Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hashish Dreams

The Hashish Man and Other Stories by Lord Dunsany, containing The Secret of the Sea, The Field, Where the Tides Ebb and Flow, In the Twilight, A Narrow Escape, The Three Sailors' Gambit, The Three Infernal Jokes, Thirteen at Table, A Story of Land and Sea, Bethmoora, Idle Days on the Yann, The Hashish Man, The Madness of Andelsprutz, Charon, The Guest, The Exiles' Club, A Tale of London, How the Enemy Came to Thlunrana, In Zaccarath, The Idle City, A Tale of the Equator, Spring in Town, Wind and Fog, After the Fire, and The Assignation (Collected 1996):


The stories collected here come from a small slice of Dunsany's career -- 1908-1916, to be exact. They offer a wide though not completely representative sample of the prolific Irish writer's once-popular and immensely influential body of work, a body that influenced both H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien, among others -- a number of critics mark Dunsany as the most influential fantasist of the first half of the 20th century, in part because in novels and short stories he seemed to arrive at every destination, if not first, then with the surest and most genre-defining hand.

Many of the stories here are more short prose poems than anything else, essentially plotless and dedicated to describing a fantastic mood or location or state of mind, often within the frame of being a dream vision or a vision inspired by opium or hashish (hence the title); Lovecraft would emulate this aspect of Dunsany's midway through his writing career, along with the dreamier, fey-er aspects of Dunsany's stories about fictional gods and fictional lands where Ireland is the fiction to the inhabitants.

Dunsany's work in horror and in the 'club story' are less well-represented here -- there are no Jorkens stories, probably Dunsany's most famous stories, set within a fictional men's club where the men tell fantastic stories over brandy and cigars, none more famous than the unincluded "Two Bottles of Relish" -- though there are nonetheless examples. The sameness of tone of some of the prose poems works against trying to read this in one sitting -- but dabbled within in three or at most four stories at a time, the collection is an engaging revelation. Highly recommended.

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