Archive for the ‘High Fantasy’ Category

The Charwoman’s Shadow, by Lord Dunsany

Monday, December 15th, 2008

charshadow I bought this dog-eared book at a garage sale a few weeks ago for a dollar. Lord Dunsany is a unique writer. If you read the book Stardust by Neil Gaiman (or even saw the hacked movie version), you would get an idea of what a Dunsany book is about. My edition of The Charwoman’s Shadow was published in 1926. Dunsany was already popular then, because of The King of Elfland’s Daughter, considered his masterpiece (and nearly the same story as Gaimon’s Stardust).

In the 1920s, Branch’s Jurgen in the US, and Eddison’s adult fairy tales in England were best sellers. These are richly written fantasies that also have a real world message. Readers in the 1920s would not have objected to reading a fantasy story that bordered on being a fairy tale.

Dunsany wrote his books with green ink using a quill pen that he would cut by hand. His wife typed out the stories. All of his books and stories are first drafts because he is supposed to have never rewritten or revised any of his work.

Dunsany’s language is absolutely wonderful. Here are the first two paragraphs Charwoman’s Shadow:

Picture a summer evening somber and sweet over Spain, the glittering sheen of leaves fading to soberer colors, the sky in the west all soft, and mysterious as low music, and in the east like a frown. Picture the Golden Age past its wonderful zenith, and westering now towards its setting.

In such a time of day and time of year, and in such a time of history, a young man was traveling on foot on a Spanish road, from a village well-nigh unknown, towards the gloom and grandeur of mountains. And as he traveled a wind rising up with the fall of day flapped his cloak hugely about him.

I missed getting off of my bus once, because I was involved in the unique plot. Dunsany is an extremely resourceful writer. A few times he seems to get a little lost pulling together his plot points, and here and there a paragraph will go on for a page or two while he explains some minor intricacy, but these go by quick. The denouement wanders a bit as it brings all of the threads together, but this is made up for with the wonderful ending, which describes the end of a golden age of magic.

I don’t think anyone reads Lord Dunsany anymore. This is a great loss.