Monday, April 26, 2021

The Gods of Pegana broke rules that didn’t exist

 I’ve been rereading Lord Dinsany’s The Gods of Pegana regularly enough over the years that I’m not sure how often I’ve read it. I didn’t even mean to read it this time. I just found out that The Travel Tales of Mr Jorkens was available as an ebook. That made me look at other works of Lord Dunsany and I found myself reading The Gods of Pegana.

Lord Dunsany and The Gods of Pegana are both ridiculously influential.  Fantasy as a genre would be completely different if it wasn’t for Lord Dunsany and The Gods of Pegana is a big part of it. 

Authors who have listed Dunsany as a major influence include Lovecraft, Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Ashton Smith, LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, and... look, the list just goes on. It’s hard to believe one guy did so much to jumpstart fantasy as we know it.

And he seems so overlooked by modern audiences if not modern authors. It does seem hard to find his non-copywrit works which also makes me wonder if his estate is sitting on his later work.

The Gods of Pegana was his first book and it’s a tiny little thing. A novella at best or a bunch of linked vignettes. And there almost isn’t any plot to speak of. It’s a description of a fantasy pantheon of Gods and their prophets. It really reads like a holy text  for a religion that doesn’t exist in a world that doesn’t exist. 

But here’s the thing. This is one of the earliest examples of a book that is just about creating a setting and a cosmology. I have read that it was the very first (I’m not convinced of that fact but it does sound good) More than that, it was written in the context of the world, not from the viewpoint of an outsider.

World building is one of the corner stones of speculative fiction. The Gods of Pegana is a template for world building, an ur-example. I know fantasy worlds existed before it but I don’t know if anyone created whole pantheons out of cloth before. It was a game changer but the game didn’t even exist when it was written.

Did Lord Dunsany create a lot of ideas or tools that later creators would use or would someone else have come up with these tropes and concepts?

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