(illo: victorian house on hill)

Dunsany is a poet in the truest sense, but it is in prose rather than in verse that his finest work has been done. No-one has ever approached his skill in suggesting, so flawlessly and with such economy of means, that the world is not exactly as we suppose. No-one can make the blood run cold with a simpler phrase, no-one can suggest so much while saying so little. His stories sparkle with ideas, often single sentences that challenge the mind with vertigininous implications. Under the magic of his art, the commonest things become enchanted, and when his imagination soars away from earth, we enter realms of fantasy indeed.

By Walls of cities not of Earth
All wild my winged dreams have run,
And known the demons that had birth
In planets of another sun

Let me quote a few passages which may give some idea of the flavour of his finest stories, little though I like to wrench these jewels from their settings.

"Something so huge that it seemed unfair to man that it should move so softly stalked splendidly by them ..."

"There the Gibbelins lived and discreditably fed."

"There watched him ceaselessly from the Under Pits those eyes whose duty it is."

"... then he began to fall. It was long before he believed and truly knew that this was he that fell from the mountain, for we do not associate such doom with ourselves; but when he had fallen for some while through the evening and saw below him, where there had been nothing to see, the glimmer of tiny fields, then his optimism departed."

And one more passage, the conclusion of THE PROBABLE ADVENTURE OF THE THREE LITERARY MEN, who were so rash as to try to steal the golden box of poems from the house at the End of the World.

" ... and then it befell that as they drew near safety, in the night's most secret hour, some hand in an upper chamber lit a shocking light, lit it and made no sound.

For a moment it might have been an ordinary light, fatal as even that could very well be at such a moment as this; but when it began to follow them like an eye and grow redder and redder as it watched them, then even optimism despaired.

And Slippy very unwisely attempted flight, and Slorg even as unwisely tried to hide, but Slith, knowing well why that light was lit in that secret upper chamber and who it was that lit it, leaped over the edge of the World and is from us still through the unreverberate blackness of the abyss."

Perhaps -- and it will not surprise me in the least -- all these extracts leave you unaffected. For it is sad but true that Dunsany's peculiar genius is all too rarely appreciated. One of his earlier books has the pathetic preface; "These tales I gather together here for the few that seem to read my books in England." This lack of appreciation may be due to Dunsany's unfortunate choice of parents, for an artist with a title is regarded as a dilettante and is not taken seriously. The critics have not always been kind to Dunsany.

From little fountain-pens they wring
The last wee drop of inky spite:
"We do not like the kind of thing
That lords," they say, "most likely write."

But who can deny that the man who penned these lines is a true artist:-

So much there is to catch,
And the years so short,
That there is scarce time to snatch
Pen, palette, or aught,

And to seize some shape we can see,
That others may keep
Its moment of mystery,
Then go to our sleep.

The radio has done much to make Dunsany known to a wider public, for he has written many plays for broadcasting as well as for the stage. GOLDEN DRAGON CITY and THE USE OF MAN have been broadcast several times: those who are familiar with the latter and its implied denunciation of hunting may be surprised that its author is a Master of Fox Hounds.

Mr. Joseph Jorkens, the well-known club raconteur who can always be relied on to produce a good story in return for a drink, is Dunsany's best known character and his adventures seem to be popular with the general public. At any rate such statistical studies as I have made in libraries appear to show this. Jorkens thinks nothing of finding icebergs in the Red Sea in midsummer, or a diamond which fully justifies description of it as "a large one" -- he walked across it for many hours under the impression that it was a frozen lake.

Nevertheless, much as I like Jorkens, the far rarer stories of World's End and other places, related in TALES OF WONDER, A DREAMER'S TALE, and THE BOOK OF WONDER, appeal to me more strongly. And of them all this is the one that at the present moves me most. It is called THE FIELD and was written more than thirty years ago.

"Not far from London is a field, beautiful and peaceful, where the poet loved to rest. Yet as he grew to know it better, there seemed something omnious about the place and the feeling grew with each successive visit. He made enquiries and found that nothing had ever happened there, so that it was from the future that the field's trouble came.

Once to distract my thoughts I tried to guage how fast the stream was trickling, but I found myself wondering if it flowed faster than blood ... and then the fancy came to me that it would be a terribly cold place to be in the starlight, if for some reason one was hurt and could not get away.

So at last he took to the field a friend who would be able to tell what evil thing was going to happen there.

By the side of the stream he stood and seemed very sad. Once or twice he looked up and down it mournfully, then he bent and looked at the king-cups, first one and then the other, very closely, and shaking his head.

For a long while he stood in silence, and all my old uneasiness returned, and my bodings for the future.

And then I said, 'What manner of field is it?' And he shook his head sorrowfully.

'It is a battlefield,' he said."

Is this only a story? Or is there such a field? There is foreboding there, matched equally by another line of Dunsany's: "Over mossy girders the old folk come back."

I cannot leave Dunsany without making some mention of the incomparable artist, S. H. Sime, who has illustrated so many of his stories. No-one has ever captured the spirit of fantasy more perfectly than Sime, though sometimes Finlay (whose style is similar) has approached him.

And now before we part let us gather one more quotation to take upon our separate ways. These words of Dunsany's prefaced the first volume of GEORGIAN POETRY when it appeared in 1912.

"Of all materials for labour, dreams are the hardest; and the artificer in ideas is the chief of workers, who out of nothing will make a piece of work that may stop a child from crying or lead nations to higher things. For what is it to be a poet? It is to see at a glance the glory of the world, to see beauty in all its forms and manifestations, to feel ugliness like a pain, to resent the wrongs of others as bitterly as ones own, to know mankind as others know single men, to know Nature as botanists know a flower, to be thought a fool, to hear at moments the clear voice of God."

Data entry and page scans provided by Judy Bemis

Data entry by Judy Bemis

Updated June 28, 2015. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.