n The Book of Wonder, Lord Dunsany frequently jumps between the real and the unreal. At the start of each story, the preface immediately establishes this transition between the known world and the fantasy world: "Come with me, ladies and gentlemen who are in any wise weary of London: come with me: and those that tire at all of the world we know: for we have new worlds here." These transitions, which often occur at the end of each story, help bring the reader back to "the world we know." For example, after Dunsany relating the story of Chu-bu and Sheemish and describes their temple's destruction, he explains,
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."
Chu-bu cannot do much, though once I am sure that at a game of bridge he sent me the ace of trumps after I had not held a card worth having for the whole of the evening. And chance alone could have done as much as that for me. But I do not tell this to Chu-bu.
By turning the almighty Chu-Bu into a mantelpiece decoration, one might think that Dunsany invalidates the entire first part of his story. In fact, he adds more meaning to his story by bringing Chu-bu out of the ancient world of fantasy and into his own home. He is highlighting the differences between the fantastic and the mundane by showing how people and objects lose or gain importance as they move between worlds. Comparing the bridge victory and the earthquake has the same effect. It is interesting to note that powerful things in the fantasy world become weak in the real world (Chu-Bu) whereas things that would seem meaningless in the world of Chu-Bu and Sheemish take on importance in the known world (the ace of trumps).
1. What is the significance of having Chu-Bu survive the earthquake and not Sheemish? What does it say about new beliefs compared to old beliefs?
2. Lord Dunsany makes a habit of ending his stories in The Book of Wonder with something mundane which brings the reader back to reality. For example, in "The Distressing Tale of Thangobring the Jeweller," Dunsany writes,
And the only daughter of the Merchant Prince felt so little gratitude for this great deliverance that she took to respectability of the militant kind, and became aggressively dull, and called her home the English Riviera, and had platitudes worked in worsted upon her tea-cosy, and in the end never died, but passed away in her residence."
Do all of these abrupt jumps back to reality have the same effect? If not, how do the two transitions between worlds differ?
3. Lord Dunsany's biography found at irelandseye.com provides the pesonal context of this tale:
Through his uncle Horace Plunkett, the pioneer of cooperation, Dunsany met W.B. Yeats and wrote The Glittering Gate (1909) for the Abbey Theatre. King Argimenes and the Unknown Warrior (1911) was also produced there, but relations with Yeats and Lady Gregory soon deteriorated. Dunsany felt that Lady Gregory had plagiarised Argimenes in The Deliverer staged a week earlier, and Oliver St. John Gogarty reckoned that Yeats envied Dunsany's title.
The story of Chu-bu and Sheemish revolves around the idea of rivalry and jealousy. Given Lord Dunsany's relations with other writers, what does the story of Chu-bu and Sheemish say about the relationship between art and rivalry?
4. Between the first main part of "Chu-Bu and Sheemish" and the passage quoted above there is a change in tone. The entire first part contains somewhat ritualistic, stiff language similar to that used in myths and the bible. The word "thus" is used more often than in Dunsany's other works ("Thus he was magnified", "Thus they worshipped Chu-Bu") and proper names occur much more frequently than pronouns. In the passage quoted above, Dunsany uses a more familiar tone, which matches the shift from the temple to the mantelpiece. However, he seems to slip back into the formal tone for the very last line- "But I do not tell this to Chu-Bu". Why does Lord Dunsany change the tone in this way? What does it say about the differences between real life and fantasy?
Last modified 3 March 2009