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The Hashish Man and Other Stories
Lord Dunsany
Manic D Press, 144 pages

Lord Dunsany
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, the 18th Baron Dunsany, lived from 1878 until 1957. He was was born in London, in the house of his grandfather, Admiral Lord Dunsany. Lord Dunsany was a big game hunter, chess-master, Boer War and WW1 veteran, and one of the greatest and most influential fantasy writers of modern times. Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) (who said: "his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-worlds, and his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to me more than anything else in modern literature") were greatly influenced by his works. Much as the English of the King James Bible molded the translations of numerous ancient religious and epic texts published in English during the 19th century, we owe to Dunsany, along with William Morris (1834-1896), much of the language, structure and sources of modern fantasy.

Official Site of the Dunsany family and the author Lord Dunsany
Dunsany Information and E-Texts
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Collected Jorkens, Vol. I
SF Site Review: The King of Elfland's Daughter
SF Site Review: Time and the Gods
SF Site Review: Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Hughes

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Just now the civilization of Europe seems almost to have ceased, and nothing seems to grow in her torn fields but death, yet this is only for a while and dreams will come back again and bloom as of old, all the more radiantly for this terrible ploughing, as the flowers will bloom again where the trenches are and the primroses shelter in shell-holes for many seasons, when weeping Liberty has come home to Flanders.
The Hashish Man and Other Stories
So wrote Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the eighteenth man to hold the title of Lord Dunsany, while recovering in 1916 from "a slight wound" got in that "terrible ploughing." The words were penned as a preface to a collection of his stories and were directed at his many American readers.

We who read them now know that he was both right and wrong. Liberty flourishes in modern France and Belgium and flowers bloom on what was once No Man's Land, but the dreams of old died a lasting death. The Europe that fed itself into the grinder of the War to End War could never be reconstituted. The Edwardian age, with its quaint faith that humanity and human civilization were perfectible, is now buried not only beneath the blood-drenched mud of Flanders but all the layers of the grim century since, laid down by Stalin, Hitler, Hiroshima, Pol Pot, the latest suicide bomber.

And yet that "other country" that is the dead past still speaks to us in the cadenced and sonorous voice of Lord Dunsany in this collection of his early tales, all dating from 1908 to 1916. These twenty-five short pieces, some of them vignettes only a few paragraphs long, carry about them a scent, an echo, of his now vanished world. It was a world of the comfortable drawing room, warmed by a banked fire, where one might settle snugly into a wing-backed chair and open a slim volume from which would rise the sharp tang of burning hashish in a Sultan's court, the heady scent of oriental spices piled on the docks of the fantastical River Yann, the dank reek of tidal mud settling on a sinner's scattered bones.

There is nothing in The Hashish Man and Other Stories to startle modern sensibilities, but there is a great deal to captivate what was once called the poetic imagination. The lure of golden cities, far; the sense that horror may lurk unseen among the reeds beside a stream or beneath the cobblestones of a London street; the realization that the shadowy dinner guest of a young gentleman in an ornate restaurant is indeed Death, or that a private club down a quiet street might be the final retreat of gods who have lost their last worshippers, waited upon by kings who have lost their thrones.

It is not so much the tales that captivate, but the manner of their telling. Some of us cannot resist opening lines such as, "I dreamt that I had done a horrible thing, so that burial was to be denied me either in soil or sea, neither could there be any hell for me. I waited for some hours, knowing this. Then my friends came for me, and slew me secretly and with ancient rite, and lit great tapers, and carried me away."

For those who possess, if only metaphorically, a hearth-warmed drawing room and an accommodating chair, this slim volume, edited by Jon Longhi, is a fine introduction to the lost worlds of Dunsany.

Copyright © 2006 Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes
Matthew Hughes writes science fantasy. His stories have appeared in Asimov's, F&SF, Postscripts and Interzone. His novels are Fools Errant, Fool Me Twice, Black Brillion, and Majestrum. The first chapter of his new novel, The Spiral Labyrinth: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn (Night Shade Books, September 2007), is on his web page is at http://www.archonate.com/spiral-labyrinth.


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