our list changed around. So “Colossus” should actually come after this, and “Beast,” and I think possibly “Holiness,” too? So we’re doing this slightly out of order, but let’s face it, “Colossus” was a really fun story.
T: Yeah, it was.
R: So I don’t feel too bad about that.
T: In the timeline of the actual stories, the years that they take place, did we do “Colossus” in the right place?
P: No, because “Holiness” takes place before… “Holiness” takes place before, way before, and then…after, I believe… “Colossus.”
R: Yeah, I have to check that.
P: And this story takes place…uh…
T: In the 14th cen — in the 1400s. The 15th century.
P: Yeah, so this one takes place…yeah, so I mean, he seems to have written them such that they would jump around in time a little bit? Um, and also, I mean, he wrote them and they were published all out of order from when he wrote them, so you know, it’s hard to, uh, it’s hard to, uh…something. I lost my train of thought. [all laugh] I’m annoyed by the mistake, though, because I really like to try to put myself in the shoes of like a Weird Tales reader in the 1930s, and think about the stories as they were originally consumed…ah…
P: And the fact that we read “Colossus” before…ah…before the next three stories kind of ruins my game? But we’ll be much more accurate with Zothique and Hyperborea, so…ah…I’ll be able to live my fantasy 1930s life…
P: …When we do those. [laughs]
T: Okay, so — “The Mandrakes.”
Gilles Grenier the sorcerer and his wife Sabine, coming into lower Averoigne from parts unknown or at least unverified, had selected the location of their hut with a careful forethought.
The hut was close to those marshes through which the slackening waters of the river Isoile, after leaving the great fosest, had overflowed in sluggish, reed–clogged channels and sedge–hidden pools mantled with scum like witches’ oils. It stood among osiers and alders on a low, mound–shaped elevation; and in front, toward the marshes, there was a loamy meadow–bottom where the short fat stems and tufted leaves of the mandrake grew in lush abundance, being more plentiful and of greater size than elsewhere through all that sorcery–ridden province. The fleshly, bifurcated roots of this plant, held by many to resemble the human body, were used by Gilles and Sabine in the brewing of love–philtres. Their potions, being compounded with much care and cunning, soon acquired a marvelous renown among the peasants and villagers, and were even in request among people of a loftier station, who came privily to the wizard’s hut. They would rouse, people said, a kindly warmth in the coldest and most prudent bosom, would melt the armor of the most obdurate virtue. As a result, the demand for these sovereign magistrals became enormous.
R: And that wasn’t the only thing that became enormous, am I right, guys? [all laugh]
T: So we have two sorcerers who move into town.
P: And they specialize in love potions. They’re like, you know…[laughs] Yeah. They’re like Viagra salesmen, I guess.
R: Yeah, I do wonder where they came from? And what their motivation was for moving here, and whether they’ve always done love potions, or whether mandrakes are just really good for that, so they said, hey, we’ll go do love potions.
T: Yeah, I don’t know. We know…we kind of find out later where Gilles comes from. Well, where he’s rumored to have come from. But we don’t know anything about Sabine. About her history.
P: Um, I tried to do a little bit of research on just why… ’cause mandrakes come up a lot in occult, and just like [?] and Harry Potter, they’re just sort of like a thing…
P: – That a person talks about? I don’t really know why exactly…um…they’re kind of mentioned all over the place. Like they’re mentioned in the Bible, and they’re mentioned by Eliphas Levi and Shakespeare and Machiavelli and J.K. Potter [illustrator]…like, they’re sort of…
T: Yeah. J.K. Rowling [Harry Potter author].
P: J.K. Rowling, yeah, not J.K. Potter.
T: Yeah, they have a huge occultish history.
P: My favorite legend of theirs, because it’s just horrific and disgusting, is that they’re said to grow where the semen of a hanged man hits the ground? Which is really upsetting, and…
P: …Strange. [laughs] Yeah, it’s a classy legend.
