As a teen, I discovered H.P. Lovecraft, and through Lovecraft (and Robert E. Howard) I discovered many other writers. Reading anthologies of “Cthulhu Mythos” stories (Lovecraft called it Yog Sothery), I kept finding reference to and occasional short stories from the mysterious Lord Dunsany. Sometimes, I’d talk to fellow fans, more well read than myself, and they’d tell me of the strange stories of this Dunsany fellow. But I could find precious little of his work. Eventually, I did learn that he’d been a major inspiration for Lovecraft, and that many of Lovecraft’s early stories were written in imitation of the Dunsany style. This is particularly true of the works that would later be deemed his ‘Dreamlands’ stories. Finally, years later, I began to assemble something of a collection of Dunsany’s work. It wasn’t easy at first. Maybe still isn’t. But I did it. One of the books I managed to track down was The Hashish Man, and I’ve finally read it.
What I’ve found in those years of tracking down Dunsany and some of Lovecraft’s other inspirations, is that I’m not actually a fan of many of them. Or, that they have some excellent work, but a lot of not so excellent work. Dunsany seems to have been fairly prolific, though many of his stories are, like Clark Ashton Smith, more vignettes than actual stories. But in his work you can see the overly flowery language so loved by Lovecraft. Some of it is gold. Some of it is muck that becomes hard to wade through.
In this book, there’s a bit of both. Though it has only about a hundred fifty pages, it features twenty five stories. Many are only a couple pages long. Some I really enjoyed, like A Story of Land and Sea but others, like Idle Days on the Yann, made Lovecraft’s Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath look like a Hemingway. It’s a very mixed bag. A few of the stories had the feel of Dunsany’s Jorkens stories, which always reminded me of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Too many felt like reading poems written as prose, and left me scratching my head.
If you love H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, or if you’re enough of a fan of the author to want to seek out his inspirations, then by all means, check this out. However, for the casual reader, I don’t think this is going to light many fires.