The Sword of Welleran and Other Tales of Enchantment
There’s no doubt about it: Lord Dunsany is a master of poetic prose. I was first introduced to him as “the real thing” to replace the ‘false’ Patricia McKillip. I still love McKillip’s prose, but I must admit that the beauty of Lord Dunsany’s language is really unrivaled (in my experience). In this collection of short stories, he writes with incredible grace and style. The stories have various settings — on this earth and in imaginary realms — and various styles of tale and telling, but they are all beautifully told.
“In the blood of man there is a tide, an old sea-current rather, that is somehow akin to the twilight, which brings him rumours of beauty from however far away, as driftwood is found at sea from islands not yet discovered: and this spring-tide or current that visits the blood of man comes from the fabulous quarter of his lineage, from the legendary, the old; it takes him out to the woodlands, out to the hills, he listens to ancient song.” Nearly all of these stories deal in some way or other with that realm of ‘faerie’ so well-described in this fragment from the story “The Bride of the Man-Horse”. (For an explanation of what I mean by ‘faerie’, see my essay “The Morality of Magic in Fantasy.”) In that they deal with this realm, the stories have a typically hard-to-categorize moral character. There’s certainly nothing downright objectionable in them. Some of them deal with important spiritual matters — what it means to have a soul, for instance, in “The Kith of the Elf-Folk” — but in such a manner that they seem detached from the real world.
Dunsany’s style — focused less on specific world-building and character development than on creating an evocative mood and sense of wonder — is perfect for the short-story medium. Some of his stories have a plot; some rely entirely on description; two are only one page long; but all are highly enjoyable.