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The Charwoman's Shadow

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  651 ratings  ·  49 reviews
An old woman who spends her days scrubbing the floors might be an unlikely damsel in distress, but Lord Dunsany proves once again his mastery of the fantastical. The Charwoman's Shadow is a beautiful tale of a sorcerer's apprentice who discovers his master's nefarious usage of stolen shadows, and vows to save the charwoman from her slavery.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 3rd 1999 by Del Rey (first published 1926)
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4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  651 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Oliviu Craznic
Do not let the uninspired (and uninspiring) cover of the Del Rey edition to keep you away from this masterpiece, an exquisite counterpart for the first Shadow Valley chronicle.
This time the protagonist follows not the ways of the sword, as Don Rodriguez did in the first chronicle, but the ways of the sorcery.
Extremely well written, very suspensfull, surprisingly funny and dark enough, „Charwoman`s Shadow” offers us also two great classic characters (and archetypes!): the plump, benevolent and sh
Pallavi Gambhire
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am willing to give Lord Dunsany the benefit of four stars, despite the rude connotation that Lord Vishnu is someone a follower of Dark Arts would pray to. Dunsany was a learned man and another book by him makes light of religion as such, so I was somewhat taken aback at this bigotry. Anyway, like I said, I'll not let that stand in my review of a book that I really enjoyed.
The story follows the travails of a young man, Ramon Alonzo who has to learn the art of making gold from a sorcerer so he c
Mary Catelli
A classic of the fantasy genre.

A lord of Spain summons his son Ramon and explains that while gold is indeed dross, it is nevertheless useful, especially since his daughter, Ramon's sister, Mirandola needs to be married and so have a dowry. Since they can not have Ramon work at a trade, he sends him off instead to learn from a magician how to make gold. (Fortunately, Ramon's grandfather had explained to a magician some of how to hunt boars, and he was grateful for it.)

There, Ramon finds the magic
Feb 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Perhaps Lord Dunsany's most accessible work, without ever losing his inimitable style in prose. The description of the "magic" inherent in learning how to read is among the finest moments in fantasy, and never fails to instill a sense of wonder, while most other authors struggle to keep fireballs, elves and dragons from seeming mundane and boring.
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: misc-fantasy
Another classic from the beginning of modern fantasy. Set in the golden age of Spain, before the magic left. Of what value are our shadows? Does the body make the shadow, or does the shadow make the body? And what would people think of you, if you had no shadow?
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fantasy isn't done like this anymore. This book isn't about world-building or plot so much as beautiful writing and the sense of time. It's hard to describe - something like scuba diving, where you find yourself submerged in a completely different world, things are hushed, the sea-life accepts you as another fish, there's the feeling of weightlessness and time doesn't pass in the way you're used to...? The other thing that impressed me about TCS was how Dunsany takes something very simple and ev ...more
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, want-to-own, 2014
01/2012 Dunsany is *brilliant*. I can't believe it took me so long to learn this. Also, I'm really glad that the LA library system had the book so I could read it. Beautiful language, haunting imagery, and a wonderful story. I first fell in love with Dunsany for his constant and evocative use of the word "gloaming".

03/2014 I like this book so much. I have such a hard time describing Dunsany. I just go into raptures and splutter incoherently while making expansive hand motions.
Jul 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lord Dunsany's fantasy stories are not as twee as people often claim. Sometimes they can be ironic and dark, though they always remain lyrical and wistful. His later work is more humorous than his early stuff. By the time he turned from writing short stories to novels in the 1920s he had honed his musical, slightly mocking, always wondrous style to something approaching perfection.

*The Charwoman's Shadow* is a novel that bears linkages to his picaresque first novel *The Chronicles of Rodrigues*,
Althea Ann
Nov 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that it’s a little bit embarrassing to admit that I hadn’t already read. I’ve read who knows how many tales that were influenced to some degree by Dunsany… but not a lot actually by him.

