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Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence
edited by Keith Allen Daniels
Anamnesis Press, 83 pages

Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence
Arthur C. Clarke
Born in 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, England, and living in Sri Lanka since 1956, Arthur C. Clarke is best known for his 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) based on his short story "Sentinel of Eternity." His Against the Fall of Night (1948) and Childhood's End (1953) are also among his best titles. Clarke was voted Grand Master at the 1986 Nebula Awards. His short story "The Star" (1955) won him a Hugo award as did the movie adaptation of 2001. A writer of hard science fiction, though not without some elements of mysticism, Clarke has also written a large volume of science-popularizing non-fiction for which he has won UNESCO's Kalinga Prize (1962) and a non-fiction International Fantasy Award in 1972 (for The Exploration of Space). Clarke has also received many honours from the scientific community, in particular for his work in the development of today's geosynchronous communication satellites.

ISFDB Bibliography
Arthur C. Clarke Tribute Site
Anamnesis Press

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 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.

ISFDB Bibliography
Dunsany Information and E-Texts

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence collects letters between a giant of science fiction at the beginning of his career and an aging, solidly established writer of classic pure fantasy. In his first letter to Dunsany (20 July 1944), Clarke comments on Dunsany's poem "At the Time of the Full Moon," pointing out that there is no Earthrise on the moon. This would be roughly equivalent to today's college freshman writing to Stephen King to correctly point out a technical flaw in one of his books -- it would take either guts or gall. Notwithstanding this, Lord Dunsany replies graciously, and there begins an exchange of letters that would last until the year before Dunsany's death.

Clarke and Dunsany go on to discuss the ills of human expansionism, discussing C.S. Lewis' (1898-1963) rather fundamentalist view that "the vast astronomical distances... are God's quarantine regulations." The possibilities of first encounters between us and alien species, of planets around other suns, of the shape of constellations, the measurement of astronomical distances by parallax, are all discussed.

It is perhaps because Clarke and Dunsany are of such diametrically opposed philosophies that each member of the pair could contribute something to the other. Clarke, through a portion of the letters, is studying for final exams in physics and mathematics, and is deeply involved in the hard-and-fast fact-based sciences of astronomy and astrophysics. Dunsany has a sense of the wonder of space, without the least notion of the science involved in studying or navigating it.

In a significant portion of the letters, Clarke explains in a clear and unambiguous way elementary rocket science, astronautics, astronomy and the like, to Dunsany. In many of his letters, Clarke also attempts to predict various improvements and attainments in technology and astronautics. Some of these predictions are remarkably good, others are now rather outdated -- as one might expect. Dunsany, in turn, lends his childlike sense of marvel and curiosity to his letters, wondering throughout their correspondence when the dark side of the moon will first be photographed.

Conversely, both Clarke and Dunsany have a mystical side. Clarke must subvert his somewhat in his chosen career, while Dunsany has been allowed to fully explore his. This similarity is pointed out by Clarke in an early letter:

"Though I am a technician, I am, like yourself, most strongly attracted by the spiritual and adventurous aspect of interplanetary travel."
It is very difficult to make much comment on the quality of the material in the letters given that unlike novels or short stories, letters are written in a much more spontaneous way and cannot be read as a designed or plotted narrative. However, in this case these letters certainly give one much more insight into Clarke's early career, literary aesthetics and development than they do about Dunsany's. This is partly because the bulk of the material is from Clarke's hand, but also because Dunsany had published the bulk of his classic fantasy more than 20 years before the initiation of his correspondence with Clarke. The letters provide very little, if any, insight into Dunsany's writings. The book will thus be of much greater interest to those studying Clarke, than to anyone studying Dunsany. Nonetheless, such a correspondence deserves to be preserved in this more permanent format, if for no other reason than that it may get a few more people to read and appreciate the fine works of both these authors, and in particular, the now-neglected works of Lord Dunsany.

Copyright © 1998 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.

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