Heralded by no less an authority that Aleister Crowley as “a noble and most notable prophesy of Life’s fair future,” this novel recounts the return of the Old Gods to an English village sometime in the late 19th century. Told from the point of view of the local Church of England Vicar, it begins humbly enough. A not-terribly-bright boy makes panpipes from some reeds and plays them in the forests of an evening and from there the entire valley is slowly brought to the worship of Pan. Dunsany’s eye for the significance of small actions- or omissions- and his prose, less lofty that his earlier works but still marvelous to read, make this the perfect literary counterpart to “The Wicker Man.” One strongly suspects that Gerald Gardner had a copy on his bookshelf and all good Pagans should hope that this comes back into print.
Julianus reviews The Complete Pegāna: All the Tales Pertaining to the Fabulous Realm of Pegāna by Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Baron Dunsany, edited by S T Joshi, in the Bkwyrm archive.
In the year 1904 e.v. an English Gentleman, big-game hunter and chess enthusiast created a new mythology; and no, I don’t mean Crowley. The gentleman in question was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, eighteenth Baron Dunsany (1878 – 1957) and the book was The Gods of Pegāna. Dunsany created the first original mythology in English literature since William Blake and his work had tremendous influence on H.P. Lovecraft. Crowley was also passionately devoted to Dunsany’s work and got him to contribute a short story to the Equinox.
Dunsany generally wrote everything in a single draft with a quill pen and his prose style is unique. Brilliant and musical, it truly seems more like a newly-discovered scripture than a literary production. Fate and Chance, Gods large and small, heroes and prophets, Time and Death are all unveiled in glory and tragedy. Only Clark Ashton Smith, one of Lovecraft’s literary comrades, can approach Dunsany’s mastery of the short fantasy.
The present volume contains all the stories from The Gods of Pegāna as well as its sequel, Time and the Gods (1906,) along with three later stories on the theme. These books have not been reprinted in their entirety in eighty years and one may hope that more of Dunsany’s massive corpus, which includes over fifty volumes of fiction, drama (he once had four plays on Broadway at once,) poetry and autobiography, will follow.
This slender novella was one of Tolkein’s last works that he saw published during his lifetime. It is a cross-generational fable about creativity, fortune, and loss. It is very effective when read aloud; I had the pleasure of having it read to me by my Other Reader over the course of three sittings.
Smith is unoriginal in the best possible way for a modern fairy-tale. I was reminded strongly of Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter, but some of the episodes in Faery in the middle of the book exhibit the sort of psychedelic reverie that I associate more with the work of George MacDonald. Sure enough, the wikipedia article on Smith of Wootton Major gives Tolkein’s story its origin in an attempt at a preface to MacDonald’s “The Golden Key.” Tracing the line of influence the other direction, I believe that Susanna Clarke must have read this book.
The Pauline Baynes illustrations are lovely, and really capture the spirit of the thing. [via]
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