Lord Dunsany of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
- For the peerage, see Baron Dunsany.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron Dunsany (24 July 1878 – 25 October 1957) was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist born in London, notable for his work in fantasy published under "Lord Dunsany".
Edward Plunkett was the son of John William Plunkett, 17th Baron Dunsany (1853–1899) and his wife Ernle Elizabeth Ernle-Erle Drax, née Grosvenor. He was a kinsman of the Catholic Saint Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh. The Countess of Fingall, wife of Dunsany's cousin the Earl of Fingall, wrote a best-selling account of the life of the aristocracy in Ireland in the late 19th century and early 20th century, called Seventy Years Young.
Plunkett's brother was the noted admiral, Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax.
Lord Dunsany was educated at Eton and Sandhurst. He served as an officer in the Coldstream Guards during the Second Boer War and in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in World War I. He was a keen huntsman and sportsman, and was at one time the chess and pistol champion of Ireland.
His fame arose, however, from his prolific writing of short stories, novels, plays and poetry, many written with a quill pen. In addition to his original manuscripts, collected in the family archive (scholarly access possible by application), he enjoyed transcribing his works into specially bound volumes, which remain in the family collection.
Lord Dunsany's most notable fantasy short stories were published in collections from 1905 to 1919: Dunsany had to pay for publication of the first such collection, The Gods of Pegāna but never again had to do so. The stories in his first two books were set within an invented world, with its own gods, history and geography.
As today's foremost Dunsany scholar S. T. Joshi has noted, Dunsany always changed his style or medium throughout his writing career after he felt he had exhausted the potential of the previous one, while his thematic concerns remained essentially the same. Dunsany began with the short story, and from the naïve fantasy of his earliest writings he turned to the self-conscious fantasy of The Book of Wonder in 1912, in which he almost seems to be parodying his lofty grave early style.
Each of his collections varies in mood; A Dreamer's Tales varies from the wistfulness of "Blagdaross" to the horrors of "Poor Old Bill" and "Where the Tides Ebb and Flow" to the social satire of "The Day of the Poll".
The following is the opening paragraph of "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" from The Book of Wonder, which gives a good indication of both tone and tenor of Dunsany's style at the time:
- The Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing less good than man. Their evil tower is joined to Terra Cognita, to the lands we know, by a bridge. Their hoard is beyond reason; avarice has no use for it; they have a separate cellar for emeralds and a separate cellar for sapphires; they have filled a hole with gold and dig it up when they need it. And the only use that is known for their ridiculous wealth is to attract to their larder a continual supply of food. In times of famine they have even been known to scatter rubies abroad, a little trail of them to some city of Man, and sure enough their larders would soon be full again.
After The Book of Wonder, Dunsany began to write plays--many of which were even more successful at the time than his early story collections--while also continuing to write short stories. However, at the beginning of 1920s Dunsany abandoned the short story almost completely for ten years, and concentrated most of his energies on the novel.
Dunsany's first novel, Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley, was published in 1922. It is set on a Romantic Spain that never was, and follows the adventures of Don Rodriguez, a young prince searching for his own castle, and of his servant. It has been argued that Dunsany's inexperience with the novel shows in the episodic nature of Don Rodriguez. In any case, in 1924 Dunsany published his second novel, The King of Elfland's Daughter, a brilliant return to his early style of writing, which is considered by many to be Dunsany's finest novel.
In his next novel, The Charwoman's Shadow, Dunsany returned to the Spanish milieu and light style of Don Rodriguez.
Lord Dunsany would often conceive stories while afield hunting, and would return to the manor and draw in his family and servants to re-enact his visions before he set them on paper. For a certain type of story, he created Joseph Jorkens, an obese middle-aged raconteur who frequented the invented Billiards Club in London, and who would tell fantastic stories if someone would buy him a large whiskey and soda. From his tales, it was obvious that Mr. Jorkens had traveled to all seven continents, was extremely resourceful, and was well-versed in world cultures, but always came up short on becoming rich and famous. The Jorkens books were among the first of a type which was to become popular in fantasy and science fiction writing: the bar gentlemen's club, where extremely improbable tales are related.
