"This poet who has imagined colours, ceremonies and incredible processions that never passed before the eyes of Edgar Allen Poe or of De Quincey..." On Lord Dunsany's 135th Birthday

24 July 1878, the Irish writer and poet and renowned chess player and hunter and soldier Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, better known as Lord Dunsany, was born in London.

“These plays and stories have for their continual theme the passing away of gods and men and cities before the mysterious power which is sometimes called by some great god's name but more often 'Time.' His travellers, who travel by so many rivers and deserts and listen to sounding names none heard before, come back with no tale that does not tell of vague rebellion against that power, and all the beautiful things they have seen get something of their charm from the pathos of fragility. This poet who has imagined colours, ceremonies and incredible processions that never passed before the eyes of Edgar Allen Poe or of De Quincey, and remembered as much fabulous beauty as Sir John Mandeville, has yet never wearied of the most universal of emotions and the one most constantly associated with the sense of beauty; and when we come to examine those astonishments that seemed so alien we find that he has but transfigured with beauty the common sights of the world.” (W.B. Yeats)

With the growing popularity and general interest in fantastic literature from the mid-1960s onward, Lord Dunsany, who was already well received among other authors of the fantastic, from Tolkien to H.P. Lovecraft and his circle and Jorge Luis Borges, became a byword for excellent, innovative and literary mature tales – at least among connoisseur of the genre.  And Lord Dunsany did indeed set a few milestones in the development of “fantasy” as we know it today already in the early 20th century.

But even though most of his many published plays, novels and short stories have a fantastical element or two, he was anything but a pure fantasy author during his lifetime, even if his popularity was primarily based on this element already back then. He associated with other appreciators of the mythical and otherworldy, like Yeats and Lady Gregory, as well as George William Russell and Oliver St John Gogarty and others from the Irish literary scene.

Besides that, Lord Dunsany served in the Second Boer War and the Great War as officer, was once Irish champion in pistol shooting, attaining a draw against the world chess champion Capablanca, bequeathing to the world actually quite a lot of chess problems and even inventing an own variant of chess, “Dunsany’ Game” – and still, everybody reading Lovecraft’s tales from the “Dream Cycle”, enjoys the works of writers as diverse as Michael Moorcock and Peter S. Beagle or marvels at the wonders of Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” already had his dose of “Lord Dunsany” and few authors drew level with him, even though, as a pen pal once  wrote to Lovecraft: “No one can imitate Dunsany, and probably everyone who's ever read him has tried.”

One of Sidney Sime's  (1867 – 1941) iconic illustrations of Dunsany's tales - here:
"The Soul Of Andelsprutz" (1910)

A facsimile of Lord Dunsany’s “Book of Wonder” with Sime’s illustrations can be found here:


and Dunsany’s literary breakthrough, “The Gods of Pegana” (1905), again with Sime’s illustrations here:


And more about Lord Dunsany on: