Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys good stories across many different genres and mediums. His articles have appeared in Swords and Sorcery Magazine and DMR Books Blog. If you’d like to submit an article, send us a pitch. Payment is one digital copy of your choice of any issue of Broadswords and Blasters.
“The Garden of Adompha” was published in the April 1938 issue of Weird Tales. King Adompha, ruler of the eastern isle of Sotar’s life is filled with a constant sense of ennui. In order to relieve himself of this boredom, Adompha has enlisted the aid of the court magician, Dwerulas, in the upkeep and maintenance of a secret garden. This is no typical, run of the mill garden. A person of Adompha’s station is above these mundane pastimes. Nothing but the most outré pleasure is fit for a king. The garden of Adompha is secreted away behind a “square built granite walls… high and formidable as those of a prison” and “roofed over against the sun with great sheets of lead and copper, leaving no cranny through which the tinniest star could peer down.” This sealed off area can only be accessed through a thick brazen door, of which only the two conspirators know how to unlock. At the structure’s center, floats a strange miniature orb that produces a degree of heat and throws off a blood red light. This miniature sun gives nourishment to a species of plant life that is not of this world. In fact, Dwerulas raised both plants and orb through sorcerous means from the same place; the hell of Thasaidon.
In the deepest part of night, King Adompha sneaks off to his secret garden and discovers that in the midst of the alien vegetation, his court sorcerer is about his business in cultivating his charge. Next to a freshly dug hole, lies Thuloneah, the king’s current concubine, senseless in a drugged state. Next to her are strewn about the tools of the sorcerer, including various knives. The wizard removes the girl’s hands and grafts them onto the topmost branches of the dedaim. He throws the body into the pit; all throughout the branches and foliage of the monstrous plants can be seen the handiwork of the wizard. Various body parts, taken from a multitude of the king’s servitors (who have outlived their usefulness) including the heads of eunuchs, the ears of guardsmen, several palpitating hearts, torsos and still blinking eyes are grafted onto the alien plant forms. This is a hybrid organism, made up of the remnants of human beings coupled with extra-dimensional plants. In another pique of displeasure, the king brains his sorcerer with a spade and dumps him in with the body of the concubine and inters them together. The days pass by and rumors abound throughout the king’s court as to the sudden disappearance of the wizard Dwerulas. Eventually, the gossip dies down and court life returns to normal. But like a moth to the flame, King Adompha is again drawn to his secret garden. In the dead of night, he goes to the forbidden chamber and as often happens on the continent of Zothique, events quickly go pear shaped.
Adompha notices that changes have occurred within. The orb is burning hotter, emitting a deeper shade of light and the plants have grown to excessive heights, filled out with denser foliage. The king enters a green hell. The plant life is exuding stronger fragrances coupled with a musical half articulate murmuring that puts Adompha in a state of intoxication. The walls of plants part like a curtain to let the esteemed guest of honor pass into the structure’s center; the show is about to begin. The human plant hybrid starts reconfiguring itself to the point of a swinging, convulsing, mass. “Then, by some undiscerned transition, it seemed that they were no longer rooted in the ground but were moving about him on dim, fantastic feet in ever-swiftening circles, like the dancers of some bewildering festival.”(3) Intoxicated and head swirling with this grotesque ballet of murdered retainers; King Adompha is gently caressed by the hands of his lover Thuloneah. Up to the point where he is ripped apart limb from limb by the hybrid, under the direction of the deceased sorcerer Dwerulas.
For readers that are just discovering the works of Clark Ashton Smith (and Zothique) “The Garden of Adompha” is a good starting point. The length of the work is on the shorter side that conveys perfectly the predominant tone of the stories set on the last continent; much of the Zothique cycle is rife with decadence and doom. This story is easily digestible in one sitting that exposes newcomers to Smith’s baroque use of the English language. This tale also delivers a large helping of grotesquery and the Weird. “The Garden of Adompha” is a fine representation of the larger cycle. Many of the aspects that make the Zothique stories unique are present and on display here, including the repellant sorcerer who dabbles in the necromantic arts, the debauched potentate that snuffs out the lives of others to relieve his boredom and the manifestation of the otherworldly that brings about ruination. Once a reader cuts their teeth on this story and gets a feel for the author’s florid style, they can easily move onto such high strangeness to be found in “The Empire of the Necromancers”, “The Isle of the Torturers” or “The Dark Eidolon”. Those three tales represent Smith firing on all cylinders; the decadence and doom factor in those stories increases exponentially.
In my view, King Adompha seems to be a literary descendant of William Beckford’s character, Vathek. First translated into English in 1786 (Beckford originally wrote the story in French), Vathek is a Gothic novel about the titular Caliph who lives a life of dissipation and vice. This novel, heavily inspired by Galland’s translation of The Arabian Nights, is an Orientalist fantasy; in which the autocrat is brought low (by hubris) in trafficking with entities and subjects that man was not meant to know. This is a variation of the same fate shared by King Adompha. Although in all honesty, the end result couldn’t have happened to a more deserving individual. As the old Roman saying goes; Sic semper tyrannis. It’s good to see that a modicum of poetic justice still exists on the last continent.