Thursday, May 19, 2005

I believe it's "DUN-suh-nee"

posted by Tim Walters @ 8:57 PM

Lord Dunsany, Time And The Gods. This book in the Fantasy Masterworks series corrals six volumes of rather short stories into one fairly massive tome. The result takes a while to work through, but is extremely impressive, and makes a strong case for Dunsany's being the first modern fantasy writer. Compared to Dunsany, Macdonald and Morris seem hopelessly Victorian, much less deft, and much less directly influential. I can see bits of Macdonald in C.S. Lewis, and bits of Morris in Eddison, but I can see bits (and often more than bits) of Dunsany in Cabell, Vance, Clark Ashton Smith, Pratt, John Collier, Leiber, and all the descendants of the above. Even Tolkien shows Dunsany's influence, although he eschewed his irony.

Taken all together, the stories do blur a bit; there are many retellings of Ozymandias, many variations on the perversity of Fate, Chance, and the gods, many scoundrels who get just a bit too greedy. But there are also straight heroic tales, or nearly so; many of the often-reprinted stories like "The Sword Of Welleran" and "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth" fall into this category.

And man, he can write. Between him and Max Beerbohm, I'm beginning to think that Thomas M. Disch may be right when he claims that the Edwardian period was the high-water mark for English prose. Dunsany manages effortlessly the exotic-but-clear quality that Morris tries much too hard for, and never loses his fresh, slightly cheeky quality.

"The Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing less good than man." You betcha.


At 3:42 PM, Blogger Todd T said...

It is with no glee that I confess to having read only a handful of his short stories, along with THE KING OF ELFLAND'S DAUGHTER, which I think is indeed masterful in just the ways that you elucidate. Offhand I can't think of another tale quite so heavily archetype-based that worked so naturally as DAUGHTER. I have several collections in hand and will have to make a point of reading some this year. Gah, if I actually made a pile of my to-be-read pile, it would topple on me and, in a physical rather than qualitative sense, bite the hand that reads it.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Todd T said...

Incidentally, how did you determine the pronunciation of 'Dunsany'? Though DUN-suh-nee feels right given similar words, I don't know whether I can now shake dun-SAY-nee after all these years.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

I don't remember where I read about the pronunciation--one of Lin Carter's books, perhaps? Neither Wikipedia nor The Encyclopedia of Fantasy gives any guidance.

I should mention that The Charwoman's Daughter is also excellent.


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