Tales of War
Lord Dunsany, author of The King of Elfland's Daughter and many other stories and plays, was a Captain in the Fifth Royal Inniskilling Fusilliers during the First World War. This collection of essays and short stories describes his time in the trenches of northern France.
A reprint of the 1918 edition, newly typeset with a new introduction and a photograph of the author.
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|The text of Tales of War is in the public domain and we have made it available online for free.|
|From the Introduction|
Tales of War contains, intermixed with its
evocative descriptions of the landscape, both green and
desolate, many striking and memorable vignettes of the War:
the funeral of Richthofen, the Red Baron. The Kaiser
praying at Cologne Cathedral before a great battle.
Watching a Charlie Chaplin film near the front lines. (Even
then, he says, Chaplin was the most famous man in the
The value, however, of Lord Dunsany's tales and reflections does not lie in what he contributes to the historical chronicle. Tales of War is the account of a traveller through both the old world and the new. From his example we see that the love of nature, fondness for the good and simple things of life, and kindliness of spirit, though stressed by the terrible War, need not be made extinct.
There are in literature certain regions of gloom, so
splendid that whenever you come on them they leave in the
mind a sort of nightmare country which one's thoughts
revisit on hearing the lines quoted.
It is pleasant to picture such countries sometimes when sitting before the fire. It is pleasant because you can banish them by the closing of a book; a puff of smoke from a pipe will hide them altogether, and back come the pleasant, wholesome, familiar things. But in France they are there always. In France the nightmare countries stand all night in the starlight; dawn comes and they still are there. The dead are buried out of sight and others take their places among men; but the lost lands lie unburied gazing up at the winds; and the lost woods stand like skeletons all grotesque in the solitude; the very seasons have fled from them. The very seasons have fled; so that if you look up to see whether summer has turned to autumn, or if autumn has turned to winter yet, nothing remains to show you. It is like the eccentric dream of some strange man, very arresting and mysterious, but lacking certain things that should be there before you can recognize it as earthly. It is a mad, mad landscape... It looks as though man in his pride, with all his clever inventions, had made for himself a sorry attempt at creation.
Indeed when we trace it all back to its origin we find at the beginning of this unhappy story a man who was only an emperor and wished to be something more...
-- The Nightmare Countries
When the aëroplanes are home and the sunset has flared away, and it is cold, and night comes down over France, you notice the guns more than you do by day, or else they are actually more active then, I do not know which it is.
It is then as though a herd of giants, things of enormous height, came out from lairs in the earth and began to play with the hills. It is as though they picked up the tops of the hills in their hands and then let them drop rather slowly. It is exactly like hills falling. You see the flashes all along the sky, and then that lumping thump as though the top of the hill had been let drop, not all in one piece, but crumbled a little as it would drop from your hands if you were three hundred feet high and were fooling about in the night, spoiling what it had taken so long to make. That is heavy stuff bursting, a little way off.
If you are anywhere near a shell that is bursting, you can hear in it a curious metallic ring. That applies to the shells of either side, provided that you are near enough, though usually of course it is the hostile shell and not your own that you are nearest to, and so one distinguishes them. It is curious, after such a colossal event as this explosion must be in the life of a bar of steel, that anything should remain at all of the old bell-like voice of the metal, but it appears to, if you listen attentively; it is perhaps its last remonstrance before leaving its shape and going back to rust in the earth again for ages.
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