The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 9

February 7, 2021

Previous post: The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 8.

“The Shadow of the Players” by Edwin Morgan

One of these paragraph-long stories that has a mystical aura about it. Two kings play a game of chess, which is mirrored on the real-life battlefield below them.

Of note is that the story is said to be from the Mabinogion, which are

the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain. The stories were compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries from earlier oral traditions.

Digging ever so slightly deeper, it would seem that the story being retold here is a segment of “The Dream of Rhonabwy” where the kings playing chess[1] are none other than King Arthur himself and his follower Owain mab Urien.

None of this is particularly important, but it’s the sort of fun thing you learn when you scratch the surface of these stories.

“The Cat” by H. A. Murena

A man kills the other man with whom his significant other has been having an affair.[2] The murderer takes the murdered man’s cat and flees to a boarding house.

I had forgotten about this little two-page story, but upon a reread I think it’s a great entry. The opening, in particular, is a striking and confident deployment of subtextual storytelling:

The May morning on which it took place, veiled by the mist, seemed as unreal to him as the day he was born, an event perhaps truer than any other, but which we only manage to think of as an incredible idea. When he suddenly discovered the secret and impressive control the other one had over her, he decided to do it. He told himself that perhaps he would operate for her sake, to free her from a useless, degrading seduction. However, he was thinking of himself, he was following a road first taken long ago. And that morning, leaving the house, after it had all happened, he saw that the wind had driven away the mist, and on raising his eyes before the blinding clarity, he saw in the sky a black cloud which looked like a huge spider fleeing across a field of snow. But what he would never forget was that from that moment on the other man’s cat, the cat whose owner had boasted that he would never abandon him, began to follow him, with a certain indifference, almost with patience at his initial attempts to scare him off, until he became his shadow.

I’m also impressed at how the author (translator?) was able to juggle all those pronouns yet still maintain referential clarity throughout.

Incidentally, none of the above is particularly fantastical. Maybe a bit odd – but I feel like your everyday cat does weirder things than this on the reg.

Really the only fantastical part is the final sentence:

The he opened his mouth, not knowing for a moment why he did so, and finally he miaowed; shrilly, with infinite despair, he miaowed.

I like it when people spell “meow” as “miaow”. I personally don’t spell it that way, for no other reason than that’s not how I was brought up. But it’s fun to see all those vowels stuck in there together.

“The Story of the Foxes” by Niu Chiao

A man steals a page of indecipherable writing from some foxes, and the foxes go to great lengths to recover it.

Friggin’ foxes! Always causing trouble!

I’m not convinced that the author is real: a cursory googling only brings up references to The Book of Fantasy, and the compilation’s own “Sources and Acknowledgements” section completely omits a citation for this piece.

Continued at The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 10.


[1] Not actually chess, but the unpronounceable Ancient Welsh chess analogue known as gwyddbwyll.

[2] I originally tried writing this sentence as: “A man kills the man with whom his S.O. has been having an affair on him with.” Which is so weirdly ungrammatical that it hurts my brain to think about.

The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 9 - February 7, 2021 - Greg Poulos