P: Ah, in…this is just a random aside. In Paul Verhoeven’s last movie before he made RoboCop [Flesh + Blood, 1985], which is like this hilarious like medieval movie that has Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh in it? I think they actually dig up a, um, a mandrake that is made, ah, from the semen of a hanged man…
T: Oh, really.
T: That’s cool.
P: Cool, disgusting…it’s like a mixture of the two. [laughs]
R: I suppose people used to think it was seed, so.
P: Yeah, exactly. But I mean, I only did the most cursory research, which is to say I went back to Wikipedia immediately after it burned me? [all laugh] Uh, so I didn’t really have much on why, you know, how mandrakes acquired the…uh…the reputation.
R: My theory is just because they look kind of human–ish? With the way that they branch out…
T: Yeah, they do.
R: …With things that look like arms and legs, and so…
T: They’re kind of white and fleshy–colored.
R: Mmmhmm. And I think people just ran with that. So even the semen of a hanged man makes sense. It didn’t get to gestate in a woman, it gestated in the ground, so it gave forth this stumpy thing instead of a baby? It’s a little weird, but this is weird fiction, so.
T: I wonder if you can eat one? They always look like ginger roots to me.
P: Uh, you…they are poisonous? But I think that, um, you could eat a little bit of them and they…I don’t think you would ever make…like…
T: Mandrake pie?
P: Recreational…well, or like recreational drugs out of them…
T: Oh, right, right.
P: I think they have some psychoactive…elements? But like…probably like a lot of poisons have some psychoactive elements…
T: Right before you die, as your brain’s shutting off, it’s giving off chemicals. [laughs]
P: You’ll get an enormous erection… [all laugh]
P: Ahhhhhh! Keeping it classy tonight on Double Shadow.
T: So Gilles and Sabine…we find out after that first passage that it’s around the 15th century; it’s the 1400s. Um, and magic and witchcraft — as we know from the other Averoigne stories — it’s not very…it’s not looked kindly upon in the province of Averoigne. Uh…
R: Although everybody goes to these people.
T: Right. They make it a note that while witchcraft and sorcery are looked down upon, people make the most out of their services, and they trust them, and they go there because they’re helping keep marriages together…you know? [laughs]
R: Yes, and because they keep marriages together, the church kind of overlooks the, uh, the rest of it. I guess “the rest of it” being the scandals, affairs and such.
P: Yeah, and also just the fact that I think that they’re using witchcraft…
R: Well, that too.
P: …That the church technically probably shouldn’t be into.
T: Oh, wait; and then we get our werewolf tease. Because they, ah…
P: We do.
T: …They talk about how Gilles…there was a rumor that he’d been driven out of…Blois [“blah”]? How do you say —
R: Blois [more like “bwah”].
T: Blois [“bwah”]? [Ruth and Phil laugh] It’s the weirdest town name I’ve ever seen. And this is coming from a —
P: It’s actually a region of France.
P: It does actually exist.
T: Is it really? Okay.
R: They say that Gilles was driven out of Blois, and that his last name —
P: Can you say it again?
R: Blois? [Phil and Tim laugh]
P: Okay, I’m done. Go ahead.
R: And that his last name, ah, Grenier? Is held by people who are werewolves. And he’s kind of fuzzy! And weird–looking. Phil says he has hair almost up to his eyeballs, I’m not sure.
T: Yeah, they called attention —
P: I think it is.
They called attention to the excessive hairiness of the wizard, whose hands were black with bristles and whose beard grew almost to his eyes.
R: Fair enough.
R: But we don’t hear anything else in the story about him being a werewolf.
P: There’s no other indication his, like, lycanthropy is also noted. So it’s like, he’s just a hairy dude.
R: Sabine, on the other hand, is hot. And younger.
T: Grey eyes and wheat–colored hair.
P: And Tim, is this a happy union, between the two of them?
T: Well, you would think, for a couple that sells Love Potion Number Nine…but no. People hear that they fight all the time, and they joke behind their backs, like, [in a yokel–y voice] “They should sample the wares.”
