Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The term most often associated with Dunsany, also appearing frequently in his writing, is “dream,” with its relatives “dreamy” and “dreamlike.” Some of this derives from his subject matter, for in much of his writing he gives substance to the beasts, men, and gods of his Lands of Dream, a fantasy world distinct from the waking here and now, one endowed with the power of myth. However, much of it can be attributed to the peculiarities of his style. This story is a good example.

“Idle Days on the Yann” resembles dreams first in its narrative inconsequence. Instead of following an action with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, it merely floats along the surface of the river; what happens does not seem to connect with what preceded or follows, except as marking stages of passage. There is no apparent reason why Astahahn should appear on the first day or Nen on the last. There is danger, as there is danger in dreams, but it all seems to come from beyond. Danger is something that happens, not something caused.

The themes are also as evanescent as the meanings of dreams. The reader senses connections in the way that a dreamer gropes for significance; yet the links fragment and the strands part. Meaning drifts off, dangling somewhere just beyond reach, to be replaced by wonder and vague foreboding.

Beyond all else, however, Dunsany accomplishes this creation of a dreamworld by his use of language. This is most apparent in the place-names and the regions that he creates—Belzoond, Darl, Duz, Yann, Irillion. However, more subtle and more telling are three other qualities. First is the flat, deliberate narrative style, in which events are sketched as if they were taking place on a screen in front of the narrator; he records them, rather than taking part in them. This trance-narration has elements of both children’s literature and biblical apocalyptic literature. Second is a use of adjectives and adverbs as modifiers at the expense of more graphic metaphors and images; this lack of definition blurs the events and forces the reader to complete the outline. The third is a habit of compound construction: Long series of clauses are butt-joined by “ands,” as in stories told by children. These combine to create a unique representation of pseudodreams in words.