The delicate but somber funeral procession depicted in Gervasio Gallardo's cover art is an elegy for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series itself, as this was the final volume officially published under that imprint. And it's fitting that it collects work by Lord Dunsany, surely the master of classic fantasy, including two plays & a poem. As always, each piece is a finely-crafted jewel, redolant of rare spices & tinted with subtle colors, perhaps not all of them to be found in the fields we know. Even after reading Dunsany's work over some 40+ years now, I'm still astonished at how easily he creates another world entirely in just a page or two of bewitching prose. It all seems to come so effortlessly, opening & revealing itself like a budding flower.
While Dunsany's best work remains in print to this day, there's still something special about those Ballantine editions, which introduced so many of us to his writing at a wide-eyed & impressionable age. Fantasy really didn't exist as its own genre then, with its few examples usually subsumed under the science-fiction label; but this series gave us our first real taste of it as literature, a Romantic & poetic vintage that originated in fairy tale & legend. A far cry from the generic Dungeons-&-Dragons school of fantasy that floods the shelves today!
No, this is something far more rare & elegant: a vision of longing, a touch of the sardonic, and the power of the imagination to transform the mundane world. There's always a sense of something beautiful fading away, or already lost forever, in classic fantasy -- and no-one evoked that better than Dunsany. Escapism? In part ... but the everyday world is something we need to escape from at times, isn't it?
Again, while you can find much of Dunsany's fantasy work currently in print, try & find the Ballantine editions if possible, both for their wondrous cover art & for Lin Carter's appreciative introductions & notes. He's often disparaged or completely dismissed these days; but it should be remembered that he championed quality fantasy when almost no-one else did, and saw to it that classics such as this collection were reprinted. Highly recommended!