I was a member of a flash fiction writing group for some time, and have really come to appreciate the genre. As part of our group, we’d submit writing, but we’d also submit an “outside story” from some published author. I found those submissions incredibly valuable, as they showed the possibilities of the genre, and often showed possibilities I’d never thought of. It lead me to get a book from the library called The World’s Shortest Stories (An Anthology), a book I got in my own search for an outside story to submit.
One of the stories in the book was Charon. Charon is was one of those stories that I read and though, Dang. That’s really nice. That’s just a fantastic story. It is one of those stories that makes me want to throw down my pen (or laptop) and just never write again because I’ll never write a story that great and gets to that greatness so quickly. It’s this bit that really sealed the deal.
“Then the boat from the slow, grey river loomed up to the coast of Dis and the little, silent shade still shivering stepped ashore, and Charon turned the boat to go wearily back to the world. Then the little shadow spoke, that had been a man.
“I am the last,” he said.
No one had ever made Charon smile before, no one before had ever made him weep.”
I mean, c’mon! A story about the last human soul that Charon meets! Just fantastic.
So when I conceived of this project of reading things out loud, I knew I wanted to start with short stories, and I knew I wanted to start with Charon. The fact that Lord Dunsany wrote fifty other nice little tales was just a bonus, although I’ll admit, not all the stories in the collection hit me as hard as Charon. Some, like The Giant Poppy seemed incomprehensible, or impenetrable to me. That one falls into that category of flash fiction that is understandable only to the author, or perhaps a reader in the United Kingdom in the 1920’s. But others, like The Messengers or The Workman linger in my mind. The Workman in particular, haunts me, the image of the man falling to his death while trying to carve his name into a wooden ladder that will no doubt be used for scrap speaks to the often futile feeling of making creative works. What’s the point of it? Dunsany seems to ask that again and again, only to recall in stories like The Raft Builders that there is art that endures, that stays.
Dunsany strikes me as a man and a writer who thought very deeply about matters of time and impermanence, as well as the effects of modernization, death, and what it means to create. After reading through his works, I feel a deep affection for him, and am so thrilled to be able to share his works with the world. I’d like to think I’ve patched up the rafts carrying his words so they last a little longer. How nice a thing to be able to do.