Lord Dunsany's story "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" delivers a social critique of human greed. Although he portrays the Gibbelins as monsters, eating people and living apart from the world, his main purpose is to show the reader how the men of the story are the ones full of vice in their obsession with wealth. For while the Gibbelins posses riches beyond imagination, they use it only to feed themselves; a basic need of all living creatures, whereas men simply wish to posses the treasures.
Their hoard is beyond reason; avarice has no use for it; they have a separate cellar for emeralds and a separate cellar for sapphires; they have filled a hole with gold and dig it up when they need it. And the only use that is known for their ridiculous wealth is to attract to their larder a continual supply of food. In times of famine they have even been known to scatter rubies abroad, a little trail of them to some city of Man, and sure enough their larders would soon be full again.
The portrayal of the Gibbelins may be morbid, but it illustrates how little the Gibbelins care for wealth beyond its basic use of bringing in sustenance. For them, "the only use that is known for their ridiculous wealth is to attract to their larder a continual supply of food", unlike the men who wish to posses the jewels and gold simply out of greed. The fact that "a little trail" of rubies will ensure a complete food store demonstrates the avarice of men, that they will follow jewels even unto death. Dunsany criticizes men's greed, as his depictions of men focus completely around achieving the wealth of the Gibbelins by improper means such as theft. Although the creatures may seem like monsters, the human's intention to steal their wealth shows the innate evil nature of men, rather than the other way around. Dunsany writes:
Its motive was sheer avarice! Yet upon avarice only the Gibbelins relied to keep their larders full, and once in every hundred years sent spies into the cities of men to see how avarice did, and always the spies returned again to the tower saying that all was well.
It may be thought that, as the years went on and men came by fearful ends on that tower's wall, fewer and fewer would come to the Gibbelins' table: but the Gibbelins found otherwise.
This portion of the story demonstrates not only the persistent greed of men, that they would continue to gather jewels despite the knowledge of sure death, but also the continual nature of that greed. That the Gibbelins could "every hundred years sen[d] spies into the cities of men to see how avarice did, and always the spies returned again to the tower saying that" it continued strong shows how corrupt men continue to be. Human nature never changes; throughout history men have even become more insatiable in their desire for riches. Their greed sends them to their death, yet they continue to covet wealth above all else. Dunsany satirizes this avarice not only by his depictions of the Gibbelins luring in men by scattering jewels, but also by killing his main character at the end, showing clearly how men's materialism will be their downfall. By reversing the roles of men and monsters, Dunsany critiques human nature, finding it wanting in basic decent principles.
1.The social critique of men's avarice intrudes upon many stories of the time, before and after this story was written. In particular, Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels offers a satirized view of human malice and corruption. How do the Gibbelins compare to the Houyhnhnms found at the last stage of Gulliver's travels compare to the Gibbelins? (The Houyhnhnms are the horse creatures that are living with the ape like ‘yahoos')
2. How does Dunsany use phrases such as "all was well" to particularly satirize human nature? Why?
3. How and why does Dunsany use fantasy in order to deliver a social critique? How, if at all, is it effective?
4. Most authors of the time needed a wealthy patron in order to continue to write. How then does Dunsany deliver a social critique and still obtain patronage? Was this dangerous? Why?
5. This passage:
There were the Gibbelins waist-deep in the water, with torches in their hands! And, without saying a word, or even smiling, they neatly hanged him on the outer wall — and the tale is one of those that have not a happy ending.
Seems almost to contain a religious tint. What are the religious allusions in this text, and what do they seem to mean? Were they intentional or simply a subconscious gesture from the author?
Last modified 15 May 2008