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Cuentos de Averoigne: Todos los Cuentos de Averoigne de Clark Ashton Smith, traducción de Enric Navarro (Pickman’s Press 2019)

Evelyn Waugh and Clark Ashton Smith wrote some of the best English prose of the twentieth century. But could either of these writers actually be better in translation than in English? Theoretically, yes, of course they could be. Somewhere in Borges’ Library of Babel there are translations of Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall (1928) that are subtler and funnier than the original, and translations of Smith’s story “The Dark Eidolon” that are stranger and more lapidary than the original.

There are two main ways for such Babelean translations to be better than the original. It could be because they’re better as literature or because the new language is better suited than English for conveying Wauvian satire or Smithean strangeness. But that second way – a better language – is less likely in Waugh’s case, because Waugh set his work almost exclusively among speakers of contemporary English in the real world. His novella Helena (1950), set in the fourth-century Roman empire, is the big exception and also the big failure (though not in Waugh’s own eyes: he regarded it as his best book). Modern English is exactly right for Waugh’s world because Waugh’s world was the modern English-speaking world.

Clark Ashton Smith, on the other hand, set his work almost as exclusively outside the real world, in fantastic worlds of the far future and distant past where English was replaced by exotic languages speaking of exotic things. And so, as I describe in my essay “Wizard with Words”, Smith’s English had to depart from the everyday, using borrowings from Latin, Greek and French to conjure the medieval ambience of magic, mystery and supernatural intervention that is so important in fantasy. And it seems obvious that Smith’s tales of Averoigne, set in the past centuries of an invented French province, might read even better in French if the translator has sufficient literary skill.

And perhaps they do read better in French. My French isn’t good enough to tell. Nor is my Spanish when it comes to Cuentos de Averoigne, the translation under review here. But my Spanish was good enough for me to enjoy the stories thoroughly, to recognize the skill of the translator, and to wonder whether, in fact, perfectly bilingual readers would tend to find the stories better in Spanish. For one thing, Spanish has retained more of the right cultural flavour than English has. One big example: Spanish still naturally makes the distinction between the formal and intimate second persons that English once made with “you” and “thou”. And so you could say that something is gained in translation when Smith’s English is turned into Spanish. For example, this is how Moriamis the Enchantress addresses Brother Ambrose in English when she first meets him in “The Holiness of Azéderac”:

The woman stared at Ambrose, with open amazement and pity. Her brownish-yellow eyes were bright and clear as a mellowed wine.

“Poor little one,” she said. “I fear that your dreadful experiences have served to unsettle you. It was fortunate that I came along when I did, and decided to intervene. I seldom interfere with the Druids and their sacrifices; but I saw you sitting on their altar a little while agone, and was struck by your youth and comeliness.”

And this is how she addresses him at the end of the story, after they have fallen in love:

Ambrose told her of the singular mishap that had attended his journey in time.

Moriamis nodded gravely. “The green philtre was more potent than I had supposed,” she remarked. “It is fortunate, though, that the red philtre was equivalently strong, and could bring you back to me through all those added years. You will have to remain with me now, for I possessed only the two vials. I hope you are not sorry.”

Ambrose proceeded to prove, in a somewhat unmonastic manner, that her hope was fully justified.

It’s “you” all through in English. But not in Spanish. Here’s their first meeting:

La mujer contempló al clérigo sin ocultar su sorpresa y compasión. Los ojos le brillaban como un vino suave y resplandeciente.

–Pobrecito mío –dijo–. Me temo que vuestras recientes y horribles peripecias os han trastornado un poco. Por fortuna me hallaba cerca y fue acertada mi decisión de intervenir. No suelo inmiscuirme en los asuntos de los druidas y sus sacrificios; ahora bien, cuando os vi sentado sobre su altar, me sorprendieron vuestra juventud y candidez. (La Santidad de Azéderac)

Moriamis uses the formal vuestras, os, vuestra. Now here’s their re-union at the end of the story:

Ambrose le narró el singular episodio de su viaje por el tiempo.

Moriamis asintió gravemente.

–La poción verde era más potente de lo que había calculado –comentó–. Por fortuna, el líquido rojo tenía la misma concentración, pero a la inversa, y has podido regresar junto a mí desde esos años de más. Tu única opción es quedarte conmigo, sólo tenía esos dos frascos. Espero que no te importe.

Ambrose le demostró, de modo más bien poco monacal, que no se equivocaba.

As you can see, the formal has become the intimate. For example, the formal vuestra juventud y candidez – “your youth and comeliness” – of their first meeting is replaced by the intimate tu única opción – “thy only choice” – at the later re-union. In French, Moriamis and Ambrose take the same lexical step from formality to intimacy. And so Spanish carries the reader closer to what French-speaking Averoigne would really have been like. Or perhaps you could say that French and Spanish supply something that modern English lacks and that all speakers of modern English are deprived of.

