The Book of Wonder Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

Contemporary critics responded with enthusiasm to The Book of Wonder, in which Dunsany recovered the mythology of The Gods of Pegana (1905) and Time and the Gods (1906); the heroic fantasy of The Sword of Welleran (1908); and the supernatural of A Dreamer’s Tales (1910); as well as exploring the ironic fairy tale. Although in his ten ensuing volumes of short stories he experimented with different genres, such as short-shorts in Fifty-One Tales (1915), club tales in the Jorkens series (1931-1954), and mystery stories in The Little Tales of Smethers (1952), scholars herald his first five volumes of tales as exemplars in the field of fantasy fiction. Some even dubbed him “the father of modern fantasy.” His work influenced writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, and especially H. P. Lovecraft, who called him the “inventor of a new mythology and weaver of surprising folklore.” Beginners at the craft of fantasy fiction often compose what has come to be known as the “Dunsanian” story.

Since Dunsany’s death, his work has been collected in at least five anthologies. Dunsany believed that true art was the result of inspiration, and he disapproved of readers’ attempts to allegorize his stories; he wanted most of all to evoke a mood of fabulous mystery. His facility with archaic language, arresting neologisms, strange new mythologies, and heroic adventures, and his belief— illustrated especially in the stories from The Book of Wonder—in the occasional human need to escape the sterile ordinariness of life, lead to continuing appreciation from fantasy enthusiasts, scholars in the field, and especially the readers he addresses in his preface, “those that tire at all of the world we know.”