R: You would think, but maybe they don’t like that.
P: They don’t…are you saying they wouldn’t use their own love potions on themselves? It is an interesting question, like why don’t they use the love potion on themselves? You’d think…um…
R: Maybe they don’t want to be under any spells.
P: That could be.
R: Maybe they don’t trust each other. Can you imagine if Gilles made a potion and Sabine was like, “Oh, I’m not taking that,” you know…
R: “You could make me your slave for the rest of my life. I’m not drinking that.”
T: Or maybe they know that the nature of magic is temporary. And however they truly feel, magic isn’t gonna undo it, it’s just gonna put a balm over it for a little while, and eventually it’s gonna come back.
R: Mmmhmm. Maybe that’s how they got started, and it doesn’t work on them anymore.
T: Right. Right.
P: [laughs] They’re like addicts, they can’t…there’s not a strong enough love potion —
T: I picture them as like this hippie couple that like rolls into town in their VW bug parked by the river…
P: I like to think that they’re just down the trail from like the Mother of Toads and like sometimes they get together and like hang out.
T: Oh, God.
P: I like that the people of Averoigne are always (a) going to these people, even though…and getting their magic? But they’re also always sort of willing to make…well, not always, but two times they were willing to make jokes about the things that are going on?
P: Like, they were joking…remember they made sort of…what was it, in “Maker of Gargoyles” it gets referenced?
P: And then here, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, those two crazy sorcerers, always throttling each other and fighting, they should take their own love potion! Yuk, yuk.” I had this…I noted this ridiculous sentence in this section. It reads as follows. [reading]
The connubial infelicities of Gilles and his wife, whether grave or trivial, in no wise impaired the renown of their love–potions.
P: “The connubial infelicities.” [Tim laughs] Let’s just…let’s just let it ride.
P: Connubial infelicities. And scene. [all laugh]
T: So what does that mean?
R: They weren’t happily married.
P: Yeah. [laughs] They had big fights. And we learned also that this love potion is not like, ah, that magic in that movie where the woman’s emotions affect her food? Remember that movie?
T: Oh. Yeah.
P: Because the fact that they hate each other doesn’t affect the… [all laugh]
P: …Doesn’t affect the potency of the love potion.
T: Which is probably why the townsfolk are just able to shrug it off, because their stuff works. It doesn’t matter if they have a good relationship.
R: Things just kind of keep going as they’re going, and then five years later, suddenly no Sabine. Gilles just blows it off. He’s like, “Oh, yeah, she’s visiting relatives. She went home to see her mother.”
It was then mid–autumn; and Gilles told the inquirers, in a somewhat vague and indirect fashion, that his wife would not return before spring. Winter came early that year and tarried late, with deeply crusted snows in the forest and on the uplands, and a heavy armor of fretted ice on the marshes. It was a winter of much hardship and privation. When the tardy spring had broken the silver buds of the willows and covered the alders with a foliage of chrysolite, few thought to ask Gilles regarding Sabine’s return. And later, when the purple bells of the mandrake were succeeded by small orange–colored apples, her prolonged absence was taken for granted.
Gilles, living tranquilly with his books and cauldrons, and gathering the roots and herbs for his magical medicaments, was well enough pleased to have it taken for granted. He did not believe that Sabine would ever return; and his unbelief, it would seem, was far from irrational. He had killed her one evening in autumn, during a dispute of unbearable acrimony, slitting her soft, pale throat in self–defense with a knife which he had wrested from her fingers when she lifted it against him. Afterward he had buried her by the late rays of a gibbous moon beneath the mandrakes in the meadow–bottom, replacing the leafy sods with much care, so that there was no evidence of their having been disturbed other than by the digging of a few roots in the way of daily business.
P: Yeah. I love this passage. I love —
T: Yeah. So do I. This, I think —
P: [starts to say something]
T: To me, this is —
P: Go ahead.
