I’ve been a fan of Lord Dunsany’s haunting novel The Charwoman’s Shadow since I was about nine. (I read it in the edition pictured at right – click on it to see more detail. The beautiful cover has not much to do with the book’s contents [apart from the central figure’s being deficient in shadow] but is inextricably associated for me with the story’s feel – as well as with San Diego, which is where I was living when I first read it.)
But I only recently discovered and read the prequel, Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley. And although I can see why it’s not as famous as its successor – it’s just not in the same league artistically – it’s still quite charming, and there are a number of references in The Charwoman’s Shadow that one won’t pick up on unless one has read Don Rodriguez first.
But to come to my topic – reading Don Rodriguez led me to speculate on the book’s possible influence on Tolkien (who is known to have read some Dunsany). Now regular readers of my blog know that I tend to detect possible Tolkien sources everywhere (see here, here, and here), so take this for however little it may be worth, but ….
To begin with, the Rodriguez/Morano pair – the noble if sometimes hapless hero and his faithful, more practical, less high-minded servant – reminded me strongly of the Frodo/Samwise pair. I suspect Dunsany modeled the Rodriguez/Morano pair on the Quixote/Sancho pair (especially given the common setting of Renaissance Spain), but Rodriguez/Morano stand halfway between Quixote/Sancho and Frodo/Samwise, just as a blue triangle stands halfway between a red triangle and a blue square. In other words, if one continues developing Quixote/Sancho in the same direction that Dunsany did, one would plausibly end up with a pairing something like Frodo/Samwise.
But what most struck me was the following passage in which several characters are passing through a great forest, searching for the elusive Green Bowmen of Shadow Valley:
They passed afterwards by the old house in the wood, in which the bowmen feasted …. They knocked loud on the door as they passed but the house was empty. They heard the sound of a multitude felling trees, but whenever they approached the sound of chopping ceased. Again and again they left the track and rode towards the sound of chopping, and every time the chopping died away just as they drew close. They saw many a tree half felled, but never a green bowman. And at last they left it as one of the wonders of the forest and returned to the track lest they lose it, for the track was more important to them than curiosity, and evening had come and was filling the forest with dimness, and shadows stealing across the track were beginning to hide it away. In the distance they heard the invisible woodmen chopping. (Don Rodriguez, ch. 10.)
This passage should remind any Tolkien fan of the passage in The Hobbit when Bilbo and the dwarves are passing through Mirkwood and stumble off the track in search of the ever-disappearing wood-elves. (There’s also a similar incident, though less directly so, in Tolkien’s poem “The Sea Bell.”)
I also wonder about the possible influence of Dunsany’s 1922 Don Rodriguez on Isabel Paterson’s 1924 novel The Singing Season: A Romance of Old Spain, which in addition to its similar milieu and similarly-named protagonist also contains Paterson’s most Dunsanyesque prose.