- Dunsany's studies of Greek and Latin, particularly Greek drama and Herodotus, the "Father of History". Dunsany wrote in a letter: "When I learned Greek at Cheam and heard of other gods a great pity came on me for those beautiful marble people that had become forsaken and this mood has never quite left me."1
- The King James Bible. In a letter to Frank Harris, Dunsany wrote: "When I went to Cheam School I was given a lot of the Bible to read. This turned my thoughts eastward. For years no style seemed to me natural but that of the Bible and I feared that I never would become a writer when I saw that other people did not use it."
- The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen
- Irish speech patterns
- The Darling of the Gods, a stage play written by David Belasco and John Luther Long, first performed 1902-1903. The play presents a fantastical, imaginary version of Japan that powerfully affected Dunsany and may be the strongest template for his own imaginary kingdoms.
- Algernon Swinburne, who wrote the line "Time and the Gods are at strife" in his 1866 poem "Hymn to Proserpine". Dunsany later realized this was his unconscious influence for the title Time and the Gods.
- Dunsany's 1922 novel Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley seems to be overtly based on Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615).
- Dunsany named his play The Seventh Symphony (collected in Plays for Earth and Air ) after Beethoven's 7th Symphony, which was one of Dunsany's favourite works of music.
The expanded bibliography Pathways to Elfland: The Writings of Lord Dunsany (1989) by Darrell Schweitzer includes two curious facts about Dunsany's writing habits, both revealed by his widow Lady Dunsany:
- Dunsany never rewrote anything; everything he ever published was a first draft.
- "He always sat on a crumpled old hat while composing his tales." The hat was eventually stolen by a visitor to Dunsany Castle.
Writers influenced by Dunsany
- Francis Ledwidge wrote to Dunsany in 1912 asking for help with getting his poetry published. Dunsany was so impressed that he prepared the publication himself, and Songs of the Fields was received with critical success upon its release in 1915. Ledwidge was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele two years later.
- H. P. Lovecraft was greatly impressed by Dunsany after seeing him on a speaking tour of the United States, and Lovecraft's early stories clearly show his influence. Lovecraft once wrote, "There are my 'Poe' pieces and my 'Dunsany' pieces — but alas — where are my Lovecraft pieces?" 
- Fletcher Pratt's 1948 novel The Well of the Unicorn was written as a sequel to Dunsany's play King Argimenes and the Unknown Warrior.
- Jorge Luis Borges included Dunsany's short story Idle Days on the Yann as the twenty-seventh title in "The Library of Babel".
- David Eddings has named Lord Dunsany as his personal favourite writer, and recommended aspiring authors to sample him.
- Ursula K. Le Guin, in her essay on style in fantasy "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," wryly referred to Lord Dunsany as the "First Terrible Fate that Awaiteth Unwary Beginners in Fantasy," alluding to the (at the time) very common practice of young writers attempting to write in Lord Dunsany's style.
- Michael Moorcock often cites Dunsany as a strong influence.
- Peter S. Beagle also cites Dunsany as an influence.
- Arthur C. Clarke corresponded with Dunsany between 1944 and 1956. Those letters are collected in the book Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence.
The catalogue of everything that Dunsany wrote during a more than 50-year writing career is quite extensive, and is especially fraught with pitfalls, owing to two things: first, Dunsany's many original books of collected short stories were later followed by numerous reprint collections, some of which included only previously published stories and nothing new; and second, many later collections bore titles very similar to somewhat different original books.
The following is a partial list compiled from various sources.
