Dunsany, Lord

Tagged: Author

Working name of Edward Plunkett (1878-1957), Baron Dunsany (from the death of his father in 1899), prolific Irish author of stories, novels, essays and plays. Though primarily a writer of Fantasy, he is of sf interest through the widespread influence of his language and imagery; through the spoof sf explanations and premises sometimes discernible in his short fiction, mainly the Jorkens tales (see below); and for two sf novels written late in life. The weaker of the two is The Last Revolution (1951), which with less than the author's usual Humour depicts a Wellsian contemporary England in which self-reproducing Machines – they are not strictly Computers, and there is no real explanation for their consciousness and ability to play superior Chess – turn against an isolated human household. Despite these machines' ability to influence or conscript nonsentient devices such as motorcycles, their revolution is ultimately unsuccessful; as with H G Wells's Martians in The War of the Worlds (April-December 1897 Pearson's; 1898), the hostiles succumb to natural causes, in this case rust. Another malign chess machine appears in "The New Master" (in The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories coll 1952). Dunsany's profound distaste for the Industrial Revolution and all of its consequences is given much more satisfying shape in his last novel, The Pleasures of a Futuroscope (written 1955; 2003), in which a contemporary man gazes upon the world of 600 years hence through a Time Viewer; the world he sees is a pastoral version of the Ruined Earth, rather in the mode and style of Richard Jefferies's After London: Or, Wild England (1885), complete with a drowned London (this time the Holocaust is nuclear), and a population whose Taboos rightly include all metals.

Dunsany's influence, especially on writers of Heroic Fantasy, was strong from almost the beginning of his long career, when he published a series of Fantasy collections whose contents are linked by imagery and reference: The Gods of Pegana (coll of linked stories 1905), Time and the Gods (coll 1906), The Sword of Welleran (coll 1908), which contains the famous The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth (1910 chap), A Dreamer's Tales (coll 1910), The Book of Wonder: A Chronicle of Little Adventures at the Edge of the World (coll 1912), Fifty-One Tales (coll 1915; vt The Food of Death: Fifty-One Tales 1974), and Tales of Wonder (coll 1916: vt The Last Book of Wonder 1916). The stories in these intermittently brilliant volumes made creative use of influences from Oscar Wilde and W B Yeats through William Morris – along with the very specific effect of the play The Darling of the Gods (1902) by David Belasco (1859-1931) and John L Long (1861-1927), with its misty fake-oriental setting. Through their sustained otherworldliness and their muscular delicacy, these stories in turn exerted a potent influence on later writers, including H P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.

For a more sustained argument about Dunsany's long career, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. But very roughly, in his second phase as a fantasist – after a rather ostentatious spurning of the genre during World War One, which he seemed to think too serious to be dealt with fantastically – Dunsany turned to novels like The Chronicles of Rodriguez (1922; vt Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley 1922), The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924) and The Charwoman's Shadow (1926); the second of these did much to give geographical reality to the secondary universe (see J R R Tolkien) of high fantasy. His third phase consists of the Jorkens Club Stories: The Travel Tales of Mr Joseph Jorkens (coll 1931), Jorkens Remembers Africa (coll 1934; vt Mr Jorkens Remembers Africa 1934), Jorkens Has a Large Whiskey (coll 1940), The Fourth Book of Jorkens (coll 1947) and Jorkens Borrows Another Whiskey (coll 1954). Some of the tall tales told by unreliable Jorkens are outright sf, e.g. communication with and travel to and from Mars, and various Inventions including Antigravity, extraterrestrial Holocausts and the Futuroscope Time Viewer. Along with works by Joseph Conrad, G K Chesterton, Arthur Machen and Robert Louis Stevenson, these tales focused the attention of sf and fantasy writers upon the late Victorian and Edwardian Club Story as a suggestive mode for storytelling; Arthur C Clarke, Sterling Lanier and Spider Robinson are among the many who have written in it. Dunsany's later work, mostly non-fantastic, has justly attracted less interest, but his contributions as a fantasist are of high intrinsic merit, and his influence is pervasive. [JC/DRL]

see also: The Argosy; Vernon Bartlett; Basilisks; Counter-Earth; The Passing Show; Prehistoric SF; Sword and Sorcery.

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany

born London: 24 July 1878

died Dublin, Ireland: 25 October 1957

works

series

Jorkens

individual titles: sf

individual titles: other

collections and stories

Dunsany's plays and poetry are not here listed

about the author

links

Previous versions of this entry

Website design and build: STEEL

Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011 SFE Ltd.