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Saturday
Apr042009

In the Land of Time

The fantastic has grown and shrunk over the last several decades, a product of what we have come to believe and what we are taught no longer exists.  The fables and whispers of yore, beasts and gods and impossible feats from impossible dreams – these have been exposed, say the high priests of galactic speculation, as signs of inner tribulation and repressed desire.  Metempsychosis is as ludicrous as miracles, both of whom yield no ocular proof.  Now readers of this site are aware of what I think of such humbug defended to the death by militant minds who have never really used their minds at all.  We are built for calculation and observation, true enough; but our minds are not bound by numbers, theorems or, worst of all, by our own pathetic human limitations.  Should we doubt our flight when all the birds of paradise skate our skies?  Should the fact that our deoxyribonucleic acid is shared in almost precise sequence by so many other animals oblige us to conclude that we must obviously be their descendants?  Evolution has revealed many vital links to our biological situs, but left unanswered the real questions of our cosmogony.  Yet modern science, in their insufferable arrogance and quest for fame – a fame that in their world of charlatans and speculators could not be more fleeting – continues to insist that we know enough to say that there is no anthropomorphic Creator because "the idea of an old man with a long white beard sitting on a throne is preposterous" (quoted from many dull and dead sources).  That idea is one that people of faith have felt in countless variations since they were far too young to be told of such an image; it is an image of our omega that we carry within ourselves because that same image can be purported to represent something less benevolent, Time.  Which brings us to a fine story from this collection.

Although a tale of fantasy In the Land of Time is also admixed with one of horror, and all good horror tales begin with a warning.  Our warning comes in the first paragraph in the form of a testament:

Thus Karnith, King of Alatta, spake to his eldest son: 'I bequeath to thee my city of Zoon, with its golden eaves, whereunder hum the bees.  And I bequeath to thee also the land of Alatta, and all such other lands as thou art worthy to possess, for my three strong armies which I leave thee may well take Zindara and overrun Istahn, and drive back Onin from his frontier, and leaguer the walls of Yan, and beyond that spread conquest over the lesser lands of Hebith, Ebnon, and Karida.  Only lead not thine armies against Zeenar, nor ever cross the Eidis.'

Karnith père thus expires to be relieved by Karnith fils or, more fully, Karnith Zo.  The matter is then not whether the new regent will cross the Eidis but how and when certainly a policy advocated by the more hawk-like among the Alattans.  And so, as many decision-makers tend to do, Karnith decides to poll his people, not by democratic vote but by sensation.  He walks over the fields of his massive demesne and into the villages of the fiefdoms; he watches the smoke rise from the humble huts, the villagers tending to the bleating sheep (with the beautiful aside: "and the King wondered if men did otherwise in Istahn"), and "pondered much, who had not pondered before."  He had waited years to become king but had not gotten to know the designs of his own labyrinth, the breaks in his own earth.  He is then primordially shocked by the instances in which his folk attribute their wizened apathy to the megrims of Time.  "Time has ruthlessly done it," he is told and stares back at the clouds and sun that "shone upon Alatta and Istahn, causing the flowers to open wide in each."  An attack on his neighbors is postponed for an attack on that force which has spread equal ruin and dread to all nations, and his armies set out for the Land of Time with the blood-parched zeal of true warriors of doom.

What they find after their endless luff into an unsubsiding wind will not be revealed here, but it can be held for an allegory of what Time has to offer us.  Dunsany's prose of fantasy has been rightly praised as some of the finest of the British Isles, and there is much to be said for his archaisms, quickness of imagery and courage in presenting that which can only be presented in absolute terms.  His other writings, primarily featuring this fictional raconteur, are not as successful because his mind did not really operate on the level of the parlor room churl: he was born to write the fantastic in hues hitherto undiscovered.  Included above is an illustration from his most cherished of artists (a modern disciple of this Dutch painter of genius) who appended many pictures to his tomes and even inspired some of his tales.  My antipathy towards what has assumed the title of fantasy (and its twin separated at birth, science fiction) is mostly owing to the mechanical nature of the storytelling.  We may envision at more fanciful moments Mordor or some other realm as a thinly-veiled counterpart to our own; but rarely are moral themes touched upon with any valence because the themes are not as important as the strangeness of the whole endeavor.  And what then of Time, "the servant of Death," the "Enemy of my House," he who "wore a look on his face such as murderers wear"?  Let's just say his representation matches his actions, which are ubiquitous and irreversible.  And let's just hope that his victory is not the last.      

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