Book of the Three Dragons
- Lisa wrote:
> Bless you and bless Le Guin! This plus The Fates of the Princes ofDyved is the whole story?
Yup. Fates and 3 Dragons are companion books, though I wouldn't quite call
the latter a sequel. Those two, with The Chalichiuhite Dragon (1992) and The
Dragon Path: Collected Tales of Kenneth Morris (1995), and you have
Morris's complete fiction (unless there are any lost tales in obscure
Here's the introduction I wrote for 3 Dragons.
In her 1973 landmark essay "From Elfland to Poughkeespie," Ursula K. Le Guin
singled out three writers as master stylists of fantasy: J. R. R. Tolkien,
E. R. Eddison, and Kenneth Morris. Tolkien's writings are well-known, and
E. R. Eddison's first novel, The Worm Ouroboros, has considerable renown.
But in 1973 the writings of Kenneth Morris were unknown to most readers. We
owe it to Le Guin that, in the years since her essay was published, Morris
has gained some of the acclaim that he deserves.
Morris was born in Wales in 1879. Even as a child his imagination was
nurtured by Welsh folktales and by the Mabinogion, the primary collection of
Welsh mythological stories surviving from medieval times. Usually published
as a book containing eleven tales, only four (each of which is named as a
separate "branch") are considered to be part of the Mabinogion proper.
Morris's father died when he was six, and the family moved to London, where
he was educated at the famous school Christ's Hospital. In 1896 he visited
Dublin and encountered the Theosophical Society, which he joined
enthusiastically. Morris remained devoted to theosophical ideals, like the
universal brotherhood of all mankind, for the rest of his life. In 1908 he
moved to southern California to teach at the International Headquarters of
the Theosophical Society. He stayed there-at Point Loma, near San Diego-for
twenty-two years. In 1930 he returned to Wales, where he died in 1937 at
the age of fifty-seven.
Morris was a prolific writer, publishing a great number of essays, poems,
dramas, and stories in various Theosophical magazines. With regard to
fiction, Morris wrote three novels and about forty short stories. Two of
the novels, The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed (1914) and Book of the Three
Dragons (1930), are imaginative re-workings of Welsh mythological stories.
His other novel is a fantasy of the ancient Toltecs of central Mexico.
Titled The Chalchiuhite Dragon, it was first published in 1992. Of Morris's
short stories, ten were collected in 1926 under the title The Secret
Mountain and Other Tales. All of his short stories, ranging through the
mythologies of the world (Celtic, Norse, Greek, Roman, Taoist, Buddhist,
etc.), were gathered in The Dragon Path: Collected Tales of Kenneth Morris
Morris wrote both The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed and Book of the Three
Dragons around 1910-14, but only the former was published at that time. It
was not successful. In the late 1920s, when Morris returned to Book of the
Three Dragons, he was critical of the style of the first book: "I was in a
very Welsh mood when I wrote the Fates -in 1910-1911-and managed to write as
if it were Welsh. Of course very few in Wales are interested in it: a few
are. That piling up of adjectives in English is a dangerous ploy: the worst
American after dinner ranters do it ghastlily. But there, with the robes of
my Welshness and Welsh moods of thought on me, I walked along gaily
oblivious of my peril." Having re-read Fates, and having "found the
ornament so thick in places I lost the thread of story in reading," Morris
determined that should not be the case with Book of the Three Dragons, and
went to it "with a severe blue pencil, cutting out ornament left and right."
Morris was correct to do so-Book of the Three Dragons shows a maturity of
style well beyond that in the earlier book. It is also considerably more
imaginative. The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed is a fairly close retelling
of the first branch of the Mabinogion, telling the story of Pwyll and his
journey to the Otherworld. Book of the Three Dragons is Morris's recasting
and reshaping of the other branches into a story of his own. Inexplicably,
when it was first published, the ending of Book of the Three Dragons was
simply lopped off. The surviving correspondence is unclear, but evidently
the publisher felt that the book was too long. This edition of Book of the
Three Dragons publishes for the first time Morris's ending, his fifth and
sixth branches, amounting to approximately one-third as much again of what
was originally published.
Book of the Three Dragons appeared in September 1930. It was chosen as a
selection of the Junior Literary Guild, and achieved more notice than any of
Morris's other books. Favorable reviews appeared in the New York World, the
New York Herald Tribune Books, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Horn Book.
Morris's true achievement went unnoticed for many years, but with his two
books, and especially with Book of the Three Dragons, Morris essentially
invented the sub-genre of modern Celtic fantasy. In "From Elfland to
Poughkeepsie" Ursula K. Le Guin described Book of the Three Dragons as "a
singularly fine example of the recreation of a work magnificent in its own
right (the Mabinogion)-a literary event rather rare except in fantasy, where
its frequency is perhaps proof, if one were needed, of the ever-renewed
vitality of myth." Le Guin's comments are precisely correct, and thanks to
her championing, Book of the Three Dragons has also achieved the status of a
modern fantasy classic.
Douglas A. Anderson
- David wrote:
> Yes, another of Doug Anderson's many projects. I'd not heard of thisbefore finding it in the bookstore a week ago. I bought a copy, too.
Thanks, David. You might be interested to know that an illustrated Dutch
translation of The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed appeared late last year.
It has 55 illustrations by Yolanda Eveleens. Here's the URL:
- Hmm. I seem to be luckier than most, since I picked up a copy a month or two ago (at Borders, I think). Very much looking forward to reading it. I've delayed so far because I know that once I'm done there will be no more Morris left for me to read; re-reading will have to do.
If anyone needs more encouragement to read it than (a) it was written by Morris and (b) it was edited by Doug, here's my plug, taken from an on-line piece I wrote about it the book:
'Book of the Three Dragons is perhaps the single best fantasy adaptation from a real-world mythology (in this case, the Welsh Mabinogion), and the best of his tales (e.g., "The Saint and the Forest-Gods", "The Last Adventure of Don Quixote", and perhaps "Red-Peach-Blossom Inlet") are among the finest fantasy short stories ever written.'
> ----------[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> From: David Lenander
> Reply To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Sent: Sunday, February 6, 2005 1:22 PM
> To: email@example.com
> Cc: Douglas Anderson
> Subject: [mythsoc] Book of the Three Dragons
> Yes, another of Doug Anderson's many projects. I'd not heard of this
> before finding it in the bookstore a week ago. I bought a copy, too.
> Who knew that Morris had written a different ending? As usual, we owe
> many thanks to Doug.
- If you look on the last page of _The Book of the Three Dragons_,
you'll see the Cold Spring Press Fiction listing. Right below
_Lud-in-the-Mist_ you'll see the title _Thin Line Between_. That's my
new novel. *toots own horn softly*
--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "Douglas A. Anderson" <nodens@l...> wrote:
> It's the first in a series of fantasy classics that I'm editing for Cold
> Spring Press. I was very pleased to see that book finally published
> Among the others lined up for summer and fall is an anthology I'm
> Seekers of Dreams, and a reissue of The Marvellous Land of Snergs by
> Wyke-Smith, Tolkien's "source-book for hobbits".
> Doug A.