The Dead Lady Of Clown Town

One of the best Christian short stories ever written. Cordwainer Smith wrote a short story about a future in which a young Underperson, a dog-human hybrid, leads her fellow outcasts into a revolution of love.

With the underpeople, the artist performs real wonders.

Joan herself is bathed in light. Her light brown hair and her doggy brown eyes express softness and tenderness. He even conveys the idea that her new body is terribly new and strong, that she is virginal and ready to die, that she is a mere girl and yet completely fearless. The posture of love shows in her legs: she stands lightly. Love shows in her hands: they are turned outwards to the judges. Love shows in her smile: it is confident…

…And then you have the real viewtapes, too, if you want to go to a museum. The reality is not as dramatic as the famous painting, but it has a value of its own. The voice of Joan, dead these many centuries, is still strangely moving. It is the voice of a dog-carved-int0-man, but it is also the voice of a great lady. The image of the Lady Panc Ashash must have taught her that, along with what she had learned from Elaine and Hunter in the antechamber above the Brown and Yellow Corridor of Englok.

The words of the trial, they too have survived. Many of them have become famous, all across the worlds.

Joan said, during inquiry, “But it is the duty of life to find more than life, and to exchange itself for that higher goodness.”

Joan commented, upon sentence. “My body is your property, but my love is not. My love is my own, and I shall love you fiercely while you kill me.”

When the soldiers had killed Charley-is-my-darling and were trying to hack off the head of the S-woman until one of them thought to freeze her into crystals, Joan said:

“Should it be strange to you, we animals of earth that you have brought to the stars? We shared the same sun, the same oceans, the same sky. We are all from Manhome. How do you know that we would not have caught up with you if we had all stayed at home together? My people were dogs. They loved you before you made a woman-shaped thing out of my mother. Should I not love you still? The miracle is not that you made people out of us. The miracle is that we took so long to understand it. You will be sorry for what you are going to do to me, but remember that I shall love your sorrow, because great and good things will come out of it.”

The Lord Limaono slyly asked, “What is a ‘miracle’?”

And her words were, “There is knowledge from earth which you have not yet found again. There is the name of the Nameless One. There are secrets hidden in time from you. Only the dead and the unborn can know them right now: I am both.”


Every sentence is a work of art. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story that captured what it must feel like to be present while Jesus walked the earth, and this one does. Joan is both Jesus and Joan of Arc, and it’s an amazing story. One of his best.

3 Comments on “The Dead Lady Of Clown Town”

  1. notleia says:

    Well, if we’re gonna hit all the stereotypes, naturally it would need to be a dog-woman. I find it harder to imagine Pre-Raphaelite martyrdom with a cat-woman.

    • dmdutcher says:

      The cat-woman C’mell plays a part too, but in other stories. Smith is anything but stereotypical; if anything he’s too wild and crazy with his inventions.

      • notleia says:

        I’ve seen too much of the romanticized martyred woman trope in my neck of the religious woods to like it much anymore. There are people who take it to creepy, creepy depths.

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