- The Charwoman's Shadow
The Charwoman's Shadow
Dust-jacket for The Charwoman's Shadow
Author(s) Lord Dunsany Country United States Language English Genre(s) Fantasy novel Publisher G. P. Putnam's Sons Publication date 1926 Media type Print (Hardback) Pages 294 pp ISBN NA
The Charwoman's Shadow is a 1926 fantasy novel by Lord Dunsany, and is among the pioneering works in the field, even before the genre was named "fantasy".
The book was reprinted in paperback by Ballantine Books as the fifty-fifth volume in its celebrated Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in February 1973. It contains elements of the (later named) subgenres of historical fantasy and fairytale fantasy.
In Spain, during its Golden Age, a lord wishes to marry his daughter to a neighbor, but has no money for her dowry. He sends his son Ramon to a nearby magician who had befriended his father, in hopes that the son would learn to turn lead to gold. An old charwoman without a shadow works for the magician. The magician persuades him to trade his shadow for the knowledge, and gives him a substitute, and the charwoman who works for the magician laments that. He then learns that his substitute shadow does not grow and shrink as it ought to.
His sister sends him a letter asking him to get her a love potion instead. He persuades the magician to teach him that instead, and he compounds it and gives it to his sister. When her betrothed husband arrives with a friend of his, a duke, she gives the potion to the duke, who falls deathly ill. Terrified, she nurses him; he recovers his health, enraged with everyone else, especially her betrothed, but in love with her.
Their priest dispels Ramon's false shadow but sends him back to retrieve his own. He tricks the magician into telling him some of the magic words needed to open the box where the shadows are kept, and works out the rest. He takes out his own shadow and tries to find the charwoman's. He goes back to her to tell her that he cannot find it. She tells him that it was the one of a beautiful young girl. He brings it to her, and when they reunite, she is transformed back into that beautiful girl, as if the shadow were casting her.
They find that her family is long gone, and Ramon brings her home. With the duke in love with his sister, his father intends to make a grand match for him. Ramon tries to appeal to his sister for help; she refuses to hear him without the duke. Angry, he pours out the story—including that their marriage makes his impossible—and the duke says he will appeal to the king. The king decrees that the charwoman is no longer of lowly origin, and both pairs of lovers marry.
The magician sets out through Spain, drawing all creatures of magic and legend with him, and leaves for the Country Beyond the Moon's Rising, thus ending the Golden Age.
Reviewing the 1973 Ballantine edition, Theodore Sturgeon declared the novel to be one of the most potent early influences on him, saying "I love [the] book with an abiding passion as a perennial evocation of delight and humor and beauty."
- Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 104.
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