From the FOREWORD. To praise a new play of Dunsany's is, to my mind, like commending a sunset as a satisfactory event, or expressing a favorable opinion of the beauty of flowers. Which emphasizes the remarkable fact that this author has no lukewarm admirers, or temperate cavilers. Readers of both his prose and plays divide themselves into antithetical groups: those who read with cool, abstract, analytical consciousness, and those who so lose themselves in "eternal and ancient lands" that they forget language, style, the ...
From the FOREWORD. To praise a new play of Dunsany's is, to my mind, like commending a sunset as a satisfactory event, or expressing a favorable opinion of the beauty of flowers. Which emphasizes the remarkable fact that this author has no lukewarm admirers, or temperate cavilers. Readers of both his prose and plays divide themselves into antithetical groups: those who read with cool, abstract, analytical consciousness, and those who so lose themselves in "eternal and ancient lands" that they forget language, style, the author himself, and only when the tale is past, the play ended, do they become again aware of the world and its lesser affairs, remember and appreciate the conceiver of these words and phrases, and become conscious of some faint protest from the wholly confused, self-controlled critics who, like Miss Cubbidge's school-friend feel that "it is not Proper for you to be there." Hence any foreword such as this can be only a very personal thing. If I were as frank as critics are supposed to be, or brief as book-reviewers ought to, or direct as a head-liner, I might sum it all up in a single sentence: I am tremendously fond of Dunsany and his work, and I am sorry for you if you're not ! The law of compensation is ever operative and those who find no thrill, no emotion of utter delight in these tales and plays, must surely draw from some other source of life's pleasure, real surfeit, of which we, his devotees, are ignorant. I have read "The Exiles' Club" probably forty times, in crowded hotel lobbies, in green and steamy jungles, in an upper berth swinging through an arc of ninety degrees, and I look forward to the forty-first reading with the certain knowledge of complete absorption. I know that the four words "I am the last" in "Charon," and the other four, "It was new then" in "The Song of the Blackbird" will seem as fresh at the next as at the first reading. There is very probably some definite reason for such unreasoning obsession as this, but I can neither name nor phrase it. Whether Dunsany pictures little god Jabim sorrowing on a kitchen midden, or pirates sailing in a wheeled brig through the Sahara, or the men of Daleswood scrawling their love of home in a doomed front-line trench, he compels my complete surrender of consciousness to his theme. And when such is the case, specific criticism is impossible. Humanity overwhelmingly prefers photography to painting -- the negative of a battlefield to Toten Insel, O. Henry to Maeterlinck, Conrad to Blackwood, Stevenson to Stephens. My own life, as a scientist, I find is a never- ending attempt to turn painting into photography -- fairy tales into drab reality -- to interpret in terms of physics, chemistry, interaction, or some sort of understandable truth, such miracles as the change from caterpillar to butterfly, the assumption of cock's plumage by a hen pheasan.... ....Two and two must surely hold more of unconscious fascination for a child, than the eternal certainty of their known sum; some of the thrill in the mysterious hieroglyphics of a gorgeous black and gold Chinese sign is lost when it is interpreted as advertising an imported hair oil. And so perhaps my sheer, uncritical joy in a play such as the "If" of the present volume, is due to the relief of leavening the dull main street of life with flowers of Carcassonne, or as in this case, with the crystal of Ali; a relief from the eternal straight line or triangle drama, which can develop or end only happily or unhappily, to a play which begins in a spirit of comedy, develops mysteriously, and ends satisfactorily.
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