T: To me, this is Smith’s, um…this is Smith’s first real horror story. You know. ‘Cause that was…that’s like such a horrific statement. Just right there. “Oh, yeah, he slit her throat.” So casually.
P: It’s…it’s amazing how casual[ly] it gets brought up. And it, um…hold on, let me find the exact, um…like it’s casual, but I feel like it’s also [unintelligible] for a really morbid comedy…
P: …Because it’s like…like, the narrator, and I believe this story does actually have like a literal “I am the narrator” part…
T: Yeah. Right.
P: Which is addressing like…the narrator clearly knows what happened, but he still like makes this sort of funny — but not like, ha–ha funny — ah, comment about Gilles not believing his wife would return, either…
P: Which, you know, clearly he knows she’s dead. It’s just, it has like, it’s such an unusual…effect? In the writing?
T: Yeah. It completely takes you off guard. Because there…
T: He keeps building up and building up…it’s the, it’s the Ashton Smith escalation effect.
P: [laughs] But I don’t know, it feels like a, um…I agree. But it’s so different than how horrors are normally related…
P: …In this kind of like, pulp fiction? ‘Cause normally it would be like…not normally, but I think on average you would get a pretty gruesome murder scene.
P: In this one, it’s related in such a different way. It’s really notable.
T: Yeah. See, this is also why I like Smith, is because…it could be murder, often can be seen as a very one–sided thing, but he kind of goes out of his way in that part, and then toward the end, to talk about how awful Sabine was. And how she would often attack him, and scratch him and yell at him.
R: And he grabbed the knife out of her hand —
T: Right, she was going to kill him.
P: Yeah. It does literally say “in self–defense.”
P: Which, you know, is interesting. I hadn’t really even picked up on that when I read the story the first time, but like, that seems to be sort of a notable thing to put in a murder description?
P: And I don’t think that Gilles is ever really sympathetic, but it certainly —
P: – Morally complicated the situation.
T: Exactly! And I think that’s why it’s so horrific, is because he…he could have been sorry for it, and he could have gone to the…whatever, the law, and said, “Oh, this happened, and it was an accident; it was…I was acting in self–defense,” but no, he just…buries her and goes back to reading books and brewing potions. Telling people that she went on vacation.
R: Yeah, and I feel like the law might have believed him.
T: Oh, absolutely!
R: I mean, they might have taken that opportunity to arrest him for sorcery because they felt…you know.
R: Like they had to do something, but…you know.
T: Yeah, that’s true.
P: I also like that it makes out that he kind of even forgot where he buried her.
P: Which, just like… [laughs] That’s such a, like…if I killed somebody, God forbid, and I buried them someplace, like, where they shouldn’t be buried, I’m pretty sure I would remember exactly where I did that? But Gilles is like, “Oh, it might have been there, it might have been somewhere else, who knows…”
R: “Somewhere by the mandrakes…”
P: “Somewhere by the mandrakes, I don’t know.”
T: And he kind of views it as like, “oh, a funny irony” that it’s by the mandrakes, so now he can always remember where he buried her.
R: Well, the year goes by…
P: Okay, so, you know…she was murdered, what, in the winter, right?
T: I think right before.
R: I think actually in the autumn, I think. Yeah.
T: Because then —
R: But it goes…it seems to go a whole year.
P: So spring comes around, and, ah, demand for love potions, ah, goes up. People want to be in love. And Gilles has this increased demand, and he goes and starts digging up mandrakes to make his potions. And there’s this great little detail that he uses…a curious trowel made from the femur of a witch to dig up the mandrakes? Which is…just…begs so many awesome questions, like…
T: Yeah. Absolutely.
P: [unintelligible] Clark Ashton Smith stories? So he’s digging and he’s digging, and he digs up a different kind of mandrake. [reading]
It seemed inordinately large, unnaturally white; and, eyeing it more closely, he saw that it bore the exact likeness of a woman’s body and lower limbs, being cloven to the middle and clearly formed even to the ten toes! These were no arms, however, and the bosom ended in the large tuft of ovate leaves.
