SMITH, CLARK ASHTON – THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS. 2002. Fantasy Masterworks #26. Gollancz Books.
My fourth review of selected stories from this lengthy collection. The Death Of Illalotha is a grim tale of lost love and vampiric demons. A man leaves the lovely lady in waiting, Ilalotha when he falls for the queen of the kingdom. He returns from some adventuring to find that his former lover is dead. She may have killed herself, or simply pined away from her love for him. She had dabbed unsuccessfully in dark arts to regain his love. As Illalotha has faked her own death before in order to gain his attention in some fetishistic ways, he convinces himself that she has done that again. When her ghost tells him to come to her tomb, he goes, and her new vampiric form, created as a curse for her tragic unconsummated love, destroys him. The queen learns of his fate and tries to save him and kill the vampire beast, but she is too terrified and flees in a state of madness instead. Mother Of Toads is a truly horrible horror story in which a young man seeks love potions from an old witch who resembles a toad and keeps thousands of them as her pets. She tries to make the man love her, but he escapes, until her army of frogs chase him through a mist shrouded swamp until he is forced to return to her. When he vows to die rather than love her, she and her toads drown him in the shallows of the mire. In The Double Shadow, two sorcerers find a strange triangular talisman. After years of study they unleash an evil force that eats the shadow of one, and raises a corpse. The two creatures close in on the other sorceror who throws the amulet into the sea and writes his story as the creatures close in on him to make him one with them. The Ghoul is another dark and terrible fable, in which this time, a man is caught after he has murdered seven strangers in a graveyard, and the bodies have been found half eaten and dismembered. The man confesses to his art in the crime, and explains his motive. His lover had died in childbirth. As he wept at her freshly dug grave, a demon came to devour her corpse. The man, unable to bear the thought of her being mutilated in such a way, makes a pact to bring the demon eight freshly killed corpses to gnaw on. He is now afraid that he is one corpse short having been captured. However, the court is lenient and believes his motives, despite public outcry. The man is told to atone for his part in the atrocities. He does. The eighth body, which he feeds to the demon, is his own. He has committed suicide to save his lover’s body from the creature. Deliciously dark, imaginative fables from an all too frequently overlooked genius. http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/clark-ashton-smith/
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