The SFFaudio Podcast #767 – The Charwoman’s Shadow by Lord Dunsany, read by Michelle Fry for LibriVox. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the book (7 hours, 40 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Trish E. Matson, and Scott Danielson
Talked about on today’s show:
rhymes with rainy, mainly falls on the plainy in Spainy, the main character’s name, a question, was he Catholic?, set in Spain, a man of all seasons, both sides of the Irish civil war, his heart is Irish, seated in Ireland, historically wealthy and famous, kinsmen of a Catholic saint, a crosier head, a staff with a hook at the top, buck you to hard, quite a bit of Dunsany, Reading, Short And Deep, mind would wander away, caught up in his curly-cues of ideas, a super simple plot, The Book Of Wonder Stories, Wizard demands somebody’s shadow for services rendered, Jorge Luis Borges story, writing at length later, 1926, January 2023, more as the years go by, other public domain already, better at length?, the exact same content, soak in with a short, beautiful writing, Jesse doesn’t care about plot, it’s a good book, Trish and Scott loved it, The King Of Elfland’s Daughter, Penguin Book edited by S.T. Joshi, he is quite good, excellent themes, where the plot went, Jesse had no clue, oblivious, she’s too old him, she’s of the wrong class for him, once he gets a look at her silhouette, Ramone Alonzo Matthew Mark Luke John, trying to help other people, being a knightly hero, spending time with the ladies, a very strong will, moved by pity, he doesn’t understand at first, misery, swears to help her, quixotic, the Spain setting, a Don Quixote character, young and doofusy, romances of other heroes, not a bad thing, choose your heroic quests carefully, Persuasion by Jane Austen, being part of this society, doing his duties, the Jane Austen structure, beyond this wood we set much by gold, beyond this wood lies error, evil magician, stories about genies giving us three wishes, focused on the wrong thing, the evil wizard that’s not so evil, A Good Story Is Hard To Find, Northanger Abbey, a fun writer, her own genre, true with Dunsany as well, so many gems of Dunsany in this, the opening, meta openings, the image of the man crossing the landscape, talking to his dad, not playing ball anymore, son, you gotta earn some money, the priests have told you that money is filthy, for good crops to grow they have to have something filthy in their roots, the guy who takes care of our horses, they get paid once a year, we live on rocky ground, the father is wise, the sister seems to be wise, everybody is wise except for our doofusy young man, he’s just young, it’s great to spend time at the knee of Lord Dunsany, the master before Ramon Alonzo shows up, elixir vitae, resounding stairs, whatever the rats might dare, golden key, a lock he turned only once every thirty years, little curtains the spiders had drawn across it, alone with the Moon, age worn steps of oak, free from its foibles, unyoked by its causes, fresh and keen, the nimble alertness of youth, a well wrought rapier coming to its first war, feeling the new generation, the newer ones, refreshing, rattling to the older generations, cast off the generation he’s in and become part of the new one, interesting concepts, love the language, so many pleasant digressions to follow along with, sending out the shadows, far beyond the outer planets, the Lovecraft element, the torment that that causes, her name was Anemone, the narrator, she’s the main character, her backstory drives a lot of what’s going on, we would have recognized you, the house with the lit window, the money is long gone, regretting letting her go, such a great backstory, he’s lifting a curse, he tricked her into giving up her shadow, her youth and beauty, Duckweed, revealing of the wizard, above, he’s not in it for her body, he’s in it for her shade, certain demons have no shape, Ariel and Caliban, servants or slave, to commune with Yuggoth, what the gossip is on Pluto, the genre of this, clearly a fantasy, magic for science, boring thing: transmutations of metals, Chapter 12, had you anonymized this book, it’s clearly obvious who wrote this,
Ramon Alonzo pondered bitterly: he had sold his shadow for gold, and now gold was not needed.
He had not yet learned the whole art of transmutation. Would the magician give back his shadow?
And Mirandola must have her love-potion, and the charwoman have her shadow out of the box. He had much to do if his plans were to come to fruition.
Back he went to the gloomy room that was sacred to magic. “I have no need of gold,” he said.
“It is a worthless metal,” replied the magician. “The philosophers sought it for the interest they took in re-arranging the element. But the stuff itself was nought to them. They buried it where I have said, and have often warned man of its worthlessness; in testimony whereof their writings remain to this day.”
“I would learn no more of it,” said Ramon Alonzo.
“No?” said the magician.
“I pray you therefore give back my shadow,” he said.
“But it is my fee,” said the magician.
