“Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean”

Other obligations have slowed my blogging down lately and will do it even more in the future.

So I’m behind in reviewing last week’s subject of weird fiction discussion at LibraryThing.

I’m not a Lord Dunsany fan, but I was warming to him.

Until I read this.

Review: “Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean”, Lord Dunsany, 1910. 

This story reads even more like a fairy tale than previous Dunsany works I’ve read. In particular, there is the repetition of events in threes. And, of course, Dunsany’s prose is cadenced like the King James Bible. That certainly creates a certain effect, but this story seems padded even by Dunsany standards.

There is not actually a lot of plot in it. 

In the Inner Lands of Dunsany’s dreamworld, we first hear of Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean, a peak which overlooks the ocean to the west. To its its east are various cities of the Inner Lands.

When young men from the Inner Lands climb up to the top of Poltarnees and see something, they never return to their homes. 

The Sea is worshipped in the Inner Lands.Temples even face to the west to get breezes from it.  But no one of the Inner Lands has actually seen the Sea. 

We also get a mythology which says “all the worlds of heaven go bobbing” on the River Oriathon. The Higher Faith says it sweeps “through the forests of Infinity” and goes over the Edge where Time recalls “his hours to fight in his war with the gods; and falls unlit”. The Lower Faith holds that the many worlds are heaped up beside the river and men in them “know no good”. For me, this delineation of Inner Lands theology doesn’t serve any purpose besides atmosphere.

There is also a saying that, when a man goes to see Poltarnees, he says “Till a man’s heart remembereth” which really means “Farewell for a while”. Those left behind reply “’Till the gods forget” which really means “Farewell”. 

The main story occurs in Arizim and concerns the daughter of the King. Her name is Hilnaric.  The kings of the neighboring cities note how many men leave for Poltarnees. They say that, if it could be shown that the beautiful Hilnaric is more beautiful than the Sea, maybe they will stay.  (At least that’s the implication I took.) 

In a series of three tests, her beauty is compared to various natural sights in the Inner Lands. She exceeds them all. Still, the question of how she compares to the Sea is unanswered. 

A man, Athelvok, sees her by a pool and agrees to go to the Sea to be able to make a comparison.  He swears an oath to return but Hilnaric suspects he won’t. 

And, after seeing the Sea, Athelvok doesn’t come back. From the mountain top, he sees some sight sight that no one in the Inner Lands can appreciate. The story briefly tells what he sees going into a village by the Sea. He meets many there who also went to see Poltarnees. 

The story ends with Hilnaric never marrying but spending her dowry on a temple “where men curse the ocean”.  The tides of the Sea are cursed every year in a “solemn rite and ceremony.”

I’m not sure, other than to transport us with his prose, what Dunsany’s point is. That we shouldn’t make promises we are not certain we can keep?  That women must compete with other things for men’s attention? That a beautiful woman is spiteful if she is spurned for a greater beauty? 

2 thoughts on ““Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean”

  1. deuce August 16, 2020 / 11:50 am

    I’m in the process of reading DAWNWARD SPIRE, LONELY HILL. Apparently, “Poltarnees” was the first Dunsany HPL ever read. It turned him into a lifelong fan.

    • marzaat August 17, 2020 / 12:11 am

      I’ve got that one. Haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to crack it open and find that one. CAS and HPL, two fine writers, though I think CAS was by far the better poet.

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