And so Smith’s Tales of Averoigne gain something in translation when they become Contes d’Averoigne, in French, or Cuentos de Averoigne, in Spanish. But sometimes they may gain more in Spanish than in French, because Spanish has retained more of something than French: the ability to compress several ideas into a single word. These are the closing lines of “The End of the Story” in English:

Soon I shall return, to visit again the ruins of the Château des Faussesflammes, and redescend into the vaults below the triangular flagstone. But, in spite of the nearness of Perigon to Faussesflammes, in spite of my esteem for the abbot, my gratitude for his hospitality and my admiration for his incomparable library, I shall not care to revisit my friend Hilaire.

English expresses the first person future with three words: “I shall return” and so on. Spanish expresses the first person future in a single word:

No tardaré en visitar de nuevo las ruinas del castillo de Faussesflammes; volveré a bajar a las criptas bajo la losa triangular. Pero, pese a la proximidad de Perigon, pese a mi estima por el abad Hilaire, mi gratitud por dejarme consultar su inigualable biblioteca, no pensaré en volver a visitarlo.

No tardaré means “I shall not delay”; volveré means “I shall turn”; no pensaré means “I shall not think”. There is no first-person pronoun, because none is needed: the first person is explicitly marked in the verb. From an English- or French-speaker’s point of view, there’s something strange about the conciseness and precision of Spanish, which better suit the strangeness of Smith’s imagination and his desire to lift us out of the everyday and transport us elsewhere – or elsewhither. And there’s a stronger strangeness in Spanish because of its many borrowings from Arabic. Spanish is a language forged on a frontier between east and west, where culture and conflict have shifted and swirled.

All these things – and more – make Spanish a good language to read Clark Ashton Smith in. But perhaps Spanish would be even better suited to Smith’s Tales of Zothique, set in the final days of Earth under a swollen and scorching sun. You understand Zothique better when you’ve experienced for yourself the heat and light of California, where Smith was born and spent the whole of his life. And California – the “hot furnace” – was founded by Spaniards. But if Spanish might be best for the Tales of Zothique, that doesn’t make it any less good for these Tales of Averoigne. I enjoyed Cuentos de Averoigne a lot, and perhaps more so because I don’t read Spanish fluently. I stumble and crawl by comparison with my reading in English.

When you have to concentrate on what you’re reading, the ideas and images bloom in your head with brighter colours and sweeter perfumes – or stronger stenches, as the case may be. You can find both perfumes and stenches in the stories of Clark Ashton Smith, a wizard with words who deserves to be far better known but perhaps is too skilful and subtle a writer to become so. This book proves that his skill and subtlety can survive in translation, and also proves that translation can even overturn the central theme of one of Smith’s greatest stories, “The Last Incantation”. In that story, not set in Averoigne or Zothique, the ancient and mighty wizard Malygris discovers that he can’t re-conjure a lost love and see the world again through the eyes of youth.

But the word-magic of this translation allowed me to read Clark Ashton Smith again with the eyes of youth. When I first read “The Colossus of Ylourgne” in English back in the 1980s, I marvelled at the grandeur and grotesqueness of his imagination:

Gaspard had seen certain of the experiments and evocations of Nathaire, and was all too familiar with the appurtenances of the dark arts. Within certain limits, he was not squeamish; nor was it likely that he would have been terrified overmuch by the shadowy, uncouth shapes of demons who toiled in the pit below him side by side with the blackclad pupils of the sorcerer. But a cold horror clutched his heart when he saw the incredible, enormous thing that occupied the central floor: the colossal human skeleton a hundred feet in length, stretching for more than the extent of the old castle hall; the skeleton whose bony right foot the group of men and devils, to all appearance, were busily clothing with human flesh!

But how could I read that story for the first time again? I couldn’t. At least, I couldn’t in English. But I could in Spanish, and I could marvel again at Smith’s grandeur and grotesqueness:

Como discípulo de Nathaire, Gaspard había visto numerosos rituales y sortilegios, además de estar familiarizado con la nigromancia. Hasta cierto límite, no era escrupuloso ni se echaba a correr porque hubiese visto sombras, figuras de demonios y otras criaturas deambulando por el suelo o surcando el aire de la estancia. Pero un gélido horror le paralizó el corazón cuando reparó en aquella cosa increíble, descomunal, que ocupaba el centro de la planta: un colosal esqueleto humano de más de treinta metros cuyo tamaño superaba el de la planta del viejo vestíbulo. Y hombres y demonios, arremolinados en torno al pie derecho, ¡sin lugar a dudas, lo estaban revistiendo con carne humana!