The Charwoman’s Shadow is a lovely, original fairy tale. In order to gain money for his daughter’s dowry, a father sends his son to apprentice to a magician, with the goal of discovering the method of turning lead into gold. But the magician asks high prices for his secrets. An old serv
Alex Sarll
A beautiful, bittersweet (but isn't Dunsany usually) tale of magic, bargains that should not have been struck, and the passing of Spain's Golden Age. Also a very good book to read across one summer's afternoon, as the shadows lengthen, for you come to appreciate that optical phenomenon as you never did before.
Jun 08, 2009 rated it liked it
I didn't like this one nearly as much as The King of Elfland's Daughter. The writing isn't nearly as beautiful and poetic and the story didn't feel as magical. Maybe because I found the characters shallow and unappealing and the ending predictable. Nonetheless it was still a nice fairytale worth reading.
Pedro Pascoe
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I'm pretty sure I'd discovered Lord Dunsany via H. P. Lovecraft, who professed profound admiration for Dunsany as a writer. And, as an aside, Lord Dunsany had a cameo in the superb 'Providence' graphic novel by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, which I'd read as it came out recently.

I'd purchased both of the Allen and Unwin Unicorn Dunsany books back in the day, and had read 'The King of Elfland's Daughter' back then. 'The Charwoman's Shadow' has been sitting on my shelf for an unconfortable amount
James Troxell
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the finest fairy tales ever written. Lord Dunsany is perhaps the greatest writer of all time. His descriptions are truly magical and poetic in their nature. The tale is both familiar and different in its portray of all things of the “fairy.” It is heartening and truly a thing of beauty. Perhaps not quite as good as The King of Elfland’s daughter but still one of the finest works of fantasy that ever has been and likely ever will be.
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"There he lay down for such a night as men have who see doom close. Though the doom be only earthly they plan and plan, and mix up their plans with hopes, and then again they mix them with despairs, till all over the web of reason that makes their plans come curious patterns of the despairs and hopes; and least of all the weaver knows which is which."
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Hard to start as the language is dated, but once I got my groove back with early 20th C. flowery writing, it was breezy. I wish the ending had not been so well-skeined, but the idea of what life would be like without a shadow is interesting, and Lord Sunday clearly thought it through.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The story was decent, the 4 star rating is mostly because this is unlike most other fantasy I've read. The writing style and storytelling is very different (in a good way) compared to more modern fantasy.
Mar 03, 2018 rated it liked it
A subtle critique of fantastic literature instead of the outright satire. It's a relief when happy ever
after comes when magic passes out of the characters' lives.
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very nice.
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Prior to this, I had only read Lord Dunsany's short stories, and this was just as enchanting. His lyrical narrative is also matter-of-fact in certain ways, a balance that I find difficult to describe. The ending wasn't surprising to me, but it didn't need to be. It's been awhile since I've read a book whose style echoed for awhile in my thoughts, and indeed, I intend to go find his other novels now.
Fraser Sherman
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Ramon, a Spanish youth of penniless aristocracy, cashes in an old debt to his ancestors so that a sorcerer takes him on as an apprentice and teaches him to make gold from base metal (Ramon's sister needs a big dowry and they are, as noted penniless). Despite the warnings from the mage's charwoman (housekeeper), Ramon sacrifices his shadow for knowledge then discovers that when people see you without a shadow, they freak. Can he recover his own shadow, let alone the charwoman's? Rescuing a housek ...more
Aug 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The Charwoman’s Shadow, Lord Dunsany, Ballantine, 1973

Ramon Alonzo is a young man who has been sent to live with, and learn from, a famous wizard. He is only interested in how to turn base metals into gold. His sister is engaged to be married, and the family hopes that a small chest full of gold will suffice as a dowry.

While studying with the wizard, Ramon meets an elderly charwoman who has no shadow. The wizard took it many years ago, and refuses to give it back, keeping it in a locked box. She
Candice Lee
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting book. I don't know if Paul Coelho read it or not, but his book "The Alchemist" seems taken from its pages. Dare I say, "The Alchemist" is a shadow of "The Charwoman's Shadow"? It is almost a Dummies' Guide to it, but enough of that.

