The Wizards of Clark Ashton Smith: “The Master of the Crabs”
Continuing with our look at some of the wizards featured in the weird short fiction of Clark Ashton Smith, this time, we explore the three wizards in the Zothique tale “The Master of the Crabs.”
“The Master of the Crabs” involves a race between two wizards (Mior Lumivix and Sarcand) to find several lost goetic tomes located on a not too distant island. Included in the mix is Mior’s apprentice Manthar, the narrator of the story. I will start with Manthar, then Mior Lumivix, and finally Sarcand.
Manthar is your typical sorcerer’s apprentice. He seems to be young or at least inattentive at times. At the time of the story, he is Mior’s only pupil and given the task of stirring love potions. He does not perform any magic during the tale, but I suspect that he is very early into his studies. One thing that Manthar is beyond question, is that he is loyal and rather fond of his master. He is also rather impetuous and quick to act (he wanted to smash the crabs immediately).
Mior Lumivix is the clear protagonist in the text. He is one of the premier wizards in the port city of Mirouane. Unlike Namirrha, Mior Lumivix is a working wizard. His stock and trade seems to be providing various potions and spells (like love potions) to his clients. Despite such status, he is powerful and looks to increase his power and status by possessing the tomes of magic from the Moon God of Faraad.
During the course of the story, Lumivix makes use of a magic athame (Manthar has another), he has many familiars that he uses as spies, he can sleep and maintain his awareness, and he spies on Sarcand through astral projection.
Sarcand is very much Lumivix’s rival. He is a new sorcerer in town with a fearsome reputation that searches for the same artifacts as his rival. He displays three feats of magic: commanding familiars to cloud out spies, heal rapidly (maybe), and use the ring of the sea god (from the treasure that he searches for) to control the seas around the island of Iribos and the crabs of the story.
What is interesting about this narrative is the conflict in personalities of the two wizards. Lumivix is a stern but rather kind master to his pupil. Despite harshly waking Manthar at the beginning of the tale, Lumivix allows his pupil to sleep on into the night as he steers the ship to the island. He is also concerned about his student’s welfare once they arrive on the island. And, I think, the highest example of Lumivix’s relative moral goodness is his abhorrence at the usage that Sarcand puts the crabs to.
Sarcand is described as being the son of a Naat necromancer father and a Naat highlander mother. I am unsure of the necromancer’s ethnicity, but his mother is described as being black. And a cannibal. This aspect of Sarcand’s background is objectionable and offensive (as some readers know, I posted a little of my thoughts on “black cannibals” a month or so ago). That said, Sarcand is described as taking after his mother. While holed up in the cave with the treasure, Sarcand commands the crabs to bring him the flesh of sailors who followed him to the island. He also gleefully commands the crabs to attack Lumivix and Manthar with the clear intention of eating them. Sarcand is more ruthless and diabolic compared to Lumivix. While nowhere near Namirrha’s level, Sarcand is of similar sensibilities and personality as the greater wizard.
Thinking about this story, I think that Mior Lumivix is a very interesting and rather entertaining protagonist. Indeed, there are similar wizard protagonists in Smith’s work. As much as Howard is excellent writing about the heroic warrior, Smith is excellent writing about wizards. And I love how this one turns out. Sarcand gets his just deserts. . .