…or to use his mercifully abbreviated nom de plume, just plain ol’ Lord Dunsany, was another writer of strange fiction birthed by the 20th and newest century. Born into privilege, young Drax Plunkett would spend many of his early years at the family castle, and would attend Eton and Sandhurst for his education. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, family wealth and connections assisted his introduction to the literary scene, but he would fund the publication of his first work, The Gods of Pegāna (1905), from his own pocket.
The book presents a collection of tales detailing the pantheon of demons and deities in the mythical land of Pegāna, Dunsany’s own Olympus, at the head of which is MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, the ur-god in whose head is the dream of all Pegāna (those of a more scholarly bent feel free to insert here any expatiations on the symbolism of writer as creator). Unfortunately for those pagan ol’ pegānites who may wish to pay appropriate tribute to MANA, he’s not to be praised, sacrificed to, or in any loud way revered for fear of waking him and thereby bringing about the End of Days. Thus pantheism is strongly encouraged:
“Let no man pray to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, for who shall trouble MANA with mortal woes or irk him with the sorrows of all the houses of Earth? Nor let any sacrifice to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, for what glory shall he find in sacrifices or altars who hath made the gods themselves? Pray to the small gods, who are the gods of Doing; but MANA is the god of Having Done—the god of Having Done and of the Resting.”
The above lines, from the Sayings of Slid, bring us nicely to one of my favourite aspects of the book, being the names Dunsany bestows on his deities, which have a t’rific onomatopoeic quality to them. Take for examples: Mung – Lord of all Death , Sish – Destroyer of Hours, and indeed the aforementioned Slid – Whose Soul is by the Sea, which for me conjure up thoughts of thick azoic muds, sand passing the waist of an hourglass and, well (bathetically), sliding on a wet surface.
Anyway, owing a lot no doubt to the Celtic Revival occurring at the time, the book proved a great success. The fact that his subsequent efforts, not all set in Pegāna but certainly of a similar vein, including Time and the Gods (1906), A Dreamer’s Tales (1910) and Fifty-One Tales (1915), were published by large, well established publishing houses attests to the popularity of such works.
A couple of addenda then…
The illustrations on this page are by one Sidney Herbert Sime, a personal favourite, and an illustrator in whom Dunsany found a kindred creative spirit. Beginning with The Gods of Pegāna, the pair would often work together providing what seems to have been mutual inspiration. The library holds several of the first editions of the Dunsany/Sime works as wells as modern volumes which collect Sime’s illustrations, which are all well worth a peruse.
Oh, and the second addenda, Lord Dunsany’s younger brother had an even longer, and more incredible name. A prize (well….) for the first one to find it!
Coming up next time: A pattern forms in the background…