Clark Ashton Smith is a hidden treasure, an epicure’s delight, and it’s good that Spanish-speaking epicures can now discover more of his greatness in the pages of this book. The translator Enric Navarro and the publisher Pickman’s Press are to be congratulated on this act of homage to a giant – or should that be colossus? – of fantastic literature.

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Cover of The Bad Movie Bible by Rob HillThe Bad Movie Bible: The Ultimate Modern Guide to Movies That Are So Bad They’re Good, Rob Hill (Art of Publishing 2017)

(This is a guest-review by Pablo Magono)

There are good movies and bad movies. Among the latter, there are “movies so bad that you might think Adam Sandler was responsible for them, but so funny it won’t be for long.” That’s the simple premise behind The Bad Movie Bible. It’s easy to read, very funny, and full of information, posters, interesting screen-grabs, prize quotes, and sizzling starlets flashing flesh.

And as if that weren’t enough, the icing on the cake is that The Bad Movie Bible is itself mildly infected by Bad-Movie-itis. There are repeated references to a mysterious “right of passage” and the publisher’s address is given as “Bloosmbury”. Is this part of the joke? No, I don’t think so. It’s just a reminder that to err is human. But to err as badly as some of the movies here might be superhuman. Literally so, because Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is one of the entries in the “Science Fiction & Fantasy” section.

Elsewhere there are sections for “Action” and “Horror”, plus a grab-bag section called “The Rest” that collects everything from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) and The Room (2003) to Empire of the Ants (1977) and Double Down (2005). All movies get ratings out of 10 for five essential filmographic categories: “Cheese”, “Acting”, “Excess”, “Ineptitude” and “What?” (“reflecting the movie’s propensity to offer up moments of baffling wonder”). The higher the mark, the badder-better that aspect of the movie. Then there’s an overall “BMB Rating”, again out of 10, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the average score on the other categories. Some movies are more than the sum of their parts, some are less.

The best of the baddest are also accompanied by interviews with stars, stuntmen or those who rescued them from oblivion. For fetid fans of scuzz-cinema, this book should provide many happy hours first of reading, then of watching its recommendations. But could anything ever live up to the promise of a title like Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)? Or Kung Fu Cannibals (1982)? In the latter case, apparently it could: the movie, better-known as Raw Force, gets a BMB Rating of 10, despite an average rating of 8.4 on the other categories (only “What?” is 10/10). The horror movie Things (1989) also gets a BMB Rating of 10, but its average score on the sub-categories is 9.6 – it gets 10/10 for “Acting”, “Excess”, “Ineptitude” and “What?”, but “Cheese” is 8/10.

That makes Things the baddest-bestest in the book. For Rob Hill, anyway. It’s not his favourite movie in the book, mind, but he knows what he’s talking about. He has a lot of knowledge, with enthusiasm and wit to match:

Miami Connection is an extremely positive movie that preaches tolerance and the need to accept people from all walks of life. Unless they’re drug-dealing motorcycle ninjas. (Miami Connection, 1987) … Writer / director Amir Shervan doesn’t stumble around the fringes of incompetence: he jumps right into the middle of it and does a jig. (Samurai Cop, 1991) … During the following night the sword is blown out of Christie’s closet on fishing wire by a wind machine. (Ninja III: The Domination, 1984) … Just like its star, Deadly Prey has been honed, buffed and oiled to within an inch of its life, then stripped virtually naked and released into the wild. (Deadly Prey, 1987) … The best teenagers-get-eaten-by-radioactive-plankton-fed-mutant-human-hybrid-flying-fish movie ever made. (Creatures from the Abyss, aka Plankton, 1994) … The apparent lack of any traditional cinematic luxuries (posh stuff like a tripod to keep the camera steady) makes this hard to watch at times. … But there’s something about it. If we’re honest, that something might just be a sexually promiscuous doll. It’s hard to say. (Black Devil Doll from Hell, 1984) … Ben & Arthur is a personal and heartfelt glimpse into the world of writer / director / star Sam Mraovich. His world is batshit crazy. (Ben & Arthur, 2002) … It must be hard for a man surrounded by Bee Gees to look like the smug one. Peter Frampton has a real talent for it. (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1978)

Hill also has space for some “deliberately cheesy” movies like The Ice Pirates (1984) and Traxx (1988). He includes them because he thinks they’re not as knowing as they wanted to be: “Just because there are deliberate attempts to ape schlock, it doesn’t mean there can’t be inadvertent schlock, too.” Movies like this are “good-good, bad-bad and good-bad all at the same time.” But most of the book is given over to movies that are genuinely so-bad-they’re-good. With possible exceptions like the following, which might be so-bad-it-should-have-been-burned:

La Notte del Necrofilo / Night of the Necrophile (Italy / Romania 1986)

After watching an ordinary scuzzy movie, you may well be left wishing you could bleach your eyeballs. After watching Night of the Necrophile, you may well be left wishing that eyeballs had never been invented. This movie doesn’t merely plumb unprecedented depths of depravity, bad taste and offensiveness: it finds depths below the depths, and then depths below those. The ineptitude and amateurishness merely add an extra shot of slime to the whole fetid cocktail.