- The Gods of Pegāna (1905)
- Time and the Gods (1906)
- The Sword of Welleran (1908)
- A Dreamer's Tales (1910)
- The Book of Wonder (1912)
- Fifty-one Tales, aka The Food of Death (1915)
- Tales of Wonder (1916) (published in America as The Last Book of Wonder)
- Tales of Three Hemispheres (1919)
- The Man Who Ate the Phoenix (1947)
- The Little Tales of Smethers (1952)
- The Ghosts of the Heaviside Layer and Other Fantasms (1980)
- The Travel Tales of Mr Joseph Jorkens (1931)
- Jorkens Remembers Africa (1934)
- Jorkens Has a Large Whiskey (1940)
- The Fourth Book of Jorkens (1948)
- Jorkens Borrows Another Whiskey (1954)
- The Last Book of Jorkens (2002)
- Selections from the Writings of Lord Dunsany (1912), edited by W.B. Yeats
- A Dreamer's Tales & Other Stories (1917)
- Book of Wonder (1918)
- The Sword of Welleran and Other Tales of Enchantment (1954), selected by Lord and Lady Dunsany
- At the Edge of the World (1970)
- Beyond the Fields We Know (1972)
- Gods, Men and Ghosts (1972)
- Over the Hills and Far Away (1974)
- Bethmoora and Other Stories (1993)
- The Exiles Club and Other Stories (1993)
- The Lands of Wonder (1994)
- The Hashish Man and Other Stories (1996)
- The Complete Pegana (1998)
- Time and the Gods (2000)
- In the Land of Time (2004)
- Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley aka The Chronicles of Rodrigues (1922)
- The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924)
- The Charwoman's Shadow (1926), second part of the Shadow Valley Chronicles
- The Blessing of Pan (1927)
- The Curse of the Wise Woman (1933)
- My Talks with Dean Spanley (1936)
- The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders (1950)
- The Pleasures of a Futuroscope (2003)
- Up in the Hills (1935)
- Rory and Bran (1936)
- The Story of Mona Sheehy (1939)
- Guerilla (1944)
- The Last Revolution (1951)
- His Fellow Men (1952)
- Five Plays (1914)
- Plays of Gods and Men (1917)
- If (full-length play) (1921)
- Plays of Near and Far (1922)
- Alexander and Three Small Plays (1925)
- Seven Modern Comedies (1928)
- The Old Folk of the Centuries (full-length play) (1930)
- Mr Faithful (full-length play) (1935)
- Plays for Earth and Air (1937)
- Fifty Poems (1929)
- Mirage Water (1938)
- War Poems (1941)
- Wandering Songs (1943)
- A Journey (1944)
- The Year (1946)
- The Odes of Horace (1947) (translation)
- To Awaken Pegasus (1949)
Essays and sketches
- Nowadays (1918)
- Tales of War (1918)
- Unhappy Far-Off Things (1919)
- If I Were Dictator (1934)
- My Ireland (1937)
- The Donnellan Lectures 1943 (1945)
- A Glimpse from a Watchtower (1947)
- The Jest of Hahalaba (1929)
- Patches of Sunlight (1938)
- While The Sirens Slept (1944)
- The Sirens Wake (1945)
Books in print
Millennium Fantasy Masterworks
- Time and the Gods (contains The Gods of Pegāna, Time and the Gods, The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories, A Dreamer's Tales, The Book of Wonder and The Last Book of Wonder)
- The King of Elfland's Daughter
- In the Land of Time: and Other Fantasy Tales
- Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley
- Plays of Gods and Men
- The Book of Wonder
- Fifty-One Tales
- A Dreamer's Tales
- Tales of War: Expanded Edition
- Time and the Gods
- The Gods of Pegāna
- Unhappy Far-Off Things
Night Shade Books
- The Collected Jorkens (three-volume set, includes some previously uncollected stories.)
Cold Spring Press
- Tales of God and Men (contains Dunsany's first eight original short story collections, and all the related illustrations by Sidney Sime)
- The King of Elfland's Daughter
- The Charwoman's Shadow
- The Pleasures of a Futuroscope
- The Dreams of a Prophet (hardcover; contains the collections The Gods of Pegana, Time and the Gods, The Sword of Welleran, and Fifty-One Tales)
- ^ Lord Dunsany: Master of the Anglo-Irish Imagination (p. 152)
- ^ Letter to Elizabeth Toldridge, March 8, 1929, quoted in Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos
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