Gilles was more than startled by the fashion in which the root seemed to turn and writhe when he lifted it from the ground. He dropped it hastily, and the minikin limbs lay quivering on the grass. But, after a little reflection, he took the prodigy as a possible mark of Satanic favor, and continued his digging. To his amazement, the next root was formed in much the same manner as the first. A half–dozen more, which he proceeded to dig, were shaped in miniature mockery of a woman from breasts to heels; and amid the superstitious awe and wonder with which he regarded them, he became aware of their singularly intimate resemblance to Sabine.
P: So it looked like his wife.
R: And he cuts one accidentally with the trowel. He just sort of slices down through it? It bleeds actual blood. And he hears a scream.
R: As if she were screaming. He can hear it’s her voice.
T: And they’re wiggling as he’s pulling them out of the earth.
R: So creepy!
T: But! He thinks that it’s like, “Oh, okay, Satan’s blessing me with these, so I’m gonna take ’em.”
P: Not only does he take ’em, he’s like, “These are great, I’m gonna make some awesome potions!”
T: Right. “These are gonna be the best–loved potions ever, because of these Satan–blessed, squirming mandrakes that look like my dead wife!”
P: Uh…and I, like I noted this one passage that I think is hilarious, like…so he takes them all to his home, and he kind of like has this internal thought, where he’s like, “Okay, well, they look like my wife, [but] they don’t have heads,” and he figures only he will know they look like his wife, because they just look like her body. Which I think is really like… [laughs] And it’s phrased amusingly, too, like… [reading]
[T]heir actual resemblance to the person of Sabine was a thing which none but he could rightfully know.
P: Which seems to…I guess that also just begs questions like, what was so notable about her naked form that he would recognize it even when it was in root form, and… [Ruth laughs] …I don’t know. Like there’s just… [laughs] I just find it fascinating, where he’s like, “Oh, that’s definitely my wife’s body; oh, yeah.” [Tim laughs] Like, her face isn’t there! I don’t know. It’s just interesting. [laughs]
T: It is. It is really…this entire story is…it’s got such a creepy undercurrent to it. Just the casualness, but the complete strangeness of everything that’s going on.
P: So he makes a lot of potions, but he also decides notably to keep one of the mandrakes just sort of around…ah…
T: Hanging from the ceiling.
P: Yeah. Which is also super creepy! [laughs] Like…
[He] hung it up in his hut amid other roots and dried herbs and simples, intending to consult it as an oracle in future, according to the custom of wizards.
T: So it’s something wizards do.
R: So creepy. That’s just…that’s creepy.
P: Yeah. I kinda wanna get a mandrake and hang it from my office ceiling…
T: You can talk to it!
P: Just to see.
T: It’s an oracle.
P: Yeah, you know. Like wizards do!
R: I’ll bring one when I come up to visit.
T: So he makes these new potions, and, ah, they were bought eagerly. ‘Cause I’m assuming he’s talking them up, too.
R: Oh, yeah. Like, “These are my extra strong potions.”
R: “These are good stuff.”
T: Oh, now here’s where our mystery narrator comes in. Where it starts. [reading]
Now, in the old legend of Averoigne which I recount herewith[…]
T: And then it goes on to talk more about the impious and audacious wizard.
P: I just think that’s fascinating. Like, I don’t know if Smith is…if the “I” there is supposed to be Smith himself…
P: Um…I kind of think that it…is…
P: If only because…I mean, I would love to make a case that it’s, like, the…you know, some other character from one of the other stories, like the guy from “End of the Story?” But I don’t think either of the texts really bear that out. I think we have to…
P: …Assume that it’s Smith speaking as himself. Ah, which is kind of interesting in and of itself.
T: I feel like this isn’t the first time he’s done this, too.
