The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Friday, April 28, 2017

Owl and Toad

I got hold of the ultimate Nightshade volume (of five) of Clark Ashton Smith's tales; I've read the penultimate tale set in Averoigne, "Mother of Toads".

As a story, this felt to me like passive-aggressive revenge. Smith's main target would have been the editor for forcing so many edits upon the slightly-ribald "Disinterment of Venus". When Smith plotted out "Mother of Toads" he must have said to himself "screw it, I'm giving 'em softcore porn, as much as I can get away with". I can even tell the perv (or squick) tags: mature / busty / BBW / Fm / mindcontrol, maybe even / snuff because Clark Ashton Smith. (And I cannot wait to see the redirects I get from Google for dropping all that in here.) Which brings us to our author's next target - he was looking after infirm parents at the time and that surely added to his, er, frustrations.

The story starts out in a village we haven't visited yet, of no consequence to other Averoigne stories: "Les Hiboux". I had to look this up. It turns out to have nothing to do with toads.

An hibou is a sort of owl: specifically Asio (and maybe Bubo), with egrets that look like feathery ears or devil-horns. The other sorts of owl - those from Clash of the Titans and Harry Potter and Labyrinth - are chouette: Strix aluco, Tyto. I also sometimes see chevêche used for the smaller owls.

In Occitan definitions differ a bit: the chòt refers to Bubo. I expect that cavecs maps to chevêche. As for Asio, the Platonic ideal of the hibou: this is the languedoc duganèl.

I rule that Les Hiboux was founded by languedoïl speakers. As a nondescript village, it does not require the history that - say - Ylourgne and Vyônes required. We can found it after the Albigensian Crusade or whatever this parallel dimension's equivalent was; I'm leaning to after the Colossus rampage, which destroyed every settlement Smith could think of at the time and left a lot of homeless behind it.

One last thing: when I looked up "Les Hiboux" by name, I found a Baudelaire poem. Smith was a fan of Baudelaire and he did, en effet, translate The Owls. It is even illustrated with the correct owls. That must be whence Smith got the name of this village. Again, nothing to do with toads, but much to do with 'waring the night and its predators.

posted by Zimri on 17:02 | link | 0 comments

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