But the ineptitude doesn’t extend far enough. You can’t take refuge in an incoherent or non-existent plot, because the noxious narrative is all too appallingly evident and easy to follow. Gypsy criminals Gran Voio (played by a cackling Eric Napolito) and his dwarvish cousin Piccolo Psico (Samuel Tegolare) are hired by the black-clad, mask-wearing Doktor Nekro (Victor Queresco), a Nazi scientist / war-criminal who’s been hiding out in the badlands of southern Italy since the end of the war. He needs their help to collect a fresh batch of young female corpses for his perverted experiments in reanimation. The toxic trio set off in a refrigerated truck, committing brazen street-murders to source their stock or sneaking into municipal mortuaries and loading the freshest and most attractive corpses into their necro-wagon.

Then, just as night falls and news comes over the radio of a heat-wave the following day, the truck breaks down on the winding mountain road that leads back to Doktor Nekro’s well-hidden lair. The refrigeration fails and the three depraved criminals are left with a stash of stolen stiffs that aren’t going to keep… I’d describe what happens next, but I’m worried that my keyboard would report me to the authorities. Suffice it to say that Doktor Nekro begins to commit medical infractions that the framers of the Hippocratic oath could never have anticipated – indeed, could never have imagined possible. […]

The mysterious and probably pseudonymous director is rumoured to have died shortly after completing the movie, possibly of shame, his body being shipped back to Romania for burial. In his absence, Night of the Necrophile was hastily edited and rush-released in a desperate attempt to stave off Sanguecine’s looming – and well-deserved – bankruptcy. Be warned. And then warned again. This is a movie that makes Things seem like Citizen Kane and The Gore Gore Girls seem like Bambi. Approach with extreme caution.

That’s not a typical movie here, but it helps make The Bad Movie Bible as varied as the real Bible. It’s “Bad to the Bon”!

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The Law Of Chaos by Jeff GardinerThis is a guest-post by Zac Ziali…


The Law of Chaos: The Multiverse of Michael Moorcock, Jeff Gardiner (Visceral Visions 2014)

Wow. To be honest, I was gobsmacked when I saw that a book interrogating issues around Michael Moorcock was appearing through Visceral Visions (a proud and passionate imprint of Headpress Journal). I would never have guessed that a writer as good as Mike would appeal to anyone in the Headpress community. Plus, Moorcock fans tend to be of feral intelligence and fetid individuality – neither of which qualities have I particularly associated with Headpresseans in the past…

It just goes to show how you can misjudge folk, no? Anyhow, that radical overturning of my twisted preconceptions aside, what’s the book like, hermeneutically speaking? Mike Moorcock has (as you might expect) received a lot of attention from some p-r-e-t-t-y high-powered academic folk in recent decades (e.g. Miriam Stimbers*). Would Jeff Gardiner be able to say anything new? And (equally importantly) would he be able to say it in accessible prose? Thankfully, the answers are “Damn” and “Right”. Whether you’re a fan of pastily pathogenic Stormbringer-swinger Elric of Melniboné and other figures in the “Eternal Champion” series and/or of Moorcock’s “serious” literary fiction (Mother London, Pascaglione Turnside), this study of his work has to be classified under “Essential Reading”.

Yup, what Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy were to world literature in the nineteenth century, Michael Moorcock and Héctor Sarasuebo have been to world literature in the post-war period. Kinda like a tradition being handed on, really. But there’s more to come, mebbe. Is it too much to hope that Visceral Visions will follow this book up with summat on Sarasuebo? I passionately hope so not…


Passionately pre-posted on Papyrocentric Performativity:

Beard TalesThe Devotee of Ennui by Alan Moore

#BooksThatShouldNotBe – hybrid children watch the sea…

I Am A KameraMezzogiallo: Ferality. Fetidity. Eastern Europe. by David Kerekes


*The White Stuff: Archetype, Anomie and Allegorical Albinism in the Music of Hawkwind, 1972-81, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (University of Nebraska Press 1996)

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