The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Averoigne as a body of text

Nightshade Press has reedited and annotated all Clark Ashton Smith’s complete stories. So I have gone back through his Averoigne series. Blame Tom Moldvay for this obsession of mine.

So far I have read the stories in volumes 1-4. I have some observations, which I am dumping here as guidance for other readers or maybe fanfic authors. Certainly for fellow gamers.

The Averoigne stories span many centuries and allude to many more centuries before that. The first one, “The End of the Story”, sets its main narrative in the last prerevolutionary year (1789) with a mediaeval flashback in a fragment, after Vyônes got its cathedral. Nothing much helps us date “The Satyr”; ditto “A Rendezvous in Averoigne”. Then we start getting dates: “The Maker of Gargoyles” marks the construction of the cathedral 1135-8, and “The Holiness of Azédarac” written around the same time (but published later) is a time-travel caper starting 1166 (when Azédarac takes the staff) and bouncing to a perhaps-alternate 1230. The root of “The Colossus of Ylourgne” is 1275 when Nathaire first comes to Vyônes. “The Mandrakes” is fifteenth century; “The Beast of Averoigne” slips back to 1369. “The Disinterment of Venus” pushes to 1550.

“Castle Amber”’s batch of mini-adventures brought several of these tales to the same point in time. Whether it brought the right tales is another question…

I observe that Smith had written and/or published these mainly in sequential order. Still, many of the events depicted or alluded-to in these stories, even when “dated”, are by nature timeless. In particular Azédarac, timelord, may serve as villain or antihero at any point. And there is nothing in, say, “Disinterment” to demand 1550. Some of the smaller tales could have come to our day as ballads: “Rendezvous”, for one, has a troubadour protagonist.

I do have some constraints that Smith might not have considered. “Rendezvous” is a vampire-castle tale. Such are best placed to the panic spreading westward from early eighteenth-century Central Europe. Vampire tales were told in mediaeval Europe, but they were not told in France. So this story may be an eighteenth-century recasting of twelfth-century tropes. Also, at least as of the twelfth century, core Averoigne feels like it belongs to the border-Languedoc [UPDATE 5/5/2017: a counter]. Relative to that, the name Les Hiboux is displaced in time - the fourteenth century, perhaps. Another exception, wholly foreign, is Faussesflammes, which should be Flammesfausses in French; this has to be a calque from an agglutinative or agglutinating language: my mind's on Germanic (Gothic looks cool: Galiugaliuhtjan). Overall, assume that Smith's place-names derive from the Parisian consolidations from Philippe-Auguste to Louis XIV.

Also Smith relates some events that made such a mark on the Averonian landscape that they simply cannot be budged from the dates given. The cathedral is a case in point; but so is Nathaire’s rampage, and the Beast. The timeless theme of Castle Amber might account for the latter events’ inclusions. But I would have preferred that Moldvay left them to other DMs.

Moldvay or at least his editor got the geography wrong. If Averoigne is the weird-fantasy Auvergne, then the Isoile River stands in for the Allier. It should flow generally north or northeast, from the Massif to the Loire. “Colossus” implies that the higher ground of Ylourgne rises to the east of Vyônes, approaching the Alps. “Castle Amber” puts Ylourgne northwest. For those keeping track, Tim Kirk’s map is better; although it still wants the hills further north than I like.

posted by Zimri on 16:36 | link | 0 comments

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