Sunday, July 15, 2012

Clark Ashton Smith, “Genius Loci,” 1933

"Again I looked at the landscape itself — and saw that the spot was indeed as Amberville had depicted it. It wore the grimace of a mad vampire, hateful and alert! At the same time, I became disagreeably conscious of the unnatural silence. There were no birds, no insects, as the painter had said; and it seemed that only spent and dying winds could ever enter that depressed valley-bottom."
                                          -- Clark Ashton Smith, "Genius Loci,"

Classical Roman religion identifies a genius loci as the protective spirit of a place. Clarke Asthon Smith takes his inspiration from this idea, creating a story that both attracts and repels, the same way that the painter in the narrative is simultaneously pulled towards and pushed from the malignant meadow he seemingly cannot stay away from.

Despite it's Roman origins (or perhaps because of it), Genius Loci is a story heavily rooted in Paganism. Nature as antagonist is unsettling in the way it differs from us. It is older than us, all around us, part of the cosmos in a way we are not. I have mentioned before how trees in particular seem to be very present in weird stories, and Genius Loci again uses tree imagery to great effect to instill something so ordinary with a sense of the extraordinary.

Both the narrator and the painter in the story are unreliable characters, yet there are some interesting observations to be made about "seeing" reality as it relates to Art as a medium for truth. Genius Loci never truly reveals whether there is anything evil about the meadow, or whether the sense of unease and evil both narrator and painter derive from it is one transferred from human perception onto something else -- in this case Nature -- which should seem normal and natural, but which we, at its very core, fear because we do not understand it.

Reviewed from The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, Eds. Anne and Jeff Vandermeer

*Note:  I realise that I have skipped the second story by Jean Ray, "The Shadowy Street". I will come back to it later. In fact, I might start reading the stories at random, because I think that such an intermeshing of Weird formats and time-spans might be illuminating in terms of finding new notes, themes and re-occurring ones throughout the collection.

No comments: