The Lord Dunsany, Time, and Hegel

Lord Dunsany

This Week’s Prompt:6. In Ld Dunsany’s “Idle Days on the Yann.” The inhabitants of the antient Astahan, on the Yann, do all things according to antient ceremony. Nothing new is found. “Here we have fetter’d and manacled Time, who wou’d otherwise slay the Gods.”

The Resulting Story: Eternity Falls

Lord Dunsany is someone people should be more familiar with. Edward Pluckett was, and is, one of the most influential writers in the fantastic, gifting the world with The King of Elfand’s Daugher, and The Gods of Pegana . Lord Dunsany has touched minds as scattered as Mr. Lovecraft, who has provided todays prompt, as well as the illustrious J.R.R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo Del Toro, Robert E. Howard, Arthur C. Clark, Borges, and many more. He has much to recommend, building a world as spanning as Middle Earth and the Dreamlands, with influences the world over. If you wish to write fantasy, he is key to read.

His story in this case, the Idles of Yann, touch on another author however. One…less fantastic by a measure but more dull to be sure. This will be brief, fear not. I won’t subject you to the tyranny of historical philosophy for long. Hegel argued that history, and thus time, only occurs when people act as individuals and great men arise. It is by this method that Yann has ‘slain’ time. For if everything is done the same way, at the same moment, does a day really end? It becomes cyclical, the day never passing. We can of course in modern ages observe the decay around us. And people will pass.

But if they are replaced by those who act in the same ritual matter, and assumes their ritual identiy, are they dead? How can they be? Sure, we may bluster about the soul, but if from womb to grave all actions are planned and purposed, if every person and every role is the same without err and change stomped out of the cycle, then time surely must die. Because what can we call time, if not the measure of changes?

Astahahn’s role in the Idles of Yann is a sort of divine life support. By dreaming and ritually remembering every god that has been, Yann keeps them safe from “Time, who would otherwise slay the gods.” And if the Gods die, dreams shall die too. What are we to do with this though? Time and change are fundamental to the plot of a story. At the core of narrative is ‘Things happen.” Astahahn is a mere stop on a travel log down the river Yann, with meditations on Gods and imagination and the like. How do we build a story out of manacled time?

Well, two routes seem most apparent to myself. The first is the manacling of time, the inception of the eternity of this city (one wonders if the beginning is repeated without end). This would be a strange piece, since the ending would be the removal of endings, the middle repeating forever and ever. The alternative, however, is more nefarious. The end of the chains, the cycle breaking in the city that has bound time.

I find the second choice more appealing. A story about how this bubble of eternity is overpowered, how Time and Entropy and the Powers Invisible storm through its walls like the Greeks at Troy. It is akin to how utopia can only exist at its beginning or end (though I will note that there is no reason to assign to Astahahn some sort of perfected existence; it seems to be a bleak place of slumber at best). And what may come, when chance triumphs fate and the might of eternity must give to deaths swing, who is to say? In Western lore, the one to try such before was bound by heavy chains.

What schemes do you have in mind against such a power? Will rebellion come from within or invasion from without?

7 thoughts on “The Lord Dunsany, Time, and Hegel

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