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The Collected Jorkens, Vol. I
Lord Dunsany, edited by S.T. Joshi

Night Shade Books, 358 pages

Jeremy Lassen
The Collected Jorkens
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 WWI soldier, 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 very much 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
Biography: 1, 2
Bibliographies: 1, 2, 3, 4
Dunsany's poetry
"On the Alleged Influence of Lord Dunsany on Clark Ashton Smith" by Donald Sidney
"LORD DUNSANY:The Potency of Words and the Wonder of Things" by Angelee Sailer Anderson
Collection of Dunsany manuscripts
Literary study of Dunsany's works

The King of Elfland's Daughter: 1, 2
Time and the Gods
Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence
Beyond the Fields We Know
The Charwoman's Shadow

The Book of Wonder
More e-texts
Some tales in Spanish

Nightshade Books

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds


Lord Dunsany is primarily remembered for his fantasy works, so much so that the adjective "Dunsanian" crops up in many descriptions of Lovecraft and C.A. Smith's early works. These over 200 prose-poem short stories, full of irony and humour, were recently collected and spanned the period of 1905 to 1920. These were followed up by a pair of fantasy novels [Chronicles of Rodriguez (1922) and The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924)], but from 1921-1925 nary a short story. It was in July 1926 that the first -- "The Tale of the Abu Laheeb" -- of over 125 Jorkens stories began to appear. These were later collected in five books, of which the first two, The Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens (1931) and Jorkens Remembers Africa (1934) are included in this first volume of The Collected Jorkens. Nightshade Books will reprint all the previously published Jorkens collections, several uncollected tales, and a recently discovered unpublished collection of Jorkens tales, all in a three-volume collection.

Who is this Jorkens? A British clubman raconteur (when properly lubricated), who is a mix of Baron Munchausen, the 19th century British explorers, and a sort of British upper middle class retiree. His fanciful tales of his life, and those of some of his equally eccentric and colourful friends, combine Lord Dunsany's hands-on knowledge of many exotic locations throughout the world, and the irony and humour of his older purely fantasy tales. It also showcases, in some tales in particular, an undercurrent of the socio-environmental concerns which are clearly played out in some of his later books, such as The Curse of the Wise Woman (1933). The stories, however far-fetched, have an air of plausibility that takes them outside the purvue of the purely farcical tales of Munchausen. Dunsany, through a great deal of little details, about the locations, characters and events, many obviously seen or experienced himself in his extensive travels, makes the tales, at least on the surface, quite believable. Add the fact that acts of Nature or the disappearance of any witnesses through death or inaccessibility render any definite proof or disproof impossible and you have the fine tales of the rather modest and effacing Mr. Jorkens. Also well done is the fact that one grows to know the character of Jorkens through the stories, he boasts but he also confesses to actions he regrets, of love and revenge, of happy times and sad times, of times of great wealth and great poverty; neither an Allan Quartemain nor an buffoon.

Given the great variety of the tales -- a cricketer who has made a deal with a pagan God, an aviator who flies to Mars to discover its human inhabitants serve as food to the dominant species, the discovery of a diamond a day's walk in width, marriage to a mermaid, a turbine-powered Tibetan prayer wheel, murderous poplars stalking Jorkens down a country road, amongst others -- and the fact the tales are fairly short -- roughly 10 pages apiece -- makes them quite palatable even when taken in large doses; not something that can be said for some pulp literature. There are occasional glimpses of the prose that graced Dunsany's early fantasies, but generally the language is reportorial and simple, and the incidences of nasty comeuppances of his earlier tales are far fewer. This is much more the raw gem of Dunsany as a raconteur than the finely polished jewels of Dunsany the fantasy craftsman.

The first volume also includes a Preface by the current Lord Dunsany, a Forward by Arthur C. Clarke (who at one time corresponded with Dunsany), and an Introduction by S.T. Joshi, which places the Jorkens stories in the context of Dunsany's overall writing career. So pour yourself a drink -- and of course one for Mr. Jorkens -- sit back and read and you won't believe where he'll take you -- but don't let on to him.

Copyright © 2004 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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