James P. Blaylock, twice winner of the World Fantasy Award, is a southern California writer whose short stories, novels, and collections have been published around the world. He was one of the literary pioneers of the Steampunk movement along with Tim Powers and K.W. Jeter. His short story "Unidentified Objects" was nominated for an O. Henry Award in 1990. Despite his close association with Steampunk, most of his work is contemporary, realistic fantasy set in southern California. His novel The Rainy Season was chosen by Orange Coast Magazine as one of the ten quintessential Orange County novels. His latest novel is Pennies from Heaven, published by PS Publishing and available from JABberwocky in ebook. A sequel, The Invisible Woman, is due to be published in 2024.

James P. Blaylock was honored with the World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction in 1986 ("Paper Dragons") and 1997 ("Thirteen Phantasms"). He won the Philip K. Dick Award for his novel Homunculus in 1987.

The Disappearing Dwarf by James P. Blaylock

Jonathan Bing, Master Cheeser, has been growing a bit bored in Twombly Town. So it's no surprise that when Professor Wurzle suggests a trip downriver, Jonathan jumps at the chance. A visit to the Evil Dwarf Selznak's abandoned castle leads to a treasure hunt, but also to the discovery that Jonathan's old friend the Squire has vanished, and