The Gods of Pegāna
The Gods of Pegāna was the first published book by Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett (1878-1957), 18th Baron Dunsany. It consists of a series of stories, written in a very biblical style, that deal with a world and its pantheon of gods. The book, which was barely more than 40 pages, was a resounding success upon its 1905 publication, and it ensured that Dunsany, who had been forced to pay to have it published, would never have difficulty finding a publisher again.
The book, and its follow up: 1906's Time and the Gods, are seen by many as an influence on subsequent fantasy works by the likes of Tolkien, among others. It is a well acknowledged fact that H.P. Lovecraft was a great admirer, to such an extent that his early work is often described as being a pale imitation of Dunsany's.
Although the work's revolutionary characteristics have dimmed considerably over the past century a world and pantheon complete with back-story has become almost a required component of any modern literary work of fantasy there still remain reasons to read it. The most compelling is that The Gods of Pegāna represents Dunsany at his prime. Although the work lacks the narrative flow of Dunsany's later works, it shows a sense of wonder and naivety that was not present to as great an extent in his later work, and once one gets past the occasionally cumbersome language, you are left with Dunsany's vibrant imaginings of strange gods with Eastern names that would go on to influence so many. "No one can imitate Dunsany," C.L. Moore once told H.P. Lovecraft1, and The Gods of Pegāna's richly imagined world serves as a good introduction as to why this remains true.
First published October, 1905, by Elkin Mathews (London). Text taken from the Project Gutenberg e-book, and corrected via noder's copy of a re-printing of the 1905 text. (Re-added missing preface, accents, italics, corrected typos, etc.)
Noder's notes: Although The Gods of Pegāna is still in print, the general difficulty in finding any of Dunsany's works at contemporary North American bookstores, combined with the facts that he has become relatively unread outside of those willing to track down his works, contributed to my desire to node the complete book, so as to serve as an introduction to Dunsany's writing. For those who are interested in acquiring more of Dunsany's work, I recommend Penguin Classics' 2004 compilation In the Land of Time and Other Fantasy Tales, which collects short stories from throughout Dunsany's 50 year literary career, and which includes all of The Gods of Pegāna, as well as the best of the various related tales, as a good starting point.
Specific sources for intro paragraphs:
1: C. L. Moore, letter to H. P. Lovecraft dated January 30, 1936
S.T. Joshi's introduction and notes to In the Land of Time And Other Fantasy Tales, 2004, Penguin Classics
Wikipedia's Dunsany entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Dunsany
Official Website of the Dunsany Estate: http://www.dunsany.net/