Lord Dunsany and the Dialogue Between Past and Future

19th April 2014

For the Waterstones Blog.

One of the points I raised in my recent article for Fantasy Faction discussed the ability of fantasy to offer us an escape from the everyday. I was delighted that writer M J Starling reblogged the article in order to comment. Regarding fantasy literature as escapism, he wrote:

I find it interesting that any particular mode or style was ever able to emerge as dominant within fantasy. Obviously it was never a completely homogeneous genre, but Tolkien-esque epic/quest narratives in pastoral, pre-industrial settings have been its bread and butter as long as I’ve been reading in and around it. If we accept that one function of fantasy is escapism/transcendence of the everyday, shouldn’t it be as diverse and chaotic as our daydreams? How did one escape destination ever emerge as the default?

It’s an intriguing question. I think Starling hit on something when he mentioned “pre-industrial”. My recent reading includes Tales of Wonder by Lord Dunsany, who is undoubtedly one of the founding fathers of modern fantasy. He was writing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, producing collections of short stories, as well as his more famous novel, The King of Elfland’s Daughter.

Dunsany’s storytelling is creepy, compelling and wildly imaginative. It also carries a recurring theme: condemnation of industry and the urban scene. A habitual trait in his characterisation is a desire to escape from what he terms “Business” – the new, workaholic lifestyle ushered in by the Industrial Revolution and the resulting growth of the middle class.

Read on.

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