P: It happens in, um —
P: In “Colossus,” yeah. I think that’s the other time that it happened notably, where suddenly it’s like, “Oh, there’s, like, explicitly an ‘I’ who is telling the story…”
P: It makes it feel like he has this, ah, historical tome of Averoignian knowledge that he just…
P: …Occasionally decides to sample from.
R: His own Book of Eibon.
P: Yes. Exactly. Um, so he keeps doling out these potions…
P: …Because demand is high, and —
R: But not for too long!
T: Why, because they work so awesome?
R: No, he has a big sale at first, and then people start noticing that some terrible, terrible things are happening. [reading]
Husbands were turned against wives, lasses against their lovers, with speeches of bitter hate and scatheful deeds. A certain young gallant who had gone to the promised rendezvous was met by a vengeful madwoman, who tore his face into bleeding shreds with her nails. A mistress who had thought to win back her recreant knight was mistreated foully and done to death by him who had hitherto been impeccably gentle, even if faithless.
R: I almost feel like this is a comeuppance. In fact, I think this is almost a comeuppance for them as much as it is for him.
T: Oh, right.
R: He gets the comeuppance of, “You killed your wife, and the results totally screw with your business, your life…”
R: But they get the comeuppance for, “You guys have been buying these love potions for five years now. You’ve been manipulating the people in your life, whether they know it or not.” You know. So like the guy who goes to meet this woman…these potions are supposed to be able to break down a person’s virtue and their resolve and their chastity, and so I kind of feel like he for example is pretty well served when he runs into a madwoman who tears him up instead.
P: I wish that this…what is this, like four sentences? Feels to me like its own…mini…horror story? Like…
P: Like, I could imagine this story structured differently, if it were structured more like…I don’t know…I wanna say “Colossus.” More like the unpublished version of “Beast of Averoigne,” where…
P: …Where suddenly we go and learn these little vignettes, and like see these things happen a little bit more? I just think it could be really cool.
R: Or like bits in “Maker of Gargoyles,” where it just…the horror stretches out a little bit longer.
P: Yes. Exactly, yeah.
T: And it kind of switches around, switches viewpoints a little bit.
P: I, ah —
R: But it could also be an interesting story of a town that gets its comeuppance. You could do a whole little novel or short story about it.
P: Yeah, exactly, you could do a whole thing. I’m a really big fan of, ah, stories that feature an epidemic of murder and madness. [Tim laughs] And, like, there’s this…this is totally a tangent, but I’mina go on it. One of my favorite Japanese horror movies is a movie called Cure that’s about a hypnotist who is like…like he can hypnotize you by like moving his fingers once? And he just goes about creating, like, this horrible epidemic of murder throughout Tokyo, and he’ll like just hypnotize people to murder people close to them without realizing they’ve done it? Um, I just think…it’s an amazing movie and this little segment reminded me a little of that, where you have this sort of…a real bizarre epidemic of lovers killing lovers in this tiny medieval province.
R: Unfortunately, everybody figures out what’s going on —
T: Well —
R: …So they all trace it —
T: Wait, before they figure it out, though, what’s their first thought of what’s going on?
P: It’s the end of the world?
T: No, demon possession.
P: Oh, well, yeah, of course!
R: It’s always demon possession!
T: These Averoignians, they’re always, “Demon possession!” is the very first thing, and then they’re like, “Oh, wait a second. We were all buying love potions.” [laughs]
R: To be fair, they do live in Averoigne.
R: It could have been the case.
P: How many people have actually been possessed by demons up to this point in our reading of, uh, Averoigne stories?
T: I don’t think it matters how many have actually been. It’s just these people always…that’s their first…that’s their go–to.
R: So eventually, everybody realizes that the common circumstance with all these is, “Oh, yeah, I administered a love potion to that person. Don’t know why they’re bad this year, but they’re really bad.” And so the church says, “Okay, screw it. We were okay with this when it wasn’t causing murder, but enough is enough.” And they send people over to arrest him, just for sorcery. Nothing about Sabine. However, while they’re there, and they’re leading him away, that mandrake — which he kept, like a genius — whispers to them.
