This is not really a book of stories, it’s mostly a briefly outlined mythology created by the author, Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, in 1905. The style has several influences, including Celtic mythology, Hindu mythology, possibly Chinese mythology, and perhaps “The Arabian Nights.” Dunsany (rhymes with unrainy) was also reading Nietzsche at the time, and there are element of irony and humor perhaps picked up there, as well as the seemingly unorthodox beliefs of the author. Dunsany’s gods have a hierarchy, with MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI at the top, who created the lesser gods, then settled down to a very long nap that will only end when all his creations do. The lesser gods, each with powers and specialties, create worlds in which to meddle from their home in lofty Pegana, worlds inhabited by men and animals and so forth. This is the game of the gods, and we are their playground, it’s suggested. Some of the pantheon are Kib, sender of life, Sish, destroyer of hours with his hound Time, Slid, god of streams, rivers and oceans, Mung, god of death, Limpang-Tung, god of mirth and minstrels, and Yoharneth-Lahai god of dreams and fancies. Below this pantheon are the lesser or home gods, who live among men and not in Pegana, with specialties as specific as Pitsu who strokes the cat and Hobith who calms the dog.
After all these gods are described, there are stories about prophets among men, and their attempts to represent the gods to men, often coming to unfortunate ends. My favorite of these, and one of the stories that’s more like a story, is in “Of the Thing That Is Neither God Nor Beast.” The prophet Yadin searches for wisdom in the desert and his prayers are answered by three flamingoes whose call is “Going South, Going South.” Somehow Yadin is able to fly with them to the uttermost South and learn many wondrous things.
As important as the writing to this book are the eight photogravure tipped-in illustrations by S. H. Sime. It’s impossible to do them justice with a scan here, but I’ve added one anyway above. The photogravure process allowed Sime to create extremely detailed pictures that really need a magnifying glass to appreciate, with lines as thin as tiny hairs, and amazing textures. Later printings are simply photo-screened versions of these plates that convert them to dots, losing all the fine details.
Having created his gods, Dunsany went on to write more stories about his imaginative world in later collections. This slim volume of 94 pages is a fascinating and entertaining work of world creation that predates Tolkien by many years, and perhaps influenced him. Recommended, though much better with the original illustrations in photogravure.