For years, I’d read about the Jorkens stories of Lord Dunsany. I’d read a couple of the stories in anthologies but the actual collections themselves seemed to always be out of print. So when I finally saw a e-version of the first collection, the Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens, I snatched it up. (Clearly, not literally)
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Dunsany’s Jorkens throws me off my game
Short version: it wasn’t what I expected.
I had read that the Jorkens stories had created the Pub Story genre. Which clearly wasn’t the case since it has earlier roots with authors such as Chaucer and Raspe and Wodehouse. Given the fantastic elements in some of those works, I don’t even think that you can claim that Dunsany introduced the idea of fantastic elements to the genre.
However, I had read that Dunsany codified the genre and influenced later authors like Arthur C.
Clarke, Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Larry Niven and Spider Robinson. So I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. I expected the dreamy writing of his early works and the tropes I’d seen used in so many later works.
The Jorkens stories (at least the early ones) are grounded in the contemporary world, which has the effect of making them feel more dated than just about everything else I’d read by Dunsany. Not every story takes place in the Billiards Club. And Jorkens, as opposed to merely being a vehicle to tell stories, is much more fleshed out as a character than many pub narrators. In fact, the last two stories form a character arc for him.
Full confession: I struggled to get through the book. Not because it was badly written or because it was complicated. No, just because it was not what I expected. I feel like I honestly can’t assess or judge the book. At some point, I will need to reread it for what it is, not for what it isn’t. And Dunsany kept writing Jorkens stories for decades. I hope to see how they developed.
And, as I ponder it, I realize that plenty of other authors broke the ‘rules’ of pub stories and I had no problem about. I’m pretty sure Spider Robinson broke ALL of them :D What threw me off my stride was that Jorkens is not like the Gods of Pagona or The Book of Wonder or others. And that’s not fair to the collection or Lord Dunsany.
At the end of day, I want to read more Jorkens stories and reread the ones I’ve read. Lord Dunsany never fails to intrigue and fascinate.