Genre Non-Fiction Publisher Hippocampus Press Year Published 2005 Review Posted on 9/21/2006 Reviewer Rating
The Shadow of the Unattained, by David E. Schultz, S. T. Joshi
Reviewed by Phillip A. Ellis
If you've read this book, why not
In 1911, the poet George Sterling received a letter and some manuscript poems from a budding young author. That author was Clark Ashton Smith, who was destined, perhaps, to become one of the chief writers of Weird Tales, and a seminal figure in the history of speculative literature. Here, in The Shadow of the Unattained, we can trace the ensuing correspondence and friendship.
At first sight, The Shadow of the Unattained may seem an unpromising book for a devotee of speculative literature. Being the collected extant letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith, with a smattering of poems and other texts, it is of obvious interest to fans of either poet, more so than to the average reader of speculative fiction.
Given, however, that both poets wrote fantastic and weird verse, and that Smith is, indeed, arguably the greatest twentieth century weird versifier, and you can gain some idea of the attractions that this volume holds. For those, like myself, who are interested in Smith beyond the immediate attractions of his fantasy and science fiction stories, this volume will reveal much of interest. For example, it contains defeinite proof that Smith never took hashish, that he used it for imaginative possibilities only, as a symbol. It also enables us to look beyond the merely autobiographical into a greater awareness of his creative friendship with Sterling, and the development away from a strictly mentor-pupil relationship. We gain an idea of what such relationships between poets can be, from this one which was.
As usual with other Hippocampus Press volumes edited by Schultz and Joshi, there is much to recommend the volume beyond the immediate contents, the letters themselves. The letters have relevant notes. There are scattered examples of Smith's drawings, a glossary of names mentioned in the letters, a list of extant enclosures, and a detailed bibliography of books and individual poems, for both authors. The index is very welcome, and should see its fullest employment by Smith (and Sterling) scholars.
On the whole, The Shadow of the Unattained is an excellent book for those who want to look beyond both poets' immediate work, into their lives and their creative processes. It is a volume that will, fittingly, sit beside the Arkham edition of Smith's letters, as well as both authors' various volumes of poetry, and prose, alike. This is not a volume for everybody, but it is a volume for an audience of Smith and Sterling fans, and it is a book that truly deserves that audience.
Notes: mainly letters (non-fiction) with a few poems