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Literature / The Gods of Pegāna

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A book of short stories by Lord Dunsany, published in 1905 and therefore in the public domain. Despite its relative obscurity nowadays, it had a great influence on many important fantasy authors, such as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, H. P. Lovecraft, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

The book is basically an exercise in Worldbuilding by Dunsany, an Atheist who lamented the Death of the Old Gods and set off to create his own polytheism — there's little plot to speak of, but many short vignettes depicting his resultant deities. It chronicles a few isolated parts of the history of an invented universe, starting with its creation at the probably metaphorical hands of Māna-Yood-Sushāī and ending with the apocalypse.

The pantheon of Pegāna would later appear in Dunsany's short story collections Time and the Gods and The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories.

The Gods of Pegāna contains examples of:

  • Deity of Human Origin: Zobruk, who was but a shepherd and could not know how poorly his gifts would work.
  • Divine Delegation: Most of the interesting (or at least human-relevant) parts of creation are made by the gods that Māna-Yood-Sushāī creates before falling asleep.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The End, when even the gods shall die.
  • God of the Dead: Mung, the god of death, waits for all mortals at the end of their lives, where he makes "the sign of Mung" and sends them off to whatever afterlife there may be. He is an active sender of death, rather than a passive psychopomp or overseer of the dead, and can cause mortals to endure forever (but without ceasing to age) if he so pleases.
  • Lord of the Ocean: Slid, who rules all waters and whose soul lies in the Sea. His voice calls those who hear it to forsake their homes and go down to the Sea.
  • Tomes of Prophecy and Fate: Trogool, the thing that is neither god nor beast, has one. The pages are black on one side for night, and white on the other for day. Each day, Trogool turns a page, and cannot turn it back. He does this until he reaches the end of the book, which simply says "Mai Doon Izahn", or "The End Forever" — and that signals the end of the world.
  • Top God: Māna-Yood-Sushāī, who falls asleep early on, after creating the gods. Gods and mortals alike take great care not to wake him up, because when he does, the world and the gods will cease to exist (but, curiously, Skarl the Drummer will survive).
  • Ur-Example: The book is the ur-example for many of the tropes and themes of modern fantasy, especially the creation of an entire detailed cosmology purely for entertainment. Many reviews at the time noted how unusual this was; reading those can be jarring to modern post-Tolkien readers, for whom it's a foundation of the genre.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Yun-Ilara spent his youth cursing Mung, the god of death. In retaliation, Mung never takes him, even after everything he knows is dead and he himself is a pile of dust.
  • Worldbuilding: See Ur-Example above, as the book doesn't have much in the way of narrative, but more a collection of vignettes explaining the land of Pegāna and its gods.