Authors: Lord Dunsany

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Irish novelist, short-story writer, and playwright

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Chronicles of Rodriguez, 1922

The King of Elfland’s Daughter, 1924

The Charwoman’s Shadow, 1926

The Blessing of Pan, 1927

The Curse of the Wise Woman, 1933

Up in the Hills, 1935

My Talks with Dean Spanley, 1936

Rory and Bran, 1936

The Story of Mona Sheehy, 1939

Guerrilla, 1944

The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders, 1950

The Last Revolution, 1951

His Fellow Men, 1952

Short Fiction:

The Gods of Pegāna, 1905

Time and the Gods, 1906

The Sword of Welleran, and Other Stories, 1908

A Dreamer’s Tales, 1910

The Book of Wonder, 1912

Fifty-one Tales, 1915

The Last Book of Wonder, 1916 (pb. in U.K. as Tales of Wonder)

Tales of War, 1918

Tales of Three Hemispheres, 1919

The Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens, 1931

Jorkens Remembers Africa, 1934

Jorkens Has a Large Whiskey, 1940

The Man Who Ate the Phoenix, 1947

The Fourth Book of Jorkens, 1948

The Little Tales of Smethers, 1952

Jorkens Borrows Another Whiskey, 1954

The Food of Death: Fifty-one Tales, 1974

Drama:

The Glittering Gate, pr. 1909

King Argimenes and the Unknown Warrior, pr. 1911

The Gods of the Mountain, pr. 1911

The Golden Doom, pr. 1912

The Lost Silk Hat, pr. 1913

Five Plays, pb. 1914

The Tents of the Arabs, pr. 1914

A Night at an Inn, pr., pb. 1916

The Queen’s Enemies, pr. 1916

The Laughter of the Gods, pb. 1917

Plays of Gods and Men, pb. 1917

If, pr., pb. 1921

Cheezo, pr. 1921

Plays of Near and Far, pb. 1922

Lord Adrian, pr. 1923

Alexander, pb. 1925

Mr. Faithful, pr. 1927

Seven Modern Comedies, pb. 1928

The Old Folk of the Centuries, pb. 1930

Plays for Earth and Air, pb. 1937

Poetry:

Fifty Poems, 1929

Mirage Water, 1938

War Poems, 1941

Wandering Songs, 1943

The Year, 1946

To Awaken Pegasus, and Other Poems, 1949

Nonfiction:

If I Were a Dictator: The Pronouncement of the Grand Macaroni, 1934

My Ireland, 1937

Patches of Sunlight, 1938

While the Sirens Slept, 1944

The Sirens Wake, 1945

A Glimpse from a Watch Tower, 1946

Translation:

The Odes of Horace, 1947

Biography

Although Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany (duhn-SAY-nee), considered himself primarily a poet, he is best known as one of the foremost writers of fantasy–whether in the form of short stories, novels, or plays–in the twentieth century. He was certainly one of the most prolific practitioners of the genre. Even though he was born in London, his family seat had always been Dunsany Castle, in County Meath, Ireland. Educated at Eton College and Sandhurst Military Academy, Dunsany served with the Coldstream Guards during the Boer War, as a captain with the Fifth Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers during World War I, and as a volunteer in World War II. He succeeded as eighteenth Baron Dunsany in 1899. Despite more than fifty published works, Dunsany claimed to have spent little time at his writing, devoting his life to hunting and to chess (he was once the Irish chess champion). He and his wife had one son and spent most of their time at their home in Kent.{$I[AN]9810001298}{$I[A]Dunsany, Lord}{$S[A]Plunkett, Edward John Moreton Drax;Dunsany, Lord}{$I[geo]IRELAND;Dunsany, Lord}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Dunsany, Lord}{$I[tim]1878;Dunsany, Lord}

Lord Dunsany

(Library of Congress)

Dunsany was active in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where he associated with William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, and Lady Augusta Gregory. His first play, The Glittering Gate, was written at Yeats’s instigation. Dunsany’s popularity as a dramatist reached its height in 1916, when five of his plays were performed simultaneously on Broadway.

The majority of Dunsany’s writings are classified as fantasy, although he dabbled in mystery and science fiction as well. Influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien and James Branch Cabell, Dunsany’s early stories depend on elaborate mythologies of what he called “countries of my dreams.” His collections of short stories as well as four of his novels were illustrated by Sidney Herbert Sime; occasionally, Dunsany reversed the creative process, commissioning drawings from Sime for which he would then write stories.

Dunsany’s novels move between settings as diverse as Spain in the Golden Age and mythological landscapes such as the kingdoms of Erl and Elfland. Dunsany writes in a lyrical prose close to the rhythms of music and with a nostalgic yearning for a better existence than that of the modern world. His stories are populated by a mixture of his own fantastic characters and the denizens of Greek mythology. Pan appears in both The Charwoman’s Shadow and The Blessing of Pan, where his reemergence comes to represent the death of civilization and the slow return of the old ways. Pan evolves as the ultimate symbol of the union of the natural world and the gods who inhabit it.

