Lord Dunsany portrays Chu-bu and Sheemish as silly little gods. Their powers are too puny to bear the weight of their egos. Though the story is tragic from the perspective of the gods, the mock-heroic diction helps establish a humorous tone.

Now there were holy birds in the temple of Chu-bu, and when the third day was come and the night thereof, it was as it were revealed to the mind of Chu-bu, that there was dirt upon the head of Sheemish.

And Chu-bu spake unto Sheemish as speak the gods, moving no lips nor yet disturbing the silence, saying, "There is dirt upon thy head, O Sheemish." All night long he muttered again and again, "there is dirt upon Sheemish's head." And when it was dawn and voices were heard far off, Chu-bu became exultant with Earth's awakening things, and cried out till the sun was high, "Dirt, dirt, dirt, upon the head of Sheemish," and at noon he said, "So Sheemish would be a god." Thus was Sheemish confounded.

By applying grand language to mundane matters Dunsany emphasizes how ridiculous the little gods are. In the first paragraph above, he uses such elaborate language as "it were revealed to the mind of Chu-bu" to lead up to the discovery of a bit of dirt on the head of a wooden statue. In the second paragraph, Chu-bu "spake. . . as speak the gods," but the content of his speech is trivial, again concerning the dirt on Sheemish's head. Such a combination of grandiose style with trivial subject matter is the hallmark of mock-heroic humor.

This story's humor takes on a darker tone when seen in context. By making fun of Chu-bu and Sheemish Dunsany makes fun of polytheistic religions in general. Although Chu-bu and Sheemish are fictional deities, they follow the model of real polytheistic gods. Their society ascribes power to many gods, thus limiting each god's individual power. At the time he wrote this story, Dunsany's Great Britain ruled over many societies with such religious systems. The narrator's possession of Chu-bu at the end of the story mirrors Great Britain's domination of its colonial territories.

Questions

1. To me, the use of words such as "thy," "thereof," and "spake" in a story about gods brings to mind the Bible. Was that Dunsany's intent when he used such antiquated language? If so, why does he relate his fictional polytheism to Christianity?

2. What was the British attitude towards polytheistic religions in 1912? (I couldn't find any information on this topic on the Victorian Web.) [Think of Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, stories set in Africa and India — GPL]

3. How does this story compare to other Victorian stories in its treatment of non-Christian gods and their worshippers?

4. Jealousy is an important emotion for Chu-bu and Sheemish, the ancient Greek gods, and the Judeo-Christian God. How universal is the importance of jealousy concerning personified gods?

Related Material


Victorian Web Overview Aesthetes & Decadents Lord Dunsany

Last modified 5 March 2009