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Literature / The Charwoman's Shadow

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The Charwoman's Shadow is a fantasy novel written by Lord Dunsany in 1926. In Spain, during the Golden Age, Gonsalvo Alanzo's father once met a nameless magician in the woods and described to him the craft of boar hunting.

Years later Gonsalvo is lord of the tower but his affairs have not prospered, and he needs gold for the dowry of his daughter Mirandola. He sends his son Ramon Alonzo to the magician to learn how to make gold. The magician considers himself in debt to Ramon's grandfather for the knowledge of boar hunting, and agrees to teach him the use of the Philosopher's Stone for a fee: his shadow. The old charwoman who works for the magician warns Ramon not to give up his shadow, as she did, but the coffer for Mirandola's dowry is empty, and Ramon loves his sister.

Tropes found in this work:

  • Affably Evil: The magician is always polite and doesn't even mind Ramon trying to take his shadow back by force. Rather than any good nature on his part, it's simply that he is distracted by higher matters.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Dunsany adopts a very poetic, and somewhat archaic style throughout the work.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The entire plot is based on Ramon risking traffic with the black arts in order to earn the gold for his little sister's dowry.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Gulvarez, a neighboring lord, who does his best to woo Mirandola by singing the best parts of his love songs as loudly as possible.
  • Casts No Shadow: Anyone from whom the magician collects his fee. Don't take the replacement; it won't grow and shrink as it ought to.
  • Damsel in Distress: The charwoman. Ramon decides he will rescue her shadow almost immediately on meeting her.
  • The Dark Arts: How everyone in the story views magic, even the magician acknowledges that salvation and magic are not compatible.
  • Dowry Dilemma: Gonsalvo can't afford his daughter's dowry.
  • Elderly Immortal: The charwoman. She was given immortality when 17 years old, but although she doesn't die it didn't keep her young.
  • Evil Sorcerer: The magician fully recognizes that salvation cannot come to one of his art, and he makes crooked deals for his teaching, but he's not precisely evil.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Most importantly the magician, but also the Duke of Shadow Valley and the Just and Victorious Monarch.
  • Fairy Tale: The story is essentially a fairy tale, and pretty explicit about it.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: How the failed love potions Mirandola uses ends up working after all. It makes the duke desperately ill, but allows Mirandola to nurse him back to health.
  • Fountain of Youth: When Anemone receives her shadow again she de-ages to match the age of her shadow, about 17. Ramon is very relieved, since he expected it to work the other way round, and he thought she had a very beautiful young shadow.
  • Good Hurts Evil: The very presence of Father Joseph in the wood sends all of the imps and gnomes running, and he is able to drive off the false shadow with little trouble.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Joseph takes good care of his flock. He inspires Ramon to retrieve his shadow and helps Mirandola find a good marriage.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: The charwoman's greatest wish is to simply have her shadow back, and be accepted back into common society again. Ramon finds he can't do without a real shadow either.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Having no gold to cover the lining of the coffer of Mirandola's dowry is what sets off the plot.
  • Love Potion: The magician teaches Ramon to make one. It makes the Duke of Shadow Valley very ill, but has its intended effect anyway, since Mirandola uses the opportunity to nurse the Duke back to health.
  • Loving a Shadow: A rather literal version of the trope. Ramon falls in love with Anemone's shadow when he finds it, unaware that it is hers. Fortunately when it is returned to her, she de-ages to match the age of her shadow rather than the other way around.
  • The Magic Goes Away: When Ramon leaves for good, the magician finally decides to leave the world and takes the creatures of the forest with him, Pied Piper style.
  • May–December Romance: Ramon and Anemone the charwoman have this, though Ramon doesn't realize it until the return of her shadow de-ages Anemone.
  • Old-School Chivalry: Ramon Alonzo determines to save the charwoman's shadow simply because that's what knights do.
  • Password Slot Machine: Ramon is able to unlock the box holding the magician's shadow collection by trying every possible combination of a three-word spell until he hits on the right one. It helps that he tricked the first syllable out of the magician and that the lock reacts by vibrating a bit when it hears the first two correct syllables.
  • The Shadow Knows: The villagers of Aragona try to kill Ramon on sight once they see that his replacement shadow won't grow or shrink as it should.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The magician gave his charwoman immortality, but it amounts to an immortality of cleaning his floors.
  • Wizards Live Longer: It is mentioned that the Philosopher's Stone has been discovered many times, and nearly every wizard has all the gold he wants and immortality as a result.