Edward Plunkett, the author usually known as Lord Dunsany, was one of an old Anglo-Irish aristocratic family. He had a long and interesting life, but is nowadays usually remembered as the author of some very distinctive fantasy works.
Background and Biography
The Plunkett Family and Dunsany Castle
Dunsany1 Castle is found in County Meath in Ireland. The original castle was begun by the Normans shortly after their invasion of Ireland in 1169, and was a centre of Norman power in the area. In the 15th Century, Sir Christopher Plunkett acquired the lands and castle of Dunsany by marriage, and his son Christopher became the first Lord Dunsany2 in 1439. The lands and title have remained in the family ever since.
Childhood and Early Life
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett was born in 1878 in London, and spent his early childhood both at the family's property in Kent and at Dunsany. He was educated at Eton College and Sandhurst, and inherited his father's title in 1899, becoming the 18th Lord Dunsany at the age of 21. He fought in the Boer War in the Coldstream Guards. In 1901 he returned to Dunsany to take up the life of a landowner. His uncle, Horace Plunkett, was an MP and a prominent figure in Irish agricultural reform, and helped Lord Dunsany in the running of his estates. In 1904, Lord Dunsany married Lady Beatrice Child-Villiers.
Lord Dunsany led a very active life. He was a keen cricketer and marksman, as might be expected of a country landowner, but he was also an Irish chess champion, and produced a large number of plays, novels and stories. He knew a number of the great Irish literary figures of the early 20th Century, including WB Yeats, who encouraged him as a playwright and helped to put on his work at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He helped and encouraged a number of younger Irish writers, including the poet Francis Ledwidge and the short story writer Mary Lavin.
He rejoined the army in the First World War. After the war, when Ireland became independent from the UK, he spent more time at his property in England, and served in the Home Guard there during the Second World War. In later years, he was successful both as a lecturer and as a radio broadcaster. He died in 1957, and his son Randal inherited the title to become the 19th Lord Dunsany.
The Works of Lord Dunsany
Short Stories - Tales of Gods and Wonders
Lord Dunsany was a master of the short story. His distinctive style is said to be inspired by the classic English of the King James Bible, but he also had an instinctive touch for inventing names and phrases. Titles such as The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth or How Nuth Would Have Practiced his Art upon the Gnoles are instantly recognisable. He was one of the first fantasy writers to invent whole worlds and pantheons of gods, and these tales influenced many later writers.
His published collections began with The Gods of Pegana in 1905, and many of them featured remarkable illustrations by the artist SH Sime. The original collections are now hard to find, but most of his best stories are available in more recent collections, such as the recently published Time and the Gods.
Short Stories - Comic Travel Tales
Lord Dunsany also published five collections of comic stories featuring Edward Jorkens. In these, Jorkens is telling tall stories in a London club, egged on by his fellow members. Some of these stories are said to have been inspired by Lord Dunsany's experiences hunting big game in Africa. Jorkens Has a Large Whiskey is a fairly typical collection.
Some critics consider that Dunsany's touch was less sure when it came to full-length works. However, his novel The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924) is still in print and very well known. Less well known are his other fantasy novels which include The Charwoman's Shadow (1926) and Don Rodriguez (1922). The Curse of the Wise Woman (1933) is interesting because of its semi-autobiographical touches, in the description of a boy growing up as heir to a great Irish estate, and the rather wry view of his rebellious tenants.
Plays and Other Works
Lord Dunsany wrote a number of plays which were successfully produced both at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and on Broadway. However, these are almost unknown nowadays. He published some autobiographical works and a volume of poetry, all of which are also long out of print.