Wonder Tales: The Book of Wonder and Tales of Wonder, is a collection of short stories written by the highly influential Lord Dunsany, between 1912 and 1916. Thirty-three diverse tales lay within these pages; all set in a magical and unique world; a world poetically crafted by a true master of modern fantasy. From comedy, to action, to the macabre; Dunsany lyrically tells the tales of several different characters, all of whom’ reside beyond the fields we know.
After numerous times of passing by this novel at our local bookstore, only to skim through a few pages on each visit, I finally had come to the conclusion that I might as well purchase it. Besides, after reading his beautiful and inspiring “King of Elfland’s Daughter,” I had always wanted to read more of his work, I just hadn’t the time. With a “to be read” list as large as mine, it’s hard to keep track of things. Nevertheless..Dunsany had made a huge impression on me after reading his novel, and his lyrical tone and lush descriptions had me in awe for days. So naturally I couldn’t wait to delve into his other writings; to explore more of his vast and creative worlds.
“Wonder Tales,” a book which contains both “The Book of Wonder” and “Tales of Wonder” was a unique collection to say the least. From humorous stories, to slightly disturbing ones, to down right weird ones; I was bit surprised at how versatile Dunsany was as an artist. In truth, when I began reading this, I was expecting a lot of the same – magic, elves, princes – much of what was in “The King of Elfland’s Daughter.” However after reading just a few of the stories, I was quite pleased to discover otherwise. While the lyrical beauty of Dunsany’s writing was always there, gracing each unique page – every story had it’s own vibe. It’s own life.
As there are so many stories within this collection, I can’t exactly go over each one without creating a novel-sized review; so I will go over just a few of the stand outs. My personal favorites were:
The Quest of the Queen’s Tears – A tale of an unconventional queen who could feel no love; who failed to meet the fairytale standards of fable or myth. Rather than sending brave knights and princes out on epic quests to slay dragons or battle sea-serpents, she would sing to them; tell them legends, entertain them. Needless to say, her people were not happy – as this was no way for a queen to behave. So, to fulfill their desires she gave them a quest – a quest called (for histories and song), the “Quest of the Queen’s Tears.” To complete this quest, one must simply move her to tears. He that achieved this, she would wed – no matter who it be. Quite a fun tale; excellently written.
How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon the Gnoles – The tale of Mr. Nuth, a professional burglar of great skill who takes on an apprentice named Tonker. After a bit of training and preparation, he then decides to plan a daring mission – one that he unfolds to his new apprentice over a cup of tea. The mission you ask? Why, to burgle the house of the Gnoles of course! Gnoles, an incredibly dangerous creature that reside in the dark woods are said possess large emeralds; emeralds of great value. This then leads to quite a unique story; one that was actually a bit creepy.
Lastly, as far as my favorites go..I will also say that I quite enjoyed “Chubu and Sheemish,” a tail of two jealous gods who just can’t get along; “The Wonderful Window,” A story of a magic window that reveals a brilliant and living medieval city; “The Watchtower,” a beautifully written ghost story, “The Three Sailor’s Gambit,” A chess story (yes, chess), and it actually wasn’t boring!; “City of Mallington Moor,” A city that appears from the mist, only to disappear the next morning; and finally, “The Three Infernal Jokes,” A rather odd tale of a list of jokes that when read, can literally make one die of laughter.
With that said, this was a really fun collection. While I enjoyed most of the stories – and all of them we’re interesting in their own right, I will admit that a few went over my head, leaving me asking.. “what did I just read? ” I’m not sure if that was due to the fact that I often read in the middle of the night, or something entirely different, but I plan to review those again when I get a chance. Overall though, this was a great book full of rather diverse stories; each enchanted with the magic of Lord Dunsany. I was truly amazed at how much he could do in just 3 or 4 pages — at how he created such unique and engaging tales with so few words. Many authors fail to do that in 400 pages, much less 4!
While I can’t guarantee that this collection would be right for the everyday, casual fantasy reader (think swords..dragons..lots of action..), I can say that if you’re a fan of Tolkien and/or William Morris, there’s a good chance that you will enjoy these. “Wonder Tales” is truly an excellent piece of literature; one that was not only beautifully written, but entertaining. If gone into with an idea of what to expect; these wonder tales can be enjoyed by anyone.