Hyperborea Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

The balmy polar continent of Hyperborea, mentioned frequently in Greek mythology, was the third setting that Clark Ashton Smith set out to explore in some detail, following the imaginary French province of Averoigne and the legendary continent of Atlantis. Being even more remote in time than Atlantis (its obliterated civilizations flourished in the Miocene era, according to the occultist in “Ubbo-Sathla”), Hyperborea could more easily accommodate the kind of exotic landscapes, flora, and fauna that Smith earlier had attributed to the desert of Yondo near the worlds rim.

Hyperborea retained one crucial limitation, by virtue of belonging to the past rather than the future: It was subject to the destiny of giving way to the mundane world of the present. For this reason, it was to be superseded by the far-future scenarios of Zothique when Smith wanted to push his vivid imagination to its most earnest limit, but it remained the location of choice for his lightest and most playful tales.

The characterization of the monsters and evil deities in these stories owes something to H. P. Lovecraft, to whose Cthulhu Mythos the god Tsathoggua sometimes is attached and to whose eccentric library of forbidden books Hyperborea contributed The Book of Eibon. Smith’s handling of such material herein is, however, far more ironic than Lovecraft’s ever was. Smith called these tales Hyperborean grotesques, and they are indeed exercises in calculated...

(The entire section is 507 words.)