Read an Excerpt
Introduction by Lin Carter & John Gregory Betancourt
The Death of Pan
The Sphinx at Giza
Wind and Fog
Death and Odysseus
Death and the Orange
The Prayer of the Flower
Time and the Tradesman
The Little City
The Unpasturable Fields
The Worm and the Angel
The Songless Country
The Latest Thing
The Demagogue and the Demi-monde
The Giant Poppy
The Man With the Golden Ear-rings
The Dream of King Karna-Vootra
A Mistaken Identity
The True History of the Hare and the Tortoise
Alone the Immortals
A Moral Little Tale
The Return of Song
Spring In Town
How the Enemy Came to Thlunrana
A Losing Game
Taking Up Picadilly
After the Fire
The Food of Death
The Lonely Idol
The Sphinx in Thebes (Massachusetts)
The Trouble in Leafy Green Street
The Return of the Exiles
Nature and Time
The Song of the Blackbird
What We Have Come To
The Tomb of Pan
One of the four or five great exponents of the adult fantasy was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the eighteenth baron of an ancient line which stretches back almost one thousand years to the Norman Conquest.
Lord Dunsany was born in 1878 in Castle Dunsany, a 12th-century fortress which was his ancestral home, in County Meath, Ireland, among hills that were already rich in song and fable a thousand years before his Normanancestors came a-conquering. These were the age-old lands of the Ard-ri, the emperors of the ancient Celts. In Meath was Tara of the Kings, so sacred and venerable that the king who held it became High King of all Ireland. Thus the hills and fields of Dunsany's childhood were steeped in golden legend, and some of the enchantment and music of antique Tara entered into his wonderful stories.
Lord Dunsany was an astounding man. A sensitive poet, an enthusiastic huntsman, and a constant globe-trotter, he was always off on safari in Africa or teaching English literature in Athens (from which he escaped one jump ahead of the Nazis when they invaded). Yet he found time to write over sixty books -- novels of modern life, works of fantasy, short story collections, mysteries, scores of plays, volumes of verse, autobiography, essays, and even a complete translation of Horace. A backward-looking traditionalist who scorned modern poetry and mechanized life (and wrote every one of his books with a quill pen), he yet proved to be an enormous, widespread and influential force on the writers who came after him.
A graduate of Eton and Sandhurst, he served as an officer with the Coldstream Guards, worked with Yeats at the Abbey Theater in Dublin, toured America on reading tours, and seems to have lived a full, exciting, and even adventurous life. It makes you wonder how he found time for those sixty-odd books.
L. Sprague de Camp has said: "Dunsany was the second writer (William Morris in the 1880's being the first) fully to exploit the possibilities of . . . adventurous fantasy laid in imaginary lands, with gods, witches, spirits, and magic, like children's fairy tales but on a sophisticated adult level." But more than this, Dunsany was probably the single greatest influence on fantasy writers during the first half of the 20th century. Lovecraft, in early fiction, like the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, imitated him, and very well. Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian and founder of the popular Sword & Sorcery school of fantasy writing, read him and came under his spell, as did Clark Ashton Smith, whose exquisitely mordant fables show unmistakable traces of Dunsanian influence. And Dunsany's "Jorkens" tales are the direct progenitors of such books as Arthur C. Clarke's Tales of the White Hart and Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp's Tales of Gavagan's Bar.
Although many of his most famous stories are longer in length, the miniature portraits of Fifty-One Tales (originally published in 1915 and sometimes reprinted under the title The Food of Death) are an ideal introduction to Dunsany. Nowhere is the jewel-like quality of his prose more evident than in the short tales herein, seminal works which runs the gamut from whimsy to fantasy to social satire.
If this is your first encounter with Lord Dunsany, you will be delighted, moved, amused, and caught up in the sheer poetry of his words. If you are a return visitor to the Lands Beyond the Fields We Know, you are already aware of what sort of treat awaits you. Enjoy!
--Lin Carter & John Gregory Betancourt
Copyright © 2002 by John Gregory Betancourt