[filtered voice reads]
“Dig deeply in the meadow, where the mandrakes grow the thickliest.”
T: So the officers freak out, because this…this weird voice is talking out of this root that’s hanging from his…this wizard’s ceiling. The authorities decide to listen to the root. [Phil laughs]
R: If a root…if I’m arresting a sorcerer and a root tells me to go dig in the mandrake field? I would be really freaked out, but yeah! I would go dig in the mandrake field.
T: That’s a material witness right there.
P: [unintelligible] …an untold tale of Averoigne? [Ruth laughs] I’m dying to know the story of the authorities who like put this case together. I want “The Wire: Averoigne.” [Tim laughs] That’s what I’m looking for here.
R: I want to see the root testify in court.
Digging by lantern–light in the specified spot, they found many more of the roots, which seemed to crowd the ground; and beneath, they came to the rotting corpse of a woman, which was still recognizable as that of Sabine. As a result of this discovery, Gilles Grenier was arraigned not only for sorcery but also for the murder of his wife. He was readily convicted of both crimes, though he denied stoutly the imputation of intentional malefice, and claimed to the very last that he had killed Sabine only in defense of his own life against her termagant fury. He was hanged on the gibbet in company with other murderers, and his dead body was then burned at the stake.
R: And I like that he did try self–defense there. Because I think if it weren’t for the sorcery, the townspeople might have believed him based on their whole fighting thing. And the fact that it was just known and established.
P: Once again, there is like actually a court scene in this, like I’d forgotten. It’s like “CSI: Averoigne.”
T: I wish things would have worked out different for poor Gilles.
T: Well, because…it was self–defense. But he’s just like…he’s a creep wizard. He should’ve…
R: But he shouldn’t have made those mandrake potions out of the mandrakes from his wife’s body.
R: That’s weird.
P: But — but — “kill and then burn at the stake” weird?
R: Yeah! Sure.
P: [laughs] Okay, fair enough.
R: It’s Averoigne!
T: Hey, if you guys are gonna be Blaise Reynard [from “The Maker of Gargoyles”] apologists, I’m gonna be a Gilles Grenier apologist. [Ruth laughs]
P: I’ll agree with that, yeah. [laughs]
R: Blaise was…was unconscious of his…we’re gonna get into a whole argument about this…
R: Blaise was unconscious about his actions!
T: We can’t have this conversation now.
R: Gilles was like, “I killed my wife, but — ”
P: We can have…Tim! “Save it for the podcast.” This is the podcast!
T: Here’s my take on Blaise Reynard. That I’ve been thinking about since that episode. Is that he was such a creep that his creepiness infested these stone blocks and brought them to life. If he didn’t transfer his anger and lust into those things, he was gonna do something creepy anyway. And he probably would have done it that night.
P: I’m sorry, but I just disagree.
T: I know you do.
P: Because I simply don’t think that being a creep is a crime. [laughs] Like, it’s creepy? But it’s not a crime! It’s not like he was like, “I’m going to turn this stone thing, and infuse it with all my creepiness, and it’s gonna go forth and kill.” It was an accident. It was an accident. He’s…he was a creep. [laughs]
R: Whereas Gilles is like, “Naked bodies that look like my wife. Oh, yeah, I’m gonna turn those into love potions!”
P: He’s like, “Vava voom! I remember those tits! I’m taking these back home!” [all laugh]
R: “And I’m gonna hang one in my thing and like talk to it!” That’s just…
P: I’m willing to go easy on Gilles, but I will still go easier on Blaise Reynard. What do you think happened to them [Gilles and Sabine] in Blois that they had to leave?
T: Oh, yeah, I don’t know.
R: I’m guessing his last wife…no. I really don’t know. I think that would be another good story.
P: Yeah, there’s a lot of mysteries in this little story.
T: Yeah, there is.
R: It’s not gonna be on my list of favorites? But for something short and self–contained, I liked it.
