The Wizards of Clark Ashton Smith: Namirrha
I begin this first installment of “The Wizards of Clark Ashton Smith” with an exploration of one of my favorite CAS stories: “The Dark Eidolon.” Taking place on Zothique, the last continent on Earth, “The Dark Eidolon” is the story of the sorcerer Namirrha’s revenge against Zotulla and the people of Xylac. This desire for revenge has spurred Namirrha’s growth as a sorcerer of near god-like repute. But that same desire coupled with tremendous arrogance also leads to his utter destruction. (Please note that all texts come from the excellent CAS website http://www.eldritchdark.com please check it out)
Namirrha’s tale begins with a beggar boy named Narthos in the city of Ummaos, the capital of Xylac. As a boy, he shows signs of a growing hatred for people, for his city, even his nation. But he does nothing, shows no initiative until his encounter with Prince Zotulla, heir to the throne of Xylac. After being trampled by the elder boy’s horse, Narthos flees Ummaos and Xylac for the desert. There he becomes the pupil of the wizard Ouphaloc. Later taking the name Namirrha, Narthos embarks on a legendary career as a scourge of many lands. Indeed, he becomes a legend.
The source of Namirrha’s power is his command of ancient thaumaturgic knowledge and his pact with the demon/ god Thasaidon. He communicates with the demon through an eidolon (of the title) representation acquired from Tasuun. This knowledge and alliance allows Namirrha to: raise and control the dead, summon ghostly steeds, build a palace in a few hours, exchange his body for Zotulla’s, and summon “the coursers of Thamagorgos, lord of the abyss” to destroy Ummaos and all of Xylac.
Namirrha is extremely powerful, and he knows it. Namirrha is driven by two great emotions: his desire for revenge and his arrogance. Never forgetting the trampling he received as a youth, Namirrha has lived his entire life with an eye to revenge. He has done many things, but none of them are as important as this, his long awaited revenge. It appears as if all other exploits are mere practice for the main attraction. All of this preparation also leads to an arrogance that befalls many tragic heroes, and he finally goes too far as he comes to see himself as the equal of Thasaidon.
Namirrha is a tragic hero, much like Dr. Faust and Titus Andronicus. The events of his youth drive him to madly seek the destruction, the annihilation of the man and empire that trampled him. He seeks Thasaidon’s aid, but the demon/ god urges restraint. In this world of decadence, decay, and darkness Thasiadon is both demon and god, he provides Namirrha with his power to enact his will and he is effectively the true god of Xylac (being the beneficiary of Zotulla’s tyrannic decadence and evil). Thasaidon urges if not forgiveness, then letting the past go. But Namirrha’s need for revenge blinds him to reason. He will not stop until all of Xylac has been destroyed.
At this point, Thasaidon abandons Namirrha (and vise versa). Thasaidon’s eidolon then suffers a rather insufferable indignity during a banquet. Because of Thasaidon’s refusal, Namirrha then goes to Thamagoros and his steeds. Clearly, Thasaidon is pissed.
Theatricality is key to Namirrha’s character. He thrives on it. His exploits around the world have earned him a legendary reputation. Indeed, the people of Ummaos are proud to have such a great sorcerer living in their city, until he begins his attacks on Zotulla. Namirrha’s theatricality comes in three forms: his personal interactions, his choice of symbolism, and his perversions of the royal entertainments.
Namirrha’s interactions with Thasaidon are indicative of Namirrha’s theatric personality. There is a hint of the larger than life in Namirrha, as if he believes his own legend. And given his latter actions, his arrogance and madness play into his theatricality. And let’s not mention Namirrha’s sense of style (yeesh, although Edward Elric would love it).
Narthos’s trampling by a horse informs his latter usage of horses in his initial and final attack on Zotualla. The intention on Namirrha’s part is to get the king to remember what he did. But the king does not remember. Why should he? Trampling a little beggar boy is just par for the course with that man. So, Namirrha ramps it up to cosmic proportions as he summons eldritch abominations in the forms of titanic cosmic steeds. And even then, it is clear that Zotulla still does not get what Namirrha is saying!
Namirrha’s attacks on Zotulla begin with irritations, noises and ghostly steeds that keep the palace up at night and ruin the garden and palace. But he introduces a theater of the demonic when he invites the king and his court to a banquet. Trust me, Titus Andronicus would be envious of Namirrha’s usage of banquets as a means of revenge. Along with the banquet, Namirrha provides “entertainments” that eventually lead to the deaths of Zotulla’s court. Later on, Namirrha raises his palace to provide a grander view of the stage, er, Ummaos as the city gets trampled by Thamagoros’s horses. And finally, Namirrha renders Zotulla an impotent witness as he tramples Obexah.
Why this theatricality? There has always been an element of the spectacle with wizards and magicians. The magicians at court are as often as not entertainers as well as proto-scientists and councilors. Namirrha is aware of this, he no doubt has some experience with this, and he uses the expectation of entertainment to denigrate Zotulla, and maybe even entertain himself.
Unfortunately for Namirrha, he cannot stop himself. He keeps going on. His final actions are Thasaidon’s doing, his revenge, but is Thasaidon forcing him further into stupidity? Or did the demon/ god wait for his opportunity to strike after the final insult? What is clear, is that Namirrha’s downfall comes as he steals Zotulla’s body to torture Obexah as Zotulla is imprisoned in the eidolon. This final act of hatred, leads to his utter ruin as Namirrha, once back in his own body, cannot distinguish himself from Zotulla. And so he dies. . .
Namirrha is a undeniably a tragic hero whose fatal flaw is that he cannot stop himself. He keeps going until he is destroyed by his own revenge. Namirrha is one of the most powerful sorcerers I’ve read about in CAS so far. In my next installment, the wizards are more working class scholars.