Edward Plunkett, the 18th Lord Dunsany, is one of the most acclaimed names in the field of fantastic fiction, held in high esteem by many of today’s major writers. More than eighty books of his work were published, and his oeuvre includes many hundreds of published short stories, as well as successful plays, novels and essays. A complex and fascinating character, and an important contributor to literature, Lord Dunsany was a versatile and creative writer, with works including fantasy, drama, poetry, science fiction, prose and autobiography. Born to the second-oldest title (created 1439) in the Irish peerage, Dunsany lived much of his life amid the dramatic, romantic setting of what is perhaps Ireland’s longest-inhabited home, Dunsany Castle near Tara. Dunsany himself is cited as a major influence by many writers and artists and as an important figure in the development of fantastic literature by editors, academics and critics. His work formed part of the foundation of fantasy, along with that of Poe, Morris and Rider Haggard, and fed into later work such as that of Tolkien, Lewis and Lovecraft. The term ‘Dunsanian’ evokes a particular style and atmosphere which has, in the words of more than one commentator, been much imitated but never duplicated. It is worth noting, however, that Dunsany never confined himself to any category – ‘genres’ such as fantasy, science fiction and so on did not really exist in his time – but was respected for his overall ability, being invited to lecture on many occasions, and receiving an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin. Perhaps his most famous work was The King of Elfland’s Daughter.
Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, became known to the world in the play of the same name by Sir James Barrie, which was first acted in 1904 and has since been put on in London virtually every year, excluding wartime, at Christmas. One of Barrie’s friends had five small sons, and the story of Peter Pan’s adventures grew out of the long series of make-believe games that the author and the boys played together. There is a well-known statue in Kensington Gardens in London of Peter Pan playing a pipe, standing on a pedestal around which are carved figures of children and animals. Barrie himself arranged for this to be put up and gave the profits from all performances of the play, and from the book made of it, to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Barrie’s own life was touched by tragedy as well as genius, while the figure of Peter Pan has been endlessly reinterpreted through drama, film and fiction. There is the popular image of Disney’s laughing, jovial character from the animated film, the ‘grown-up’ Peter from the live action Hook, and the ‘re-imagining’ of the character in the more recent Neverland TV mini-series. What these modern conceptions of the character seem to miss, however, is that the original Peter Pan was a far darker, more ambiguous character than his more recent portrayals would seem to suggest – as perhaps befits his tragic origins.
Let me make one thing clear at the outset: the only book in the Sword of Truth series that I have read is the first one, Wizard’s First Rule. This review of the ‘series’ is therefore based entirely on my own limited experience of the author Terry Goodkind’s work. I say this because it may well be the case that the other books that make up the Sword of Truth are entirely different from Wizard’s First Rule – it may be but somehow I doubt it very much. You see, Wizard’s First Rule is not just a book that I don’t like, it is one that I positively detest. I’ve been reading fantasy of one kind or another all my life and Goodkind’s debut novel is almost certainly the worst book that I have ever read in its entirety. In fact, the only reason that I finished it at all was because of all the positive reviews I had read beforehand, all of the word of mouth that insisted that Goodkind was better than Tolkien, Jordan, Martin, Hobb and any other fantasy author you might care to mention. I was sure that, no matter how bad it got, the book must have some redeeming feature. Unfortunately, I was wrong. For years I kept my thoughts on Goodkind’s work to myself but slowly I began to realise that I was by no means alone – take a look at an Amazon review of any of his books to see how he polarises fantasy readers. There is undoubtedly a large contingent who are devoted fans of the Sword of Truth, but equally there are rather a lot of people out there who feel as I do. The logical question you might be asking at this point, then, is what exactly is my problem?
Arthur Rackham has been called ‘the leading decorative illustrator of the Edwardian period’ and is widely acknowledged as one of the most iconic fantasy artists who ever lived. His work has inspired not only other painters but, even more impressively, major writers like J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis and Poul Anderson. Appropriately enough for a fantasy artist, Rackham seemed perfectly in tune with the mythic past and his illustrations of the works of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allan Poe in particular show him at his most creative and observant. In imagination, draftsmanship and colour-blending, his work has never been surpassed, even by modern day masters such as John Howe and Charles Vess. His deep understanding of the spirit of myth, fable, and folklore seems to have afforded him a transcendent range of expression which has perhaps only ever been equalled by his ‘spiritual son’ Alan Lee. In this post I’ve attempted to showcase some of his best work but it is a mere drop in the ocean of Rackham’s immense talent, which has produced an intimidatingly impressive body of work.
All over the world there are myths and legends concerning beings of human appearance but prodigious size and strength, commonly referred to as giants. Fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk have formed our modern perception of giants as stupid and violent monsters, frequently said to eat humans. In cultures as diverse as ancient Greece, Scandinavia and the Indian subcontinent, giants are almost invariably associated with chaos, wild nature and conflict with both gods and heroes. The overwhelmingly negative nature of the lore concerning giants, as well as its ubiquity across the world in otherwise totally unrelated nations, seems to suggest that there is a germ of truth in the old tales. Was there, perhaps, at one stage in the dim and distant past a gigantic, brutal race that walked the earth, oppressing humanity and giving rise to dark race-memories that ever since have forever made the giant a figure of fear and loathing? The sacred texts of many different religions almost uniformly equate giants with evil. In the Bible there is the tale of David and Goliath; In the Vedas and Puranas there are the Daityas, who fought the Hindu gods known as Devas; and in the Jewish Torah further giants are reported, including the Anakites, the Emites and the Rephaites. There are the occasional ‘big friendly giants’ that appear in the books of Roald Dahl and others but by and large in literature these more benign examples of the species are overshadowed by the sinister connotations of beings such as Anne Rice’s Taltos. Another view of giants is that they symbolise immense primal forces, neither good nor bad, but simply larger than life in every way.