The Charwoman's Shadow has depth and humor most will not be intelligent enough to appreciate. This book comes from a golden age of books when people crafted a work to last. It is poetic, a bit critical of its characters, amusing, and profound. At i
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1920s, 20th-century, sff
The 1970s were really the Golden Age - all the reprinting and rediscovery of earlier 20th century classics like Hope Mirrlees, E.R. Eddison, and Lord Dunsany! While low-budget paperbacks have their disadvantages (namely a lot of typos), just looking at the order forms in the back for these "affordable" books makes me nostalgic. (Side note: I bought this for $3 at a used bookstore near me, but the same store also had 70s Ballantine paperback editions of two other Lord Dunsany books that were wrap ...more
Jason Mills
Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fantasy buffs, ironists, lovers of language
Shelves: fantasy, fiction
Ramon Alonzo is a young man in Spain whose sister is to be married above her station. Since the family has no riches, Ramon's father sends him to a magician, there to learn the secret of making gold so that he can provide his sister's dowry. However, the magician exacts a high price for his wisdom, as his aged charwoman knows to her cost, having given up her shadow for longevity. Can Ramon save his family's honour and the charwoman's shadow, and still escape damnation?

This is a Faustian fable mi
Byron Norsworthy
Dec 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
I picked this up because I kept hearing Lord Dunsany's name being invoked as one of the founding fathers of the fantasy genre. I had this caricature of him in my head as a pompous gentleman-of-liesure, who, writing during a time when it was the norm to write in a style characterized by vain, wordy descriptions and endless digressions, employed these strategies to the max. This book, however, is written very simply and elegantly, and the pacing is neither too fast nor too slow, but steady and com ...more
Chris Zull
Nov 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Lord Dunsany (real name Edward Plunkett) was the 18th Baron of Dunsany, the second oldest title of nobility in the Peerage of Ireland, having been created in the 15th century. He also happens to be one of the most influential pre-Tolkien fantasists. His name has sadly faded from the popular conscious, but one look at the list of writers who cited Dunsany as a significant influence tells the tale of his far reach: Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. Legui ...more
Jun 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely an odd book -- but I am glad I read it! Absolutely gorgeous writing -- which, however, swings between the highly evocative and the deliberately absurd. The quote about dog-scientists is quite well known, I believe, but consider this one, too.

And there was a repast all ready cooked and spread, waiting for Ramon Alonzo. By what arts those meats were kept smoking upon that table ready for any stranger that should come in from the wood, ....I tell not to this age, for it is far too well a
Jan de Leeuw
Mar 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, truly excellent fantasy book. Ramon Alonzo goes to the magician to learn to make gold for his family, and the magician accept him as a pupil because long ago Ramon Alonzo's father taught him the science and philosophy of boar hunting. But there is a price: he has to give the magician his shadow. He gets a fake shadow back, but that shadow does not grow or shrink during the day, and also in this world man leads the shadow, but in the hereafter the shadow leads the man. Ramon Alonzo tri ...more
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
After seeing this selection in my father's reading carel I asked him about the author in order to decide if it might be worth my time to read this title. His classic response sounded like the same standard recommendation that you'll see anytime you look up Lord Dunsany. Since I was curious about the fantasy genre, I picked it up and was carried away into one of the most enriching fantasies that I have ever read. I'm recommending this to everybody that has even a few hours to spare for this engag ...more
Printable Tire
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Just finished this near the end of my graveyard shift, as the dawn arises. A superior book to the King of Elfland's Daughter, if only because it contains conversations and dialogue. Dunsany can be a funny writer at times, and I enjoyed the mystery he embodied (or disembodied) within the shadow- what a good puppet show this book would make. The hero was a bit of a bonehead, and perhaps the conflicts too easilly overcome, and obviously so. Nonetheless a great work of fantasy.

Dunsany's criticism o
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Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist, notable for his work in fantasy published under the name Lord Dunsany. More than eighty books of his work were published, and his oeuvre includes hundreds of short stories, as well as successful plays, novels and essays. Born to one of the oldest titles in the Irish peerage, he lived much of his life ...more
“There is indeed a great deal of futility amongst the human race which we do not commonly see, for it all forms part of our illusion; but let a man be much annoyed by something that others do, so that he is separated from them and has to leave them, and looks back at what they are doing, and he'll see at once all manner of whimsical absurdities that he had not noticed before; and Ramon Alonzo in the shade of his oak, waiting for the noon to go by, grew very contemptuous of the attitude that the world took up towards shadows.” 5 likes
“For he had acquired a lore in his youth which taught him ever to avoid the aged when merry plans were afoot; for the aged would come with their wisdom and slowness of thought, and other plans would be made, and there would be, at least, delay.” 2 likes
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