In The Book of Wonder, Lord Dunsany uses techniques that stand out from other fantasies read thus far. Instead of long, detailed stories, Dunsany writes tales of short length, only two or three pages each, and ends most with vague and ambiguous language. Dunsany avoids specific conclusions and withholds information from the reader. For instance, in "Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller," the final paragraph fails to provide a clear picture of the fate of the Sphinx.
And the Sphinx in her minced house — I know not how she fared — whether she gazes for ever, disconsolate, at the deed, remembering only in her smitten mind, at which the little boys now leer, that she once knew well those things at which man stands aghast; or whether in the end she crept away, and clambering horribly from abyss to abyss, came at last to higher things, and is wise and eternal still. For who knows of madness whether it is divine or whether it be of the pit?
Dunsany's other stories follow this style of conclusion, using phrases such as "[he] took her we know not where" in "The Bride of the Man-Horse," and "where they took him it is not good to ask, and what they did with him I shall not say" in "How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles." Also, his repeated use of the word "whether" appears in his other tales, including "The Injudicous Prayers of Pombo the Idolater," as he concludes "And whether the view of him, at last, excited Pombo's eagerness, or whether his need was greater then he could bear that it drove him so swiftly downstairs, or whether as is most likely, he ran too fast past the beast, I do not know, and it does not matter to Pombo." These ambiguous endings leave the reader wanting more, and working with their own imagination to create a picture of the course of events. In contrast, Dunsany writes a few tales which clearly state the fate of the characters and provide closure for the reader. These include "The Quest of the Queen's Tears" where, in a smooth twist, the Queen does the opposite of what the reader expects by not weeping at Ackronnion's song, and "The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap" where Dunsany transforms dreams to into reality as the reader discovers in the final two paragraphs that Shap is actually in a hospital or mental institution.
1. How do the vague endings of Dunsany's tales compare to those that are clear and complete? Why does Dunsany repeat the same types of endings?
2. Has the technique of withholding information from the reader appeared in other fantasies read thus far?
3. Does the order of the tales in The Book of Wonder matter? Does Dunsany place vague and clear endings next to each other for an effect of emphasis or contrast?
4. Why does Dunsany repeatedly use the word "whether" to end his tales? What do vague endings add to the stories?
Last modified 5 April 2004