There was a time, lost in the mists of antiquity, when the dreamer could wander his fantasy land at will and set down his/her experiences on paper at leisure, without worrying about deadlines and contracts: when he/she could pen his words without worrying whether his book will hit the bestseller charts or not: when writing was pure pleasure. Lord Dunsany was a product of those times.A Dreamer's Tales
is exactly that: a bunch of stories, fables and legends (and some pieces which defy any kind of description), varying in quality and length, bunched together in this slim volume. They share only one quality-the gossamer structure of dreams, captured in the early morning before they melt away totally in the harsh light of the day.
It is said that dreams last only seconds, and their apparent length is an illusion. Our mind supplies the sequence and pace for a distorted jumble of images which tumble helter-skelter into the brain during the period of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. However scientifically interesting that may be, subjectively we only know that we inhabit a totally different country when we dream: where aeons may pass, and light-years may pass rapidly beneath our dreaming selves as we fly over fantastic galaxies populated by exotic beings.
One of the stories, Where the Tides Ebb and Flow
, is about such a dream where the dreamer dies and watches the city over passing centuries as a dead man. It has got one of the most fantastic opening lines that I have ever read ("I dreamt that I had done a horrible thing, so that burial was to be denied me either in soil or sea, neither could there be any hell for me"). Dunsany does this again and again, using the technique of the storytellers of yore, jumping right into the middle of a tale, engaging the listener and the teller with an easy intimacy. It is one of his main strengths as a writer.
There are tales of doomed cities here, where the place is the protagonist (The Madness of Andelsprutz
); of sea voyagers who visit fantastic places en route in true fairytale fashion (Idle Days on the Yann
); and of forlorn quests doomed to failure (Carcassone
). The first story, Poltarnees, Beholder of the Ocean
, is a true fairy tale. There is more than a hint of menace in many of these dreams which take them to nightmare territory (Poor Old Bill
, for example). There is also humour (The Sword and the Idol
, The Day of the Poll
The concluding piece, The Unhappy Body
, can be taken as a sort of manifesto for Dunsany: the reason why he (or any writer, for that matter) writes these stories - the soul which will not let the body rest, until it is laid in the grave.
These stories may be too light for today's tastes, when fantasy has become a full-blown field with its own sets of rules and conventions. However, I found them refreshing and enjoyable. Because who does not enjoy a dream, (even "delicious nightmare", to quote Hitchcock), all the more so because one knows one can wake up from it any time? In Dunsany's own words:
"But I arose and opened the window wide, and, stretching my hands out over the little garden, I blessed the birds whose song had woken me up from the troubled and terrible centuries of my dream."