Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, more succinctly known as Lord Dunsany, was a prolific Anglo-Irish author, who wrote novels, plays, essays, and many collections of stories and poems. “A Dreamer’s Tales” was his fourth collection of stories, published in 1910. It is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.
Most of the stories in this collection fall into the fantasy genre. However, they were written before the fantasy genre was a recognisable thing, so they don’t fit many of the tropes of the genre. Instead, they read more like a mixture of fireside fairy tales and Biblical stories (Dunsany said that the King James Bible was a major influence on his style). Not all the tales are set in exotic fantasy lands, though; some are set in our own world. The fantasy world acts as a contrast to our world: where one is magical, dreamy, and full of endless wonder, the other is drab and dirty and stifles one’s sense of adventure.
There is an escape from everyday life. For Dunsany, dreams are a real and powerful force, and they act as a way of accessing the fantastic world that his tales take place in. In “Idle Days on the Yann”, the narrator tells some sailors that he is from Ireland, in Europe. They laugh and say that these places do not exist in the land of dreams. The narrator goes on to tell them of “the abode of [his] fancy”–the place where he dwells when dreaming. Sleep is presumably the way of entering these lands, but it is not the only way. Writing is another, as is hashish (according to a maybe unreliable storyteller).
The existence of this land is not possible without the gods of the dream:
For when the people of this city wake, the gods will die. And when gods die men may dream no more.
There is a symbiotic, yet cyclical, relationship between men and gods. The people will not be able to live in the dream world without the gods, but the gods cannot exist without the dreaming of the people. This seems to mirror the fact that the stories themselves cannot exist without Dunsany as the dreamer.
In Dunsany’s world, the body and soul are two separate conscious entities, for the most part together until death. The body is material and is stuck in our world. The soul is in charge, and as we see in “The Unhappy Body”, it can be a cruel master, forcing the body to write its dreams down for posterity. The soul has little concern for material things. It is a dreamer or idealist. It always searches for something more than this, some sort of spiritual fulfilment that might just be found in the land of dreams.
Recommended for those who enjoy: short stories, dreamy atmospheres, exotic fantasy lands, mythology.