P: Yeah, I dig it. I would never put it on my list of favorites either, but it has…like, in a lot of Clark Ashton Smith stories, where we’ll read something like, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” This one, it’s like pretty tight…
P: I feel like it’s tight and it’s strong and I like it. I put in the notes that it reminds me a little bit of, like, the EC Comics [publisher of “Tales from the Crypt” and similar titles] style horror…
T: Right, yeah.
P: Of course, that wasn’t until much, much later [the early 1950s], but it has that kind of, like, semi–ironic moral comeuppance about it? And it has the sort of salacious nature of EC a lot, where it’s like about sex, and… [laughs]
T: I liked it! It might actually be on my top. Just ’cause of how…just how…horrific it was, and how casually horrific, like I said before. Like “Colossus” was horrific, but it was on such a big scale. It was almost like a cartoon. But…
P: You want to tell us what Smith thought of the story himself?
T: Well, before I do that, I just wanted to bring up one thing. Gilles’ name.
T: ‘Cause, you know, throughout Smith’s stories, the names usually can link back to something, or mean something, like Blaise Reynard or Theophile. But Gilles Gre…how do you say it? Gilles…
T: There was a for real crazy dude named Gilles de Rais who lived in…oh, I should have had the dates, I don’t have the dates right now. But he was…he like fought alongside Joan of Arc, and he made a ton of money, and he basically used all of his money to put on plays about his own life, and bankrupted himself and was into black magic and…killed children.
R: Yeah. He killed a lot of children, and they don’t even know how many.
P: He’s the basis for Bluebeard, right? He’s the, ah…real life Bluebeard. If I’m not mistaken, right? I know he killed children, but I think that it’s, um, that they’re related.
T: And he was, uh, he was around about the time, from 1404 to 1440, so. That’s 15th century. He’s best known as a prolific serial killer of children. So I feel like somebody like Smith, who’s obviously into like occult lore, could not have done that by accident. Naming a character “Gilles Grenier,” just so close to Gilles, Gilles de Rais.
R: I think that’s a fair idea.
P: Ah, okay, so Gilles de Rais is on the list of possible sources for Bluebeard.
R: Fair enough.
P: Gilles de Rais or Conamore [sp?] the Accursed, or…some other people. Doesn’t matter.
R: [laughs] That’s a great name.
T: [laughs] I know.
R: We’ll put a link to his Wikipedia page in our show notes. Because apparently we still trust them…
P: Don’t trust a single thing in there. [all laugh] In a letter, ah, just after the story called it “short, sweet and medieval,” but would later on that same year dismiss it as “not a very important item.” Seems a little harsh…
T: It does seem.
P: I mean, maybe in the grand scheme of his stories, maybe it’s not that important an item…
P: …But I do think it’s really, um…huh. It’s good.
R: I think maybe it didn’t fit into his mythos–building…
R: …Where he has these plotlines where you say, “Oh, yeah, this character lived here, and this guy lived then, and they talk about each other in their stories.” This, you don’t have that.
T: Yeah, it’s kind of “Tales of Averoigne.” “Legends of Averoigne.”
R: Tell us what we’re reading next week.
T: So that was “The Mandrakes.” Next time, we will be reading “The Beast of Averoigne.” Um, and with that one, it’s kind of tricky, ’cause there were…I guess there’s ostensibly now three versions?
T: There’s one that was published in Weird Tales, there’s his original submission, and then there’s the Nightshade edition, which is kind of a…
T: Hybrid of the previous two.
R: How was that?
T: That was good.
P: That was great, but is it really “thickliest?”
T: [laughs] I know.
R: I swear to God, that’s —
T: That’s what it’s…that’s what’s written, yeah…
R: And if it was OCRed in, “thickliest” is not how “thickest” would be. So probably “thickliest,” yeah.
P: I’m…I’m gonna start, I’m gonna bring that back. I declare 2012 the year of thickliest.
T: [laughs] I second it.
P: “I require the thickliest steak, please!” [all laugh]