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The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany

The Book of Wonder (1912)

by Lord Dunsany

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Dunsany's stories provide a welcome diversion from modern fantasy. The stories are short and very barebones in terms of plot and character development, nothing of the epicness about them that we have to come to associate with fantasy, at least since Tolkien. Focus is on setting and imagery - it's more about creating pictures in the reader's mind than telling a coherent storyline. Especially the endings are often very abrupt and left hanging, without the happy resolution (or any resolution at all) the reader might expect.

I read (got read) these more like fairy tales or parables than as full-grown stories. ( )
1 vote DeusXMachina | Feb 21, 2018 |
This is a collection of stories that I will return to later. Back in middle school I went through a phase of reading myths and folktales from around the world. This collection reminds me of those stories with a seasoning of fantasy. A wonderful collection to be savored some times for just the wondrous language that Dunsany weaves. ( )
1 vote wvlibrarydude | Mar 14, 2016 |
Geek that I am I actually read this to prepare for the Tolkien Professor’s Faerie & Fantasy podcast seminar that covers the book. I am rather conflicted about Dunsany in general and this book in particular. After finishing the first half I found that _The Book of Wonder_ more or less confirmed for me my initial impressions of Dunsany gathered when I first read _The Hashish Man and Other Stories_ many years ago. Namely that while Dunsany is an excellent prose stylist and creator of many arresting images in his short tales there is still something missing. The missing elements are pretty major: plot and character. Of the first few stories only “The Bride of the Man-Horse” and “Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon of Romance” struck me with their images and ideas in a meaningful way, the others came across more as fragments that may have presented some interesting imagery, but they were not enough to really maintain my interest. As I continued on with the second half of the book, however, I started to feel that maybe these arresting images were enough and the stories seemed to gather more steam.

In many ways Dunsany, in his short tales at least, has always been for me less a writer and more a painter of prose pictures. Many of his tales from _The Book of Wonder_ are probably best taken in conjunction with the lush and beautiful drawings of them made by Sydney Sime since it often felt to me like they didn’t really have a beginning or an end, though they generally gave me a vivid picture of some arresting image or idea. Whether this was the gloomy house of the doomed Sphinx, the majestic and exhilarating ride of the centaur Shepperalk, or the final hopeless venture of the thief Thangobrid we are given by Dunsany what amounts to a painting in words, but it isn’t a story (or it is only part of one). When a writer like Tolkien makes an offhand reference to some other place or person in his tales it carries with it the weight of a true tale and the depth of history, we know that it isn’t merely a colourful name inserted for flavour…with Dunsany I do not always get this impression.

The comparison to pictures is instructive in that it points out both Dunsany’s strengths and his weaknesses. He is a vivid writer of poetic prose, able to evoke emotions and an almost painful nostalgia for the magical and the dreamlike, a yearning for what has been, or soon will be, lost. On the other hand he can be, at his worst, two dimensional. I think this is why I have always preferred Dunsany’s longer works such as _The Charwoman’s Shadow_ or _The King of Elfland’s Daughter_ to his shorter ones. In these longer works he is constrained by the demands of his form to have at least the semblance of plot and character and even the minimal skeleton he builds in this regard is enough to carry his lush prose and beautiful images beyond being mere pictures. They now have context that makes the heartsick longing meaningful.

And yet…and yet. As I finished this volume I kept coming back to the ability of Dunsany as a prose stylist. At first I was content with the thought that I should simply treat my visits to his work as a trip to a fantastic museum where I would be treated to some startling paintings; or better yet a sampling from the amuses bouches of a master confectioner that may give me food for thought and a sip from an inexplicable draught, but for real nourishment I would have to look elsewhere. As I finished the volume, however, I felt that I had to perhaps re-evaluate this position. Tales like “The Hoard of the Gibbelins”, “How Nuth would have Practiced his Art upon the Gnoles”, “How One Came, as was Foretold, to the City of Never”, and especially the somewhat thematically twinned tales “The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap“ and “The Wonderful Window” either seemed to come together more coherently as stories or had such well expressed ideas and images of wonder that I had to admit that Dunsany had achieved something meaningful here.

I still think that if I want lush prose and vivid, weird imagery I am more likely to go to Clark Ashton Smith, who married these strengths to more elements of plot and character than I am likely to find in Dunsany, but I am starting to see that perhaps I am merely expecting something from Dunsany’s tales that he never intended to deliver, and that his contribution to the genre as a founder and necessary first step can’t be denied.
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1 vote dulac3 | Apr 2, 2013 |
Lord Dunsany's fantasy is unlike any I have ever read, and the best description I can give of these short stories is that they read like a collection of dark nursery rhymes, without the nursery and without the rhymes but with that strange sense of logical illogic that characterizes the more memorable of the genre. You know how some Mother Goose nursery rhymes are so illogical and make no sense outside their own little world contained in a few lines of rhyme? That is just how these stories are: nonsensically sensible little snippets of a different world.

These stories are very short with the same brevity of a nursery rhyme intent on fitting its setting, characters, and story into four or so lines. And they mostly end unhappily. The brave hero going off to face the monster is killed (and eaten). Two little idols become rivals and their battle causes an earthquake that ruins their temple. Things end neatly, but not happily.

Wikipedia renders a fascinating fact: Dunsany's illustrator, Sidney Sime, was complaining that he did not get to illustrate the type of stories he preferred, so Dunsany suggested that Sime draw whatever he liked and he would write this collection of tales around the illustrations. Perhaps this accounts for the dark tone of the tales; the austere, detailed tone of Sime's fabulous illustrations rather precludes the usual happy fairytale.

I read this collection in one sitting and while I can't say I really loved it, it had its own reality about it, rather like the sensation of a vivid dream that you try to recapture not because it was a particularly wonderful dream, but for its arresting sense of really having happened. ( )
5 vote atimco | Sep 30, 2012 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lord Dunsanyprimary authorall editionscalculated
善夫, 中野Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Betancourt, John GregoryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carter, LinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
玲, 安野Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
融, 中村Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sime, Sidney H.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
満美子, 吉村Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Come with me, ladies and gentlemen who are in any wise weary of London: come with me: and those that tire at all of the world we know: for we have new worlds here.
In the morning of his two hundred and fiftieth year Shepperalk the centaur went to the golden coffer, wherein the treasure of the centaurs was, and taking from it the hoarded amulet that his father, Jyshak, in the years of his prime, had hammered from mountain gold and set with opals bartered from the gnomes, he put it upon his wrist, and said no word, but walked from his mother's cavern.
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Book description
Contains the following stories:

  • The Bride of the Man-Horse
  • Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller
  • The House of the Sphinx
  • Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men
  • The Injudicious Prayers of Pombo the Idolater
  • The Loot of Bombasharna
  • Miss Cubbidge and The Dragon of Romance
  • The Quest of The Queen's Tears
  • The Hoard of The Gibbelins
  • How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon The Gnoles
  • How One Came, As Was Foretold, To The City of Never
  • The Coronation of Mr Thomas Shap
  • Chu-Bu and Sheemish
  • The Wonderful Window
  • Haiku summary

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    A delightful time travel romp. What happens when a bored criminal from the future returns to a more exciting time in the past? Foraminifera 9-Hart Bailey's Beam is about to find out. He's gathered a cache of high-tech weapons to take back in time with him, with the intention of teaming up with the legendary New York Mafia. Upon arriving in our time he meets a street gang named The Boomer Dukes and he asks them to "take me to your Mafia." From there nothing goes as planned.… (more)

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