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‘By the Jackal and the Viper’
The Kingdom of the Worm by Clark Ashton Smith

The selection of Sir John Mandeville as the protagonist is refreshingly handled by the author. Clark handles the lighting in this story even more acutely than is his usual. The amount of visual impression he places into the mind’s eye is phenomenal. His use of the eclipse of the sun as a metaphor for evil transgressing the path of the wayfarer, precedes his walk “into the shadow of death.” Smith achieves a level of horror that eludes the modern, biblically illiterate horror writer.

Sir John comes off as a bland Odysseus whose wit has been stolen by the new God. The textured understatement of the narration typical of Smith is enhanced by the dark levity granted by the dark shadings of the medieval mind. The Worm of Anchar is a creature of dark fairytale rather than the crude dragon of modern fantasy. Clark Ashton Smith is the master of atmospheric horror and in this brief offering his hero shudders through an oddly living death.

Sir John Mandeville was the purported author of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a travel memoir which first circulated between 1357 and 1371. The earliest surviving text is in French. By aid of translations into many other languages, the work acquired extraordinary popularity.

A Well of Heroes

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