Home > Book Reviews > In the Land of Time and Other Fantasy Tales by Lord Dunsany

In the Land of Time and Other Fantasy Tales by Lord Dunsany

I had, of course, heard of the author Lord Dunsany before, largely having seen The King of Elfland’s Daughter on the library shelves in the science fiction / fantasy section, but had never read anything by him.  On a whim, I picked up In the Land of Time and Other Fantasy Tales at a used bookstore and was instantly captivated.

The breadth of the stories collected in this volume is extremely broad, including cosmological myths, fairy tales, Agatha Christie-style mysteries, psychological horror, and prose tone poems.  There are almost too many genres to list (and there are probably a few that should be invented just for the author).

Some of my favorites:

The “Gods of Pegana” and its related stories reminds me very strongly of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, particularly the first two parts, the Ainulindale and the Valaquenta, which describe the creation of the world and the characteristics of the Powers of Middle-Earth.  I found the repeated epithets of the gods and the almost prayerful blessings to be perfect, almost as an in-world catechism.

“The Kith of the Elf-Folk” is a cautionary tale.  Because the little Wild Thing, like all fairy folk, has no soul, she yearns to gain one in order to

…worship God, and to know the meaning of music, and to see the inner beauty of the marshlands and to imagine Paradise

The Elf-folk fashion a soul for her knowing, however, that she will ultimately be unhappy.  This section includes one of the most moving descriptions I have read in a long time:

Then the Wild Things went with their dew-bespangled gossamer down to the edge of their home. And there they gathered a piece of the grey mist that lies by night over the marshlands. And into it they put the melody of the waste that is borne up and down the marshes in the evening on the wings of the golden plover. And they put into it, too, the mournful song that the reeds are compelled to sing before the presence of the arrogant North Wind. Then each of the Wild Things gave some treasured memory of the old marshes, ‘For we can spare it,’ they said. And to all this they added a few images of the stars that they gathered out of the water. Still the soul that the kith of the Elf-folk were making had no life.

Then they put into it the low voices of two lovers that went walking in the night, wandering late alone. And after that they waited for the dawn. And the queenly dawn appeared, and the marsh-lights of the Wild Things paled in the glare, and their bodies faded from view; and still they waited by the marsh’s edge. And to them waiting came over field and marsh, from the ground and out of the sky, the myriad song of the birds.

This, too, the Wild Things put into the piece of haze that they had gathered in the marshlands, and wrapped it all up in their dew-bespangled gossamer. Then the soul lived.

I found “The Wonderful Window” to be wonderfully imagined.  A lonely man purchases a window that allows him to see a small medieval fortress from the heights above.  No sound, however, emanates from the vision.  He watches the tiny people moving through the streets until one day he finds an invading army besieging the city.  He watches with horror, helpless, as his tiny kingdom is brought to ruin in total silence.

I wish I could find the complete Jorkens tales in print.  Dunsany wrote a large number of short stories featuring Jorkens, a man who has had all sorts of adventures, all of which have an air of lies, but cannot actually be disproved.  All of the tales are told in a sort of gentleman’s club at the turn of the century. This volume includes about a half dozen stories including one where a man claims to have visited Mars and has proof (sort of)!

“The Two Bottles of Relish” is a whodunit with ominous overtones, “The Cut” tells the tale of a dog who learns the value of money and who exhibits the airs to support it, and I can never forget the irony of “The Pirate of the Round Pond”.

What makes these stories so special is the prose, the imagery, and the ability to look back at oneself.  Themes include the results of loss and how humankind is an interloper on the earth.

5 out of 5 stars, unreservedly

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  1. January 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm

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