The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 5

January 28, 2021

Previous post: The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 4.

“Being Dust” by Santiago Dabove

A man dies after falling off his horse near a cemetery, and gradually becomes incorporated into the surrounding landscape.

This is a deep cut from the editors. The author’s Wikipedia page is a stub comprising entirely the following:

Santiago Dabove (1889-1951) was an Argentine author. He was born in Morón, Buenos Aires where he resided his entire life and mostly lived in solitude.

His story “Being Dust” appears in the collection The Book of Fantasy.

It’s a great and worthy piece. This line from the second paragraph, in particular, is a keeper:

But never let it be said that I have exhausted suffering, further pain, further tears to endure. And don’t take my complaints and expressions of bitterness here and anything other than a variation on these singularly harsh words: “There is no hope for the heart of man!”

“A Parable of Gluttony” by Alexandra David-Neel

A story notable primarily for its use of the word “micturated”.

“The Persecution of the Master” by Alexandra David-Neel

This story has something of the quality of a Zen kōan in that it does not readily yield its lesson. Tales like this are endlessly fascinating because of how consistently they puzzle me. But they manage to puzzle me while also leaving me quite bored. It’s a dissatisfying puzzlement, one that questions whether there is even a puzzle at all to be solved.

This story is not actually very boring, as it involves a variety of locales and some magical disappearing acts. But it’s still puzzling in that kōanesque way that both tickles and fails to tickle my fancy.

“The Idle City” by Lord Dunsany

Not much to say on this one. It’s four stories in one, with a frame tale that teases a “very wonderful” fifth story we will never hear. The piece concludes on this lovely melancholy note:

For how short a while man speaks, and withal how vainly. And for how long he is silent. Only the other day I met a king in Thebes, who had been silent already for four thousand years.

“Tantalia” by Macedonio Fernandez

A man tortures a clover plant. This story is written in a very dense and abstractly philosophical style that I find difficult to parse through. It’s intriguing, but ultimately I don’t have the patience to really enjoy it.

“Eternal Life” by James George Frazer

A small parable on the dangers of eternal life without eternal youth. It goes about as well as you would imagine.

“A Secure Home” by Elena Garro

A tale of family life in the afterlife, told as a play. It would be interesting to see it staged.

The story has slight overtones of Sartre’s No Exit, but not nearly so bleak. There is a powerful sequence near the end that evokes the joy and terror of transmutation of flesh into all things:

GERTRUDIS: Sometimes you’ll feel very cold; and you’ll be the snow falling in an unfamiliar city, on to grey roofs and red caps.

CATALINA: What I like most is to be a sweet in a little girl’s mouth, or a gold thistle, to make those who read by a window cry!

MUNI: Don’t worry when your eyes begin to disappear, because then you’ll be all the eyes of the dogs looking at absurd feet.

MAMÁ JESUSITA: Oh, I hope you never have to be the blind eyes of a blind fish in the deepest sea. You don’t know what a terrible feeling it gave me: it was like seeing and not seeing.

CATALINA (laughing and clapping): You also got very scared when you were the worm going in and out of your mouth!

VINCENTE: For me, the worst thing was being the murderer’s dagger.

MAMÁ JESUSITA: Now the rats will come back. Don’t scream when you yourself scurry across your own face.

CLEMENTE: Don’t tell her that, you’ll scare her. It’s frightening learning to be all those things.

GERTRUDIS: Especially since you barely learn to be a man in the world.

Continued at The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 6.

The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 5 - January 28, 2021 - Greg Poulos