Plays for Earth and Air by Lord Dunsany (1937)
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, eighteenth Lord Dunsany, was a seminal figure in fantasy literature. He began publishing poetry in 1897, two years before he ascended to his title. His first book, a popular collection of stories titled Gods of Peguna (1905), introduced the world to a strange, ornate, and uniquely conceived realm. Gods was followed by more than a hundred books, chapbooks, and plays -- novels, stories, poems, memoirs, essays, lectures, and nonfiction. He was an important figure in the Irish stage. All this was done in a completely compartmentalized life; he was a well-known sportsman and one-time Irish champion in chess and pistol-shooting, but his literary life was completely separated from his social life.
H. P. Lovecraft once heard him speak and was greatly influenced by his writing. Dunsany's influence began to snowball and is still being felt today. Among admirers of his work were Yeats, Borges, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, and Arthur C. Clarke.
One interesting fact about Dunsany that has nothing to do with review was his addiction to salt. He brought his own, very coarse salt with him in all his travels and had a heavy hand when seasoning his food. This (again) has no bearing on this review but I just decided to tell you anyway. One of the benefits of having a blog.
Plays for Earth and Air contains ten short plays. (Short? All ten fit within 163 pages. Danged right they're short.) The first four were designed for the stage (Earth), the remaining six written for radio (Air), although some have been performed on the opposite platforms. The plays are sly, witty, satirical, and often fantastic. I found them interesting to read, but (as with many of Dunsany's plays) difficult to imagine being staged.
Fame Comes Too Late concerns a poet who is visited by Fame forty years after he had wanted her to appear. When she finally comes, Fame is as old and as weak as the poet. A Matter of
Honour tells of a dying man who, years before, had lied in order to lose a bet. In Mr. Sliggen's Hour, a young vicar makes a deal with the devil to deliver a sermon that will be totally appreciated for just one hour. And The Pumpkin tells of a scientist who buys a pumpkin and of the local townspeople who come to believe he will somehow use the pumpkin to destroy the world.
Turning to the Air, animals put mankind on trial in The Use of Man. The Bureau de Change is a mysterious shop that can only be found once; the shop sells nothing, but specializes in exchanging evils. This one was based on one of Dunsany's short stories. In The Seventh Symphony, a sick composer is visited by the ghosts of Mozart, Cervantes, Milton, and others. The protagonist of Golden Dragon City feels compelled to buy a window from a strange-looking man he met on the street. The window leads to another time and a realm that is about to be destroyed by an invading army. Time's Joke features a young poet who, on the spur of the moment, composed a poem on a new five-pound note to the displeasure of his family. Finally, Atmospherics is about a man who meets an escaped lunatic on a train; the lunatic has a very large knife.
This is a book that can be read in a couple of hours. A pretty good way to spend your time.
For links to more of today's Forgotten Books, visit Pattinase, Patti Abbott's always interesting blog.