Showing posts from June, 2010

The King of Elfland's Daughter

The King of Elfland's Daughter Lord Dunsany, 1924 I don't quite know how to talk about this book.  Dunsany infects my mind with such glorious poetry that my words feel flat and dull on the page.  Also, even though this is a classic of fantasy literature, from 1924, I know many people have missed it in their travels, and so I am wary of giving too much away. So first off: Read this book.  If you care anything for fantasy, if you care anything for fairytale, if you care anything for style, if you care anything for literature, read this book.  The story is lyrical and gentle and deeper than it seems.  The prose is just breathtaking.  Dunsany manages the balance that the earlier writers didn't; he doesn't withdraw into archaic language to convey fantasy, instead inventing evocative new turns of phrase. Also I think Dunsany manages well the difficult trick of describing the indescribable, without either wimping out with the word 'indescribable', or cheat

The Worm Ouroborous

The Worm Ouroborous E.R. Eddison, 1922 It took me a little bit to get into this book. It starts with a weird frame story that vanishes after the second chapter, never to be seen again. Good Riddance, I say! I don't need any outside observer commenting on my tale of high adventure! The language is thick, but not as bad as Morris' from last week, and not too bad to read once I got used to the cadences. When the Red Foliot had spoken thus far his dirge, he was interrupted by an unseemly brawling betwixt Corinius and one of the sons of Corund. For Corinius, who gave not a fig for music or dirges, but liked well of carding and dicing, had brought forth his dice box to play with the son of Corund. They played awhile to Corinius's great content, for at every throw he won and the other's purse waxed light. But at this eleventh stanza the son of Corund cried out that the dice of Corinius were loaded. And he smote Corinius on his shaven jowl with the dice box, callin

The Wood Beyond the World

The Wood Beyond the World William Morris, 1894 So, William Morris was a complicated guy.  He was a textile designer, part of the Arts and Crafts movement, a vocal socialist, interested in preservation of vintage architecture, and, on top of all that, ran his own small press.  Did I mention that was a translator and a poet who became obsessed with reviving the medieval romance?  The reason his work is on my early fantasy list is fairly straightforward.  Morris is regarded as “perhaps the first modern fantasy writer to unite an imaginary world with the element of the supernatural, and thus the precursor of much of present-day fantasy literature.” In other words, his books aren't set in Fairyland, or a dream world, or on the Moon, or on the ancient Earth.  They're set on some world like medieval Earth, but not the same.  The characters aren't Earth people transported, but natives of these new lands. Unfortunately, Morris' works are thick to trudge through.  In


Phantastes, a Faerie Romance for Men and Women George MacDonald, 1858 Free E-Book Link: Phantastes at Project Gutenberg , Phantastes is very literally a fairy story.  It concerns a young man, Anodos, who finds a door to FairyLand in an old roll-top desk, and his adventures therein.  It doesn't have a lot in the way of coherent plot, and I sometimes had a hard time working through the slower bits without skimming too much.  Mostly the book consists of a loosely connected series of vignettes that carry the reader from one strange or gorgeous image or tale-within-a-tale to the next.  Many moments from this work seemed familiar to me, although I am not a formal scholar of such things, so I could not say how much is like source.  However: George MacDonald inspired many authors, such as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, E. Nesbit and Madeleine L'Engle. It was C.S. Lewis who wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his "master": "Pickin

New Theme: Pre-Tolkien Fantasy

Because I've been doing too much re-reading lately, I'm starting a unit in which I'm not re-reading... well, only re-reading one book. Some of these books I have heard of, some I haven't. Some I am pulling from the account in The Magician's Book of what Lewis and Tolkien read as kids. I think I've put together a pretty decent list: Phantastes by George MacDonald, 1858 The Well at World's End and/or The Wood Beyond the Worlds by William Morris 1894/1896 The Worm Ouroboros by Eric Rücker Eddison, 1922 The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany, 1924 Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees, 1926 The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E Howard, (Short story compilation, originally published 1932-36) (FYI: Hobbit published: 1937)