Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, February 16, 2018

FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE DESCENT OF THE SUN

The Descent of the Sun, a cycle of birth by F. W. Bain (1903)


Francis William Bain was an Oxford-educated student of the classics.  In 1892 Bain enterd the Indian Educational Service and spent 21 years as a history professor in the Deccan College of Poona.  In 1899 he published the first of thirteen fantasies, purported to be translated from the ancient Sanskrit.  As he published more books, it soon became evident that these books were not translations but were created by Bain from whole cloth.  The books were short,written in stilted language, and included many footnotes in which Bain used many puns -- to good effect, I might add.  They were fairly popular and all were eventually reissued in a thirteen- volume set, The Indian Stories of F. W. Bain.

About fifteen years ago, I read one of Bain's oriental fantasies, A Heifer of the Dawn, and was less than impressed.  Recently I decided to give Bain another go and cautiously dipped into his second novel, The Descent of the Sun, and was happy to find the book quaintly charming, enough so that I immediately read another -- his first, A Digit of the Moon, a Hindoo love story.  I expect that over this year I will read all thirteen of the books (yes, including a re-read of A Heifer of the Dawn, which I suspect holds far more than I saw on my first reading).  I have become a fan of F. W. Bain.

About The Descent of the Sun:  It tells the story of Kamalametra, a young king of the Spirits of the Air, who spent a hundred years "performing penances of appalling severity" when the Lord of Creatures was moved by his dedication and decided to grant the young king a boon.  Kamalametra asked for a wife whose eyes were "full of the dusky lustre of thy throat and thy moon" so that she be a conduit between his devotion and the Lord of Creatures.  Because he could look into the future, the god divined that such eyes would cause trouble.  Nonetheless, he granted the boon.  Soon, Kamalametra met his future wife, Anushayini, who was very beautiful and had the most beautiful eyes.  Soon, through their pride, the couple earned the curse of an old ascetic who would separate them and cast them into the mortal world; the curse would be ended until "one of you shall slay the other."  Then, poof!, the two lovers vanished.

Anushayini was reincarnated as Shri, the beautiful daughter of a powerful king.  The fly in the king's ointment was that Shri refused to be married -- no other man could interest her because she would have only one husband; she did not know his name but only that he would come from the Land of the Lotus of the Sun to claim her.  Neither the king nor anyone in his kingdom had ever heard of such a land.  Nonetheless. the king issued a decree that his daughter and a share of his kingdom would go to a man from the Land of the Lotus of the Sun.  Many claimants came forward and all were rejected because they did not come from the Land of the Lotus of the Sun, wherever that might be.

Kamalametra, in the meantime, had been reincarnated as Umra-Singh, the son of a king in a distant country.  Umra-Singh refused to marry anyone but the lady of his dream but he had no idea whom this lady was.  Umra-Singh soon escaped his kingdom and went searching for the lady of his dreams, which eventually brought him to Shri's kingdom.  There he found the lady of his dreams but was rebuffed because he had not come from the Land of the Lotus of the Sun.  Determined to win Shri, he began an odyssey to find this land that no one had ever heard of.

The main body of the story covers the perils of Umra-Singh's quests -- monsters and magic and dangers.

And so he finds the mystical city, returns and wins Shri, and one ends up slaying the other (I'm not saying who or how), ending the curse.

So...happy ending.  For Kamalametra and Anushayini at least; not so much for Umra-Singh and Shri.

Not your typical fantasy ending.  But somehow the story remains charming and entertaining.

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