Lord Dunsany's short story Chu-Bu and Sheemish features a fantastical rivalry between two divine statues, or gods, who compete for the love and devotion of the people. The two Gods are unable to co-exist, and be equal, taunting each other in an increasingly intense confrontation... “Dirty Chu-bu, “Dirty-Sheemish.” Chu-bu is wrought with jealousy at being “nothing more than the equal of Sheemish.” Dunsany conveys a powerful moral through the ending of the story, portraying the consequence of the folly of jealousy and bitterness.
It is not with the gods as it is with men. We are angry one with another and turn from our anger again, but the wrath of the gods is enduring. Chu-bu remembered and Sheemish did not forget. They spake as we do not speak, in silence yet heard of each other, nor were their thoughts as our thoughts. We should not judge them merely by human standards. All night long they spake and all night said these words only: “Dirty Chu-bu,” “Dirty Sheemish.” “Dirty Chu-bu,” “Dirty Sheemish,” all night long. Their wrath had not tired at dawn, and neither had wearied of his accusation. And gradually Chu-bu came to realize that he was nothing more than the equal of Sheemish. All gods are jealous, but this equality with the upstart Sheemish, a thing of painted wood a hundred years newer than Chu-bu, and this worship given to Sheemish in Chu-bu's own temple, were particularly bitter. Chu-bu was jealous even for a god; and when Tuesday came again, the third day of Sheemish's worship, Chu-bu could bear it no longer.
Throughout the story, both Gods attempt to undermine each other's influence with the people by creating a small earthquake. For Chu-bu, this would re-establish his status as the superior God, and for Sheemish, this would assert his authority as a new God. However, both attempted to create an earthquake unaware of what the other was doing, and “an earthquake that is commanded by two Gods has double the chance of fulfillment than when it is willed by one.” An earthquake of a much larger magnitude occurs, striking at the foundations of the temple in which Chu-bu and Sheemish rested, causing it to collapse upon them. Hence rises Dunsany's message - the folly of greed and power hunger. -bu and Sheemish's are rendered responsible for their own demise, as their hostile actions towards each other initiated their downfall.
However, Dunsany's message goes beyond the idea of jealousy being a fatal flaw. There is a deeper significance in the way each divine statue meets his downfall.
That is how Chu-bu came into my possession when I travelled once beyond the hills of Ting. I found him in the fallen temple of Chu-bu with his hands and toes sticking up out of the rubbish, lying upon his back, and in that attitude just as I found him I keep him to this day on my mantlepiece, as he is less liable to be upset that way. Sheemish was broken, so I left him where he was. And there is something so helpless about Chu-bu with his fat hands stuck up in the air that sometimes I am moved out of compassion to bow down to him and pray, saying, “O Chu-bu, thou that made everything, help thy servant.
The statue of Sheemish was broken in the wreckage, perhaps hinting that jealousy and conflict can lead to tragedy in physical death and destruction. Chu-bu, on the other hand, survives the wreckage, and his found by a traveler in the remains of the temple, “helpless” and “with his hands and toes sticking out of the rubbish.” Chu-bu survives, but his integrity and dignity is shattered; he is reduced from a divine icon to nothing more than a simple household ornament. By the end of the story, Chu-bu's 'celestial' powers extend only to deal the narrator an “ace of trumps,” which “chance alone could have done as much.” Dunsany contrasts Chu-bu and Sheemish's downfalls to accentuate the devastating powers of jealousy, to ruin both physically and mentally.
Perhaps Dunsany depicts this conflict between two divine entities to further emphasize the folly of jealousy and greed. If even the Gods succumb to this emotion, then it is inescapable, and all minds are vulnerable to its overarching, devastating power.
1. How do the two Gods compare with the jeweller in “The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller?"
2. Why is Dunsany so interested in conveying the idea of the folly of greed and jealousy? Could it have something to do with his extensive service in the army?
3. Could Dunsay's religious experiences have influenced the writing on this story? In what way? Where does Dunsany's obsession with fantasy come from?
4. Chu-bu is an old statue and Sheemish is 100 years newer, constructed from different wood. Is Dunsany creating a contrast or conflict between modernity and the past, and if so, for what purpose?
5. Is Dunsany describing the quest for power and popularity as superficial and mundane? What qualities would Dunsany emphasize as most important in a person?
- Pride and Subjugation
- Silly Little Gods
- The Mundane vs. The Fantastic
- Rivalry and its Consequences
- The Almighty Gods Chu-Bu and Sheemish
Last modified 12 March 2010