“I would learn other things,” said the young man, “for other fees. But this fee I pray you return.”
“Alas,” said the magician, “you have learned much already.”
“Of this matter nothing,” said Ramon Alonzo.
“Alas, yes,” replied the magician. “For you have learned the oneness of matter, and that there is but one element. And this is a great secret to the vulgar, who believe there are four. And doubtless they will, in their error, discover even more than these four before ever they come to learn that there is but one, which you have learnt already, and this is my fee for it.” And he stooped and rapped the shadow-box somewhat sharply.
“You gave me a shadow to wear in its place,” said the young man.
“I will make you a longer one,” replied the magician.
Ramon Alonzo saw that words would not do it, and that whatever he said would be verbally parried with skill.
“Then give me a love-potion,” he said.
“I do not dispense these things,” said the magician haughtily.
“Then teach me how they are made, and not the making of gold.”
The magician pondered a moment. It was all one to him. He had his fee safe in the shadow-box. He despised equally gold and love, and cared not which he taught. Some etiquette he had learned from some older magician seemed to prompt him to give something for his fee.
“Gladly,” he answered briefly.
Then Ramon Alonzo sat down without a word, thinking of Mirandola.
He had never enquired the reason of anything that she asked for. It was Mirandola, with eyes like a stormy evening. Thoughts passed behind those eyes such as never visited him. Mirandola knew. It is hard to say how the flash of those eyes swayed him. He never sought to know, and never questioned Mirandola’s demands.
“By the admixture of crocodile’s tears with the slime of snails,” came the voice of the Master, “the basis of all love-potions is constructed. Unto this is to be added a powder, obtained by pounding the burned plumage of nightingales. Flavour with attar of roses. Add a pinch of the dust of a man that has been a king, and of a woman that has been fair two pinches, and mix with common dew. Do this by light only of glow-worms and saying suitable spells.”
Ramon Alonzo, following the gestures that the Master made as he spoke, saw on the shelves the ingredients that he mentioned. He saw a jar holding attar of roses beside one named “Dust of Helen.” He saw two jars side by side called “Dust of Pharaoh” and “Dust of Ozymandias,” one of them probably Rameses. He saw a vial labelled “Crocodile’s Tears.” All that he needed seemed there; outside in the wood the glow-worms burned, and there were plenty of snails.
The lesson went on drearily, the magician intoning various spells that the young man learned by heart or believed he learned, and naming alternative ingredients that had of old been used in more torrid lands. Of the ingredients Ramon Alonzo was so sure that no mistake was possible; if ever he erred at all it was with the spells.
guided by the plot, really good movie or an episode of a show, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Rejected Sorcerer (aka El Brujo Postergado Borges) story, a trail of flowered footsteps, finally a reason for CGI (removing a shadow), the uncanny, Michelle Fry from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hints of irony,
Delightfully imaginative, somewhat similar to Dunsany’s blockbuster fantasy novel, The King Of Elfland’s Daughter (and published just two years after it), this equally entertaining, verbally voluptuous tale brings us in touch with the heraldry, artistry, and superstitions of the bygone Golden Age of Spain; with the magical arts of ancient times– alchemy, wizardry, potions, forest creatures that go bump in the night, quests for esoteric knowledge, use of the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Catholic church’s war against the ‘Black Art”. Above all, Dunsany explores the many mysterious properties of shadows, and warns what havoc might befall you if you lose yours. Published in 1926.
