Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Dunsanyian Moment

So, taking off my Tolkien hat (the brown fedora) for a while and putting on my Dunsany scholar one (perhaps an imaginary fez?), I wanted to note three recent bits of interesting news re. my favorite English (well, Irish) lord and his works.

First, I wanted to draw attention to a recent post by Doug Anderson about Dunsany's little clay soldiers. I've known about these for a long time, thanks to the article "Where Do You Get the Clay" [1945], reprinted in the Owlswick Press volume GHOSTS OF THE HEAVISIDE LAYER [1980].* But Doug's piece is much earlier (1932) and, better yet, illustrated. So for the first time I've been able to see what his clay figures look like -- having previously had to imagine them from the mottos Dunsany assigned to each, like

"Even at fifty he could throw a knife that seldom missed the heart"

"He had a perfect sense of the moment at which to declare war"**

"Had he only had ears, there are no heights to which he would not have risen"

Here's the link to Doug's posting:

Second, seeing this reminded me of Doug's other recent Dunsany post which I'd been meaning to comment on. Surprisingly little of Dunsany's work has been recorded, the only commercial release for years being a Vincent Price record for Caedmon reading four stories. Luckily, they include two of his very best: "The Hoard of the Gibblelins" and "Chu-bu and Sheemish", plus two Jorkens stories, so someone (I've never been able to find out who) was savvy in choosing which stories to record.  Unfortunately, while Dunsany himself did several readings on the BBC, and wrote quite a few radio plays, two of which are quite good,*** very little of these recordings survives. The family has a tape of Dunsany reading some of his poems, and now Doug has pointed out a recent BBC collection of a number of authors reading their own stories, including Dunsany reading a Jorkens story, "The Pearly Beach".  Not one of his best stories, unfortunately, or even among the better Jorkens stories, but it's fascinating to hear Dunsany's voice, which sounds more like a British officer (which, of course, he was) than the Irish peer I was expecting. A nice little bit of history I'm glad to know about. Here's Doug's post with the details:

Third, this seems like a good time to mention that I've recently learned there's a new book out about Dunsany, edited by S. T. Joshi: CRITICAL ESSAYS ON LORD DUNSANY. Apparently this is divided into two parts, the first reprinting contemporary essays and reviews on Dunsany's works, similar to what wd be found in one of the 'Critical Heritage Series' volumes, and the second printing seven modern essays on aspects of Dunsany's work. Whether these new essays are by Joshi or simply collected together by him is unclear from the online description. I hope the latter, since for all his huge contributions to Dunsany bibliography I find Joshi's writings on Dunsany problematic. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, I'd say Joshi views Dunsany as a failed Lovecraft, whereas I view Lovecraft as a lesser disciple of Dunsany. Be that as it may, I'm certainly looking forward to getting and reading this collection; it'll be good to renew my acquaintance with all the old essays I read years ago, back when working on the Dunsany dissertation, and also to see what if the new essays have any interesting insights into his work.  And, as a Dunsanyian, I'm always glad to see a new book come out on Ld D: there are far too few for a writer of such importance.

Here's the link to Amazon's entry on the book:

--John R.
current reading: IRON TEARS (notes and sources), SARTOR RESARTUS (just begun)

*I see from where I signed it on the inside front cover that I got my copy on Friday May 2nd 1986

**an invaluable skill when playing the notorious strategy game DIPLOMACY

***Half of his late collection PLAYS FOR EARTH AND AIR, the 'Air' part, are scripts for his radio plays. Most of these are (bad) adaptations of earlier short stories, but the collection is worthwhile for containing two new radio plays that are quite effective: "Atmospherics", about a man who realizes he's sharing a railway carriage with an escaped homicidal maniac, and especially "Time's Joke", a little lost gem which is better read than synopsized. 


Matt Fisher said...


Amazon now allows you to look at the table of contents for the book which lists all the essays. The more recent essays are by a number of different authors; I think that only 2 or 3 are by Joshi himself.


John D. Rateliff said...

Quite right, Matt. I hadn't noticed that. Looks like a mixed bag of essays, but definitely with some pieces of interest. Thanks for pointing out the online T.o.C.

David Bratman said...

My experience reading Dunsany aloud is that he does not come across well in that format. No other author I like anywhere near as much have I had such trouble with this way.

I have not gotten the impression from Joshi's writings on Dunsany that he views him as a failed Lovecraft. I have, however, seen Dunsany anthologies of recent vintage whose introductions give the impression that the editors see Dunsany as a curiosity item, a minor precursor that Lovecraft fans might want to check out. To my mind that's like treating Tolkien as a minor precursor to Terry Brooks. But then, these introductions usually manage to sneak in a few swipes at Tolkien also, for the crime of being too popular.

Magister said...

Doug's link was very nice; I have seen some of those clay figurines "in the flesh", so to speak.

I haven't got that impression at all from S. T. Dunsany is the writer he admires the most, next to (not after) Lovecraft -- I've heard him say so myself, and I haven't seen anything in his writings to contradict that.

Don't miss the other book on Dunsany (and Lovecraft and Bradbury) by William Touponce that has just been released: