This Week’s Prompt: 24. Dunsany—Go-By Street. Man stumbles on dream world—returns to earth—seeks to go back—succeeds, but finds dream world ancient and decayed as though by thousands of years.
This prompt brings many things to mind. For starters, we have Dunsany again! We talked at length about him here, for those uninformed. Great author, and all of his works are available online. Go-By Street included!
And Go-By Street is…interesting as an inspiration, since it is a sequel to the Idles of Yann. I will spare you the summation, since the basic premise is outlined in the rest of the prompt. And what a prompt. We have a reversal of a folkloric trope here: Fairyland.
Do not mistake the lands of the fae for kind ones, however. Distant though they are, the fae are a capricious lot. Even when they intend the best, they often do harm. The most famous harm, and one that this bears more than a passing resemblance to, is the habit of changelings. Fae will, for a variety of reasons, make off with a child who isn’t properly guarded by iron (or cold iron, to distinguish from steel). They replace the child with one of their own who is elderly, or a wooden doll.
The replaced child dies soon, and the stolen mortal suffers whatever fate the fae has in mind. Sometimes it is noble, as Oberon and Titianna’s during Midsummer’s Night Dream. Of course other times it is sinister. Fae are always in need of servants, you see. Even in Arthurian tales, there are stories of fae making off with brides and cattle of mortal lands, and taking them into their misty home.
The other story, and the more direct parallel to our prompt, is that of the traveler who comes to the Fae unawares. He falls in love with the extravagance, partakes of its food and perhaps falls in love with a woman. And then, one day, for whatever reason he decides to leave. This…never goes well. Typically, a condition is placed. The most famous is he must never leave his horse. And if or when he does, he will find age and time lost catch him. He is then rendered to dust.
The fate of faerie gold is likewise dim, turning to leaves upon returning. Beautiful steeds become donkeys. The gifts of the fae are only valuable in their realm, and like dreams, they fade in the realm of mortals. The nature of the fae (immortal, naturalistic, romantic, and captivating but fleeting) has captured imaginations of British authors for a good deal of time, and many a case they have played the role of the dead for cases like Sir Orfeo (the name may ring a bell).
On the positive end, the Queen of Elfland supposedly granted Thomas the Rhymer prophecy and other gifts. The Faeire Queene ( an epic poem of truly vast proportions) grants also the eponymous character status as a benevolent entity. The authorities in the fae realms tend to be more fickle, but these diamonds cannot be left out.
The mingling of medieval and pre-Christian thought have given the fae the odd place as “not demons, but not angels” in some literature. The origin sometimes given is angels unwilling to revolt or remain loyal (a characterizations perhaps rooted in dreams as paradise, but mortal. Or the fae’s own complex nature). Other times, the fae owe great debt to those below, and pay tithe of seven men and women to the Enemy yearly (again, yes, this is familiar to a certain Greek fable).
The dream world of the fae is therefore, to say the least, complicated. Other similar stories include Rip Van Winkle and the last knight of Charlemagne, who dose off only to find the world shifted centuries in their sleep. The existential dread, then, of one’s world changing while one ‘rests’ is old. Waking up to an unfamiliar place is perhaps, however, a good deal better than sleeping into one.
For dreams are often places of fantasy and desire. Dreams, dreams are escape from reality-as-prison. Even nightmares are escape for more mundane and decaying terrors. Dreams decaying into derelict and destitute ruins is …disheartening. What could so destroy the land of fancy?
This pursuit raises perhaps one last story of the fae. The hunt. Oh the Wild Hunt. Trumpeting they come, on the clouds and riding dark horses. Sometimes, they are fae. Sometimes they are the souls of the damned, doing the devils due. Sometimes they are spirits of storm, laughing in thunder. The Wild Hunt is always a terror, bearing pestilence and power. They make off with souls to the land of fae or the dead, and their leader is often the Grim One, the Allfather of the land (Odin to the Norse, Arthur in Brittany) or a particularly cursed man (Count Hackleburg, oddly enough).
The fae version has a unique touch, however. As they draw close, the footsteps sound more distant. As the victim escapes, they sound closer. Thus, the prey runs itself ragged, and rests in the time of emergency. The fae rider is often the color of storm clouds (Dark grey or pitch black). The force of chaos perhaps could be the source of the age and ruin in the dreamland.
Mention must be made of the more obvious notion (albeit after this prompt was written): Narnia. For those unfamiliar…go read Narnia. I don’t really have other advice. It likewise has time skips between visits to a fantastic realm by accident. Go read it. It’s no Dunsany, but Lewis is a decent writer for the most part, with bits of brilliance when he remembers he’s not writing theology.
Structure is heavily preset in the prompt, but I will suggest one theme/scene that occurs in a favorite modern show of mine. That is, the realization that this is a shifted time isn’t simply another land is the recognition by a small child who is now an old man. Otherwise, the structure works out as described above. I have an idea for this work, and with regards to that I will keep my own counsel.