Monday, July 20, 2009

"Late Reviews"

Adcock, A. St. John. The World That Never Was: A London Fantasy (London: Francis Griffiths, 1908). Illustrated by Tom Browne.

Arthur St. John Adcock (1864-1930) was a literary gadfly of the early twentieth century, for many years the editor of The Bookman, and an acquaintance to a large number of literary writers, including Arthur Machen and William Hope Hodgson. He is remembered today chiefly for his two volumes of impressions of contemporary authors, Gods of Modern Grub Street (1923) and The Glory That Was Grub Street (1928), but one of his more enduring volumes should be his study For Remembrance: Soldier Poets Who Have Fallen in the War (1918; revised 1920).

Amongst his diverse output is one fantasy novel, The World That Never Was. It is actually a children’s fantasy, about young Olive and her brother Tony, and their adventures in London at night. They meet various characters, some from folklore and legendry like Bluebird, Dick Whittington, Mother Hubbard, and the law-breaking Bill Stickers (known from the common sign “Bill Stickers Will Be Prosecuted”), before returning home the next morning. The children are cloying to the modern reader, and the story never casts a spell. The book is unremarkable and eminently forgettable.

Pain, Barry. Three Fantasies (London: Methuen, 1904).

The title of this elusive book makes it sound much more desirable than it actually is. The short story which opens the book, “Cheevers and the Love of Beauty,” is the best in the volume. A local busy-body businessman is accused of having no love of beauty, and the remark rankles him. Soon afterwards he encounters a gypsy who reads his palm, and remarks upon this fact. For a small sum of silver, she gives him a love of beauty for seven days, during which time he neglects his business and spends his days at the National Gallery, much to the bewilderment of all who know him. After seven days, he returns to his normal self. The two novellas in this book are romance stories, neither of which really count as fantasies in the modern sense.

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