The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 16

March 6, 2021

Previous post: The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 15.

We’re getting close! I think this may be the penultimate collection of reviews. Most of the remaining stories are shorties, except for the Oscar Wilde one.

“Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” by Oscar Wilde

I mentioned this story back in my review of “The Desire to Be a Man” by some guy with a very long name. This story has a vaguely similar theme, in that the main character is a well-to-do person who decided he needs to commit a crime, but kind of sucks at it. I like Wilde’s treatment of it because it’s funny and witty, whereas the other guy’s was … not that.

The protagonist, Lord Arthur Savile, is told by a palm-reader that he is fated to commit murder. Lord Arthur finds this whole business very distressing, and decides to get the murder out of the way immediately, before it can cause too much disruption in his life. He first tries to poison his cousin, and fails. Then:

He accordingly looked again over the list of his friends and relatives, and, after careful consideration, determined to blow up his uncle, the Dean of Chichester.

Lord Arthur gets a bomb from an eccentric Russian, but this ploy fails, too. He eventually does get the job done, and everything works out quite nicely for him in the end. It wraps up in a very neat and pleasing way.

It’s a very easy story to like: witty and dryly funny in just the way you would expect from an Oscar Wilde piece. It’s not so easy to excerpt, and I don’t have, like, a sophisticated technical analysis of it to provide here, but the story’s a winner.

“The Sorcerer of the White Lotus Lodge” by Richard Wilhelm[1]

This is a short tale about a sorcerer of the black arts who has a bunch of kinda crappy pupils who keep messing up his magic.

It’s actually a pretty funny piece when you think about it in those terms. But it’s not really written in a comic style, so I’m not 100% clear on the intended reading here.

“The Celestial Stag” by G. Willoughby-Meade

This is a very short tale, so I will provide it here in full:

An unaccountable tale is told in the Tzŭ Puh Yü of the Celestial stag, which lives in underground mines, and guides the workmen to the veins of gold and silver. If these creatures are hauled up into the daylight, they change into an offensively-smelling liquid, which deals pestilence and death around. If the miners refuse to haul them up (apparently they can speak, and are anxious to get out), the “stags” molest the miners, and have to be overpowered, immured in the mine, and firmly embedded in clay. Where the “stags” outnumber the miners, they sometimes torment the men and cause their death.

“Saved by the Book” by G. Willoughby-Meade

This story is slightly longer than the previous one, so I’ll not going to transcribe it. The main bullets are:

“The Reanimated Englishman” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The “story” (so far as it goes) describe the notion of a person being frozen in suspended animation in ice for hundreds of years. This piece reads like a fragment—and indeed it is: from a story titled “Roger Dodsworth”, apparently based upon a real hoax,[2] so that’s interesting I guess.

Speaking of Mary Shelley, she’s at the center of a very cool bit of trivia I learned in the past year or so. Wikipedia sums it up nicely in their article on the Villa Diodati:

The Villa Diodati is a mansion in the village of Cologny near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, notable because Lord Byron rented it and stayed there with John Polidori in the summer of 1816. Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who had rented a house nearby, were frequent visitors. Because of poor weather, in June 1816 the group famously spent three days together inside the house creating stories to tell each other, two of which were developed into landmark works of the Gothic horror genre: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Vampyre, the first modern vampire story, by Polidori.

This trivia is especially satisfying because it involves a fun follow-on bit of trivia:

The storms and unseasonably cold weather resulted in 1816 being referred to as the Year Without a Summer. It is now known that the exceptional global weather conditions that year were caused by the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.

Hooray for trivia!

Continued at The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 17.


[1] The story is listed as “by” Richard Wilhelm, although as with several other pieces in The Book of Fantasy (including the G. Willoughby-Meade stories discussed in this post) it seems to be an existing folk tale that Rilhelm captured in writing, so the authorship credit is a bit misleading.

[2] (Not one of those fake hoaxes.)

The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 16 - March 6, 2021 - Greg Poulos