|The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult|
THE CURSE OF THE WISE WOMAN
Lord Dunsany achieved a well deserved reputation for his fine writing, and this is an excellent example of it. He was born in 1873, succeeded his father, an Irish peer, in 1899, served as in officer of the Coldstream Guards in the Boer War, and also fought in the First World War. He was, as well as an author, a poet and playwright.
The teller of this story is Charles James Peridore and he writes as an old man recalling memories of his boyhood. It is said to be largely autobiographical, and Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, as Dunsany was during his boyhood, was certainly at Eton during the period in which this tale is set.
However, there is little mention of Eton as the scene of the book is young Peridore’s home in western Ireland and events that took place during his holidays there. His mother was dead and, apart from servants, he lived alone with his father in an ancient manor house. The family had been Jacobites and for their services to the Stuart cause a Peridore of earlier times had been created by the exiled ‘King’ Duke of Dover; but when Peridore was a boy only the locals still referred to his feather as ‘the Duke’.
Peridore senior had become involved in Irish politics, and the story opens with an attempt to murder him by the predecessors of the I.R.A. He escapes by a secret passage, gets to London then to Paris; but there his enemies catch up with him, so young Char-les – as the peasantry call him – becomes master of the estate.
This serves as an excuse for his not returning to Eton and he regards that as more than compensation for the loss of his father, since his absorbing interest is the countryside and particularly shooting, which he is now free to indulge in to his heart’s content.
One side of the estate is bounded by a vast bog many miles in extent and, on most days, it is there that Charles spends his time shooting snipe or woodcock and, on exceptionally lucky evenings, a grey goose when the flock comes in at twilight to feed.
His companion on these expeditions is Marlin, the bog watcher, who lives in a cottage on the edge of the bog with his mother; and it is she who is the Wise Woman. She can by instinct, for lack of a better word, tell when the north wind will bring in the geese and can communicate with the powers of nature.
The bog, with its surface of mosses, rushes and heather, is beautiful to look upon, but dangerous unless one knows the situation of the tufts, under which lie firm earth, by which one, can cross the bog in places. Marlin makes an excellent guide for shooting expeditions, but he is not a happy man. Far out of sight a part of the bog ends on the seashore. Beyond it is said to lie the island of Tir-nan-Og, where the apple trees are always in blossom and the inhabitants forever young. By hankering for this pagan paradise Marlin fears that he has lost all hope of going to Heaven when he dies.
From time immemorial the peasants have each year cut from the bogside the limited amount of peat they need for their fires. But now a company has been formed, The Peat Development (Ireland) Syndicate, and it emerges that for a small sum Charles’s father had sold them the right to excavate as much peat as they wish.
Workmen arrive with great machines and build huts for themselves along the bogside. Then they begin to tunnel under the bog. At this profanation of her countryside Marlin’s mother becomes frantic with rage and vows that by her witch’s arts she will destroy the developers.
It is this battle between modern engineering and the Curse of the Wise Woman that provides the occult interest of the story. But the greater part of it will appeal to those who love shooting, hunting and magnificent descriptions of the beauties of nature.
John Masefield wrote of it ‘the best work of imaginative prose by an Irish author’.