Dunsany’s contempt for modern existence includes condemnation of politics, business, and even Christianity. The Curse of the Wise Woman portrays the triumph of nature over a syndicate of businessmen who attempt to drain the marshes in County Meath for industrial development. They ridicule the curses of the local wise woman, Mrs. Marlin (whose name recalls the enchanter Merlin), until a violent storm buries their factory under water. Years later, the only remnants of this symbol of civilization’s encroachment are roof ornaments which serve as nesting spots for birds. Dunsany, like his elderly narrator, spent the years of Ireland’s political upheaval seeking peace by his retreat to the solitude of the marshes.

Dunsany’s preoccupation with scientific advances in many works thus seems surprising. If deals with diverging time paths; Lord Adrian features the then-popular “monkey gland” rejuvenation operation which Yeats actually underwent; My Talks with Dean Spanley and Rory and Bran speculate about the possibility of transferring human minds into animals. One of Dunsany’s last novels, The Last Revolution, is concerned with the possibility of computers taking over the world.

Encouraged and praised by Yeats and hailed by his contemporaries as one of the leaders of the Irish Renaissance, Dunsany has been largely ignored by serious critics since his death. Only the specialized student of fantasy views his works as among the most influential of the twentieth century.

BibliographyAmory, Mark. Biography of Lord Dunsany. London: Collins, 1972. This work is the standard modern biographical study of Dunsany. The author also successfully incorporates a discussion of Dunsany’s major writings in his summary of the Irish writer’s life.Bierstadt, Edward Hale. Dunsany the Dramatist. Boston: Little, Brown, 1917. This work, written relatively early in Dunsany’s career, is primarily a study of some of his first plays. By implication, however, it also adds to the understanding of his short stories.Bleiler, E. F. Introduction to Gods, Men, and Ghosts, by Lord Dunsany. New York: Dover, 1972. In his introduction to a collection of Dunsany’s short stories, Bleiler claims that Dunsany, shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century, created a new universe, out of his imagination. Admitting that much of Dunsany’s work had not passed the test of time, he argues that in his best stories he created something unique in his exquisite use of language to convey a dreamlike state of fantasy.Cahalan, James M. The Irish Novel: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne, 1988. The author analyzes the history of the novel in Ireland from its earliest manifestations down to the latter part of the twentieth century. In a chapter titled “Fantasia: Irish Fabulists, 1920-1955,” he discusses Dunsany along with Joseph O’Neill and Austin Clarke.Gogarty, Oliver St. John. “Lord Dunsany.” The Atlantic Monthly 195 (March, 1955): 67-72. The author, friend of James Joyce and William Butler Yeats, as well as of Lord Dunsany, writes a personal reflection on Dunsany’s long literary career. He particularly points to the influence of Dunsany’s Irish heritage in explaining the core theme of his literary works.Joshi, S. T. Lord Dunsany: Master of the Anglo-Irish Imagination. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Provides history and criticism of Dunsany, focusing especially on his contributions to science-fiction and fantasy literature.Lobdell, Jared C. “The Man Who Didn’t Write Fantasy: Lord Dunsany and the Self-Deprecatory Tradition in English Light Fiction.” Extrapolation 35 (Spring, 1994): 33-42. Examines previous claims that Dunsany was a writer of fantasy by exploring the nature of Dunsany’s fantasy and, by extension, the nature of modern fantasy as a genre. Discusses Dunsany’s fiction within the self-deprecatory mode of English light fiction.Saul, George Brandon. “Strange Gods and Far Places: The Short Stories of Lord Dunsany.” Arizona Quarterly 19 (1963): 197-210. In this excellent discussion, the author notes the division between the early more self-indulgent fantasy stories and his later Jorkens stories, with their more bemused approach. Saul Faults Dunsany for his sentimentality and finds him a lesser figure than William Morris, but he praises him for his ingenuity and his colorful and rhythmic use of language.Tremayne, Peter, ed. Irish Masters of Fantasy. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1979. In his introduction to Dunsany’s “The Ghost in the Valley” and “Autumn Cricket,” Tremayne describes Dunsany as a master of the supernatural, a dramatist who anticipated the Theater of the Absurd, and the writer who adapted the heroic fantasy to the short-story form.Walker, Warren. “’Tales That One Never Wants to Hear’: A Sample from Dunsany.” Studies in Short Fiction 22 (Fall, 1985): 449-454. An extended analysis of “Two Bottles of Relish” as a burlesque of the detective story; argues that Dunsany maintains delicate balances in the story between horror and humor, realism and fantasy, admiration and derision.
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