Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, October 10, 2014


The Story of Ulla and Other Tales by Edwin Lester Arnold (1895)

Englishman Edwin Lester Arnold (1857-1935) is best known today for his proto-science fiction novel Gulliver of Mars, first published as Lieut. Gullivar Jones:  His Vacation* (1905), which many feel was an inspiration for Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom.  His other major (?) works include three novels dealing with the popular (at that time) theme of reincarnation:  The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1890), Lepidus the Centurion:  A Roman of Today (1901), and Rutherford the Twice-Born (1892), which is either an expansion of the story listed below or a separate printing of the short story; since I have not seen the book I cannot comment.  Arnold quit writing fiction after two of his novels failed and once Gullivar Jones was published to a weak reception.   In all, Arnold published five novels, five books of non-fiction, and this collection of stories during his lifetime.

The Story of Ulla contains ten stories ranging from historical fiction to fantasy to tales of romance.  All are told in the florid, melodramic style that seemed popular in its day and most rely on plot-moving coincidence that was just a tad more rife then than it is now.  Surprisingly (to me, at least), the book holds up well, the turgid tales rarely creaking their way to conclusion.  Not prime reading, but pleasant enough if you are in the right mood.

The stories:

"The Story of Ulla" - Ulla is an aged Viking looking back to his youth and to an unrequited romance that stripped him of his power.

"The Vengeance of Dungarvan" - A story of 17th century Ireland and of a villain's revenge on a town that tried to hang him -- and failed.

"A Dreadful Night" - A hunter in Colorado falls through a hole and is trapped in a hidden cavern littered with the bones of those -- both animal and human -- who preceded him.

"Rutherford the Twice-Born" - A tale of reincarnation.

"A Stranger Woman" - Two brothers fight over a woman, with tragic results.

"A Narrow Escape" - A game between two towns, one rough-and-tumble, the other more civilzed and refined, results in many of the citizens inadvertently married to each other.

"That Babe of Meg's" - A young wife nearly abandons her husband for a rich man.

"A Fair Puritan" - A young girl obeys her father and agrees to marry a man she does not love.

"Meg of the Braids" - Meg spurns her boyfriend who then goes to sea before she realizes her  mistake.  When he returns, only Meg can save him from a horrible death.

"Margaret Spens" - As in "A Fair Puritan," a young girl agrees to her father's wishes to marry a man she does not love.  Her fiancĂ© vanishes at sea before her wedding.  After fifteen years of waiting for him she agrees to marry the man she truly loves.  The morning of the wedding, a ship is wrecked off the coast.  Margaret's groom-to-be braves a storm to rescue any survivors.  The only survivor, near dead, is Margaret's missing fiancĂ©.  What to do?

As you can tell, a number of the stories have plots that could be -- and probably have been -- used on the afternoon soap operas.  If that's your cup of tea, The Story of Ulla offers a diversion from the everyday world.

* The character's name was spelled Gullivar by the author; the name was changed to Gulliver for the first U.S. edition (and for the short-lived comic book).  a recent Bison Books edition restored the original spelling.

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