ruminating on the word “shadow”, an exotic location, the rolling out of the panisci and the change of age, he went therein and the golden age was over, the best age ever?, silver age comics, a place he can set his stories, the wizard is doing philosophy, Raistlin from the Dragonlance books, much more playful, a curious music, the scurry of little things, all manner of magical things, all the children of Pan, landscape talk, the sale of pasturelands, the rocky terrain, why people go through forests, a fictional spain, Averoigne of Clark Ashton Smith, they lost their minds as should we, the girls ran screaming from him, in myth and stuff, Dracula, in myth, a spirit or a ghost, that doesn’t cast a shadow, demons didn’t cast shadows, shadow means soul, a shade, fits him with a shadow, a very sharp knife, our shadows grow and contract, the science element, the regular people are smart, a close reading of Lovecraft stories, the regular people are always right, communing with devils, all the rumors are true, what magic is, communicate with things on other planets, like a lich I live forever, because she’s had her shadow removed she’s not aging, Tithonus, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, a happy romantic ending, the shadow cast the body, flips what reality is, the shadow would take the shape of the body, very Catholic, working these idea minds, everybody in this book is clever, working information, Scott would love this book, so used to hearing confessions, set in Spain, we don’t have wizards in Ireland, wizards in Wales, the tone would have been different, exotic Spain, Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley, 1922, 1926, no excuses not to do it now, LibriVox, Ballantine Adult Fantasy, The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt, the Lin Carter introductions, not the world’s greatest writer, has good taste, an enthusiast, bringing attention, we can trust everything he suggests, publication order, The Wood Beyond The World by William Morris, 1894, an artist writing a book, the wallpaper guy, Scott is 55, hard science fiction, matured into fantasy, hard science fiction is simple and fun, here’s a big dumb object, what do you think about that?, Spin, they’re hard to make and hard to make good, Childhood’s End, go onto Netflix and type in science fiction, set in the future, heist in a science fiction background, the real what if kinda stuff, Westerns, watched all the submarine movies, these are old books that have stood the test of time, Shakespeare’s Planet, Invitation To The Game, how short it was, it says VR on the tin, there are still good books to be found, looking up a famous author that writes something you’re interested in, Dunsany wrote a ton, lesser works, In A Dim Room, nailed this concept, tricked me, what a gifted writer, knowing how to not overstay your welcome in sentences, the digressions are handled, speaking true things in those asides, there’s no lies in here, this is the way the world is, this is the way people are, descriptions of things, descriptions of rooms, the spiderwebs, she doesn’t clean the spiderwebs on the curtains, going back to his spidery bedroom, dust, dust as a theme, shadow is all over this book, a constant word, implying age, a magical component, dust can obscure, the one element, the essence of beautiful woman, simple dew, both water, master of many other things, the master of language, sit there spellbound,
“Never again,” she said, “never again. It lay over the fields once; it used to make the grass such a tender green. It never dimmed the buttercups. It did no harm to anything. Butterflies may have been scared of it, and once a dragon-fly, but it did them never a harm. I’ve known it protect anemones awhile from the heat of the noonday sun, which had otherwise withered them sooner. In the early morning it would stretch away beyond our garden right out to the wild; poor innocent shadow that loved the grey dew. And in the evening it would grow bold and strong and run right down the slopes of hills, where I walked singing, and would come to the edges of bosky tangled places, till a little more and its head would have been out of sight: I’ve known the fairies then dance out from their sheltered arbours in the deeps of briar and thorn and play with its curls. And, for all its rovings and lurkings and love of mystery, it never left me, of its own accord never. It was I that forsook it, poor shadow, poor shadow that followed me home.
fakes, I need a gimmick, how do I make this simpler, what are some basic things people can relate to, look at your shadow, kids goes to sleep, literally doing magic, her curls are being played with fairies, congratulated themselves and felt the need to never write again, thoughtful digression, so readable, as simple a story you can get, that twist, why isn’t he worried about his own shadow, doesn’t even have a name, it fits, the question, leaving the scene and coming back, we grow into understanding what this book was about, her shadow was right in the title, rummaging in the shadow box, I know who that is, we’re slightly smarter than Ramon Alonzo, the love potion, her suitor, the brother doesn’t doesn’t need the money, the potion goes awry, tolerance engendered, nurses him back to health, the switcheroo, expecting the reader to be wiser than Ramon Alonzo, not a children’s book, Farmer In The Sky or Charwoman’s Shadow, mature enough, a love potion for his sister and some gold for his dad, too mature in a large sense, the subjects, to sophisticated in its simplicity, what makes The Hobbit or The Lord Of The Rings fun, dragons, gold!, all the sodas, all the comic books, have you noticed how rocky our fields are, your sister isn’t going to dowry herself, stories of childhood, we were all once children, that incredible playfulness, so reminding of childhood, adults enjoy reading books written for the YA market, T. Kingfisher, Ursula Vernon’s A Wizard’s Guide To Defensive Baking, Loadstar Award, reading it to children, a book written for children that adults can appreciate, a Jane Austen knockoff, Jane Austen with Cinderella, hitting all those fun beats, an unconsciousness, the author is unwilling to confront this?, yes, keep your class, modern colloquial attitudes, that’s kinda weird, the answer is no, aiming for the feeling of those things that I like, comedic elements, horrific elements, declaring war against wizards, a class that gets blamed in the siege in this city, using discrimination against others, the presumed ideal audience has the characters slightly older than you, children’s YA, too good a writer, the disposable forgettable, material that we burn through early on, pick any year that you were alive as a person, movies that would be important later on, its iconicness, name it and the associations come up, I’m smarter than I was, noticing the author, John Carpenter’s whatever it is, adults in touch with their youthfulness, boring for kids, too digressive, indulgent, a suitable student, a stage he goes through, technically an evil wizard, rocket fuel is needed, when you take your dog to the vet, how he acts, just doin what wizards do, TV Tropes, affable evil, so focused on tropes, totally fun, every scene is full of tropes, it was all a dream, Shakespeare, 17 book titles, from other character’s POV, the priest’s POV, the dog’s POV, A Night In The Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, Smoke And Shadows by Tanya Huff, a shadow lord, possess people and do other things, The Silmarillion, how Sauron is a character, the ringwraiths are only shadows, without their clothes and horses they don’t exist, back to be reclothed, written for children, overlays a shadow, the shadow of an actual dragon passing over the water, some dwarfs want their money vs. make things right, the gold that glitters on the ring, the same idea mines, working real pure material, I want heists!, gay pirates on a heist!, Ronin (1998), international criminals chasing a suitcase, a McGuffin, these are great action sequences, these car chases are terrific, an opening sequence, a series of tropes, real attention, power corrupts people, we do need some money, son, fun stuff, why I think we like him, wizards don’t exist!, dealing with real themes, he does so much with a tiny idea, holding on to with stories like this, storytelling, since the beginning, something mythic and deep that really appeals, foundational, David Mamet, French action movies, Sean Bean, spies betraying each other, running around not knowing what you’re running around for, an action movie saying fundamentally we don’t know what we’re doing on this planet, being lied to by ourselves and by our governments, con-men movies, people lying to themselves movies, Homicide (1991), who killed somebody, a mistake early on, pulls the rug out from under, go back to basics, in a way that Shakespeare does, the big prop in Othello is a handkerchief, it all hangs on a handkerchief, swordfights, good storytelling, Wikipedia stuff, Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence, Olaf Stapledon, at their best at short stories, $165, 83 pages, Anamnesis press, so many cool books, Persuasion by Jane Austen, Julie Davis, 6 books, Mary Shelley has other books, a legacy that big, 6 books that were all great, modern Stephen King, Westlake wrote 60-70 books, a writer’s writer vs. a regular writer, low output, Ted Chiang, long may he live, he needs a good 75 years or so, whatever pace he wants, how can I help make sure he stays alive, would that help, send some vitamins, here’s a helmet, Extrapolation, inter-library loan, fanzine packaging, two dude contemporaneous for a period, both in issues of F&SF, a really long life, 1878-1957, Lovecraft was very short, a farther distant past, all of WWII, the Boer War, Dunsany was in the 2nd Boer War, Robert E. Howard died at 30, 4 or 5 feet, Robert E. Howard is at least double that, started later and had a way bigger output, commercial purposes, much rather be writing letters, I have a demon inside me and that demon must be served, you gotta kill yourself, an astounding number of Robert E. Howard stories, keep turning up new Robert E. Howard stories, his output was such, places he sold, trunks full of unsold stories, unfinished, finished by other people, Austen died at 41, unfinished novel, Emily Dickinson, Tor.com, Tales From The White Heart, Draco Tavern, The Black Widowers, Jorkens (Lord Dunsany), club stories, and Jorkens said, In A Dim Room, thrilling tales, I cannot be held responsible, a thrilling story of India, running away from a tiger, that would change the game, he can smell the tiger, the floor of the cave is very smooth, many paws for many years, you are talking to a ghost, he had me, he tricked me, he’s a good tricker, fables from the Fountain, homage, an anthology of British writers, The 9 Billion And First Name Of God, everybody loves those guys, Foundations Friends, The Originist by Orson Scott Card, loved and enjoyed, Farnham’s Freehold, Heinlein rhymes with grime, father’s day Brunch, playing D&D lately, the whole family plays, the starter pack, Dragon of Icespire Peak, more adventures in book form, that’s cool, in Hades right now, an Edgar Allan Poe module, pretty swordless, there’s a troll, The Call Of Cthulhu starter set, online group, I died once, how hard it was to shoot somebody, it went horribly wrong for me, how immersive it is, how into it you can get, during college, nothing, conventions, GenCon every year, a zombie apocalypse, a female scientist, military people, Delta Green?, I cooked the food and had long ago run out of meat and was using zombies, so immersive, a notch better than even reading a story, grow up, get old, kids grow up, get old, now you have to enough people to form a party, sit back and relax, good job, thank you sir, have a great day.