Author: Lord Dunsany

Public Domain, 1912

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Filed under Literary, Fantasy, Short Stories

It’s always great when a book turns out to be nothing at all what you were expecting, and all the better for it. I’d never heard of Lord Dunsany (aka Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany) before, but apparently he’s a big deal in fantasy. This collection is ecclectic and creative, with stories that delve into many wonderous locales and involve a wide spectrum of characters and situations. Though there are centaurs and man-eating gibbelins and fantastical locales such as The City of Never, the fantasy Dunsany presents is not of the sword and sorcery variety I expected to encounter.

In fact, the creativity of the different fantasy worlds this books offers is to credit for most of the book’s charm. You can draw a direct line from stories like “The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap” and “The Wonderful Window” to contemporary fabulists like Steven Millhauser. The stories are original, unique, and mostly devoid or typical fantasy tropes. And are quite delightful for it.

The characters are finely constructed and complex. At times we find them in familiar situations, yet they sometimes arrive with compelling motivations, or approach what might seem like mundane situations–albeit in an imaginary land–with unique approaches.  The excellent play with narrative scope helps accentuate this. Perhaps this falls on my lap as a relatively inexperienced reader of fantasy, but I expected a lot of tidy, “once upon a time” stories with clearly marked beginning, middle, and end points. Instead most of them begin in medias res, and usually in a different and unrelated universe as the previous story.

My favorite stories are those based in a more fabulist mode, like the two I mentioned above. There is also fare here that falls slightly more in line with what you might expect from a collection of fantasy stories, such as “The Bride of the Man-Horse” and “Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon of Romance.” In general I found the titles charming, even if they are a bit too much to the point, as is the case with “The Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men.”

Though at times the language can feel a bit dated and dry, it is on the whole a strong collection of stories by an author who those readers not versed in classic fantasy may never have heard of. The stories are quick and interesting enough to capture anyone’s attention long enough to tickle their imagination.

Other books: The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (Burton, trans.), Dangerous Laughter (Millhauser)