Tag Archives: Dunsany

Two Gentlemen by the name of Dunsany

It would be fair to say that Lord Dunsany, aka Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany,  is one of my favourite authors, and his ‘The King of Elfland’s Daughter’ haunts me in the best possible way. I came to Dunsany in no small part through Tom, who read me short stories by skype when I was ill and there was an ocean between us. It turned out I had ‘The Charwoman’s Shadow’ read to me as a child but had not remembered the author. Or, to be honest, much of the story.

Tom had already named his central character for Fast Food ‘Dunsany’. He has a first name, and it isn’t any of the above ones, although people who have been paying silly amounts of attention will have spotted Horatio Plunkett in Letters Between Gentlemen mentions the Drax Plunkett line.

I love Dunsany the author because he is beautifully melancholic. He seems like a man in the wrong time and place reaching for a world that no longer exists, or maybe never did. A man who longs for somewhere else. His prose style and breadth of imagination leave me breathless.

Dunsany as a character is no attempt at capturing Lord Dunsany. I like to think of him as a descendant in a time slightly ahead of our own. Our Dunsany is a magician, also seeking wonder and drawn to the edges of otherworlds. He’s very much a man alone, and he carries that aloneness – which comes from my responses to Lord Dunsany’s fiction. Where Lord Dunsany writes of impossible palaces that fade with the dawn or are destroyed by angry gods before you even get to see them, Dunsany the sorcerer is in the business of calling such cloud castles into existence. He’s not anything like as alone as he thinks he is, either…

To be seeking re-enchantment can be a lonely business, but perhaps it doesn’t have to be. Fast Food at the Centre of the World is my castle in the air, my borderland with faerie, my impossible dreams coming into being. I wrote it in the midst of a love affair that was being sorely hindered by an ocean, and no certainty of improving on that. Some of the characters in this story give voice to my fears and despair. But also to my wildest hopes.


Beyond the fields we know

Most life happens at the edges, most growth is at the margins. They are often fertile places where the interplay between different environments creates maximum possibility. Something similar happens in the inner landscapes when we move to the edges.

There are three different things at work here, and they are all equally essential. The comfort zone, the unknown and the boundary. Having space – physical and psychological – where we feel safe and relaxed, is essential. I’ve tried doing this the other way, (not deliberately, it’s just what I got) and it turns life into a perpetual, exhausting battle ground. Without much of a comfort zone, there is no rest, nor peace, and if everything is allowed to become a bit other, a bit threatening and untrustworthy it’s a form of insanity as likely to paralyse a person as anything else. These are all things we learn how to construct, but might not notice ourselves making. The comfort zone, the otherness and the borders are largely of our own devising.

The author Lord Dunsany used the refrain ‘beyond the fields we know’ to allude to Faerie. I find it a very helpful thought form.  The fields we know are familiar, close to home, part of our landscape. Things can happen there that are interesting and engaging, but they fall within a predictable framework. Beyond the fields we know, all bets are off. Nothing can be relied on to function in the same way. For Dunsany, the border between the two is shifting and unpredictable as well, and that’s an important point. Where we feel familiar, and comfortable, where we feel uneasy and exposed can change and it’s not always obvious why. Our own borders and edges shift, sometimes they are easily crossed, sometimes painfully difficult.

As a walker, I have learned the enchantment of going beyond the fields we know. Even a short detour on an unfamiliar track brings a sense of magical potential. To see a familiar landmark from an unfamiliar angle is to see it anew. Going into the unknown, we can look back and get a whole other perspective on the things we thought we knew.

Going too far into the unknown, without maps or references, can result in an overwhelming, overload of experience that we can’t always make much sense of. Too much of the unfamiliar at once can be hard to take. At the point where we are lost, confused and exhausted, the adventure sours into something miserable. We have to cross back over into the place we understand. And here’s another lesson from Dunsany, because if you start out in Faerie, with that as your comfort zone, then the fields you know are other fields entirely, and Faerie becomes the safe space to retreat back to. It is not the landscape that is inherently strange or mundane, it is our experience that makes it so. In several Dunsany tales, otherworldly things return to their otherworldly places because this world is just too much for them. We who live here all the time do not notice the things that might make it wonderful to someone else.

Unquiet land

Perhaps naught in this life is real at all,
Deity sleeps and dreams that it is so
We may dare to imagine, cannot know
Are we wisps of fancy, destined to fall
If ever time the sleeper should awake?

Picture the dreaming god who is all things
Breathes deeply in the peace of utter rest,
Whose one exhale a flock of decades brings
Eternity yet marches on his chest,
But name him not lest naming make him stir.

When deity breathes in all must contract,
The many flowing back towards the source,
As tides of being turn to run their course
The disparate align and are compact.
Once more drawn tight in union of space.

And when the breathing out returns at last,
All things unmesh and fly upon their way,
The time for reconciliation past,
Unmaking comes in turn to have its day
While deity in slumber worries not.

So moves the current, thus washes the tide,
Or worlds and time, of all that yet might be,
For dreams of gods are vast and stretching wide
Unknowable in their enormity.
Who dares to picture this must rend their mind.

Come down into the slow dark earth to wait
Where centuries lie heavy in the soil
Time running thick and slow as midnight oil
Sticky the cloying touch of eager fate
Of all that is and was and yet could be.

For what has gone before must come again
The ebb and flow of tides eternally,
With time and landscape flowing like the sea
Nothing quite lost, nothing to quite remain
Waxes and wanes in neatest chaos dance.

Then set one human figure to this stage,
Bring the eternal to a moment’s eye
Small fragile one who does not yet know why
The world seems caught up in unnatural rage.
The breath is ended now, your tide has turned.

This is a thing from a project I’ve been playing with for a while. I needed to air a bit of it. It owes a debt to Dunsany, with the sleeping god.

Pathworking with Dunsany

Yesterday I read several Lord Dunsany stories that involve transitions into the otherworlds. I decided to try them as a pathworking, dabbling along the edges of sleep as is my preference.
Here’s the pathworking, loosely…

First you must find Go-By Street, which is an obscure little side street in London. Along that narrow street you will find a shop where they sell all manner of things. You must ask for something they cannot provide. (I went for a pint of compassion recently milked from a Tory). Then, when the shopkeeper acknowledges that it cannot be done, you can ask the way to the cottages. The shopkeeper will show you the way, past a room full of sleeping gods, to a backdoor. You come out into a street where the pavements are normal, but all else is covered in grass, and there are no other buildings. You follow the path until you find the witch’s cottage. The windows on one side of this cottage look out over the fields we know and from the other windows you can see the purple mountains of faerie. From here, a person can go forwards.

I only got as far as the witch’s cottage, she told me to stay the night and progress at dawn. I slept, and I dreamed, and when I woke from those dreams I was back in the witch’s house. I went a whole night dreaming that I was dreaming and waking there. It was one of the most startling, and vivid experiences.

I pathwork along the edges of sleep sometimes with the aim of it feeding into my dreaming, but this is the first time in a long while that has worked, and worked surprisingly well. I feel very odd today, but in a good kind of way. I think the combination of reading several stories and then working deliberately with said gave me a real boost, but I rather felt I was going by some tried and tested route.

Dunsany did not claim to be a Druid. I’m not sure he claimed to be anything in particular. There are layers in his work under the whimsy and fantasy, layers of human meaning and also layers of something other, something resonant and wild that really calls to me. One way or another, he went somewhere. Call it imagination, or journeying, or the mad flights of a poet’s fancy, but he went, and as ways of crossing into other places, this is a fine one.

The stories were… A shop in Go-By Street and The Avenger of Perondaris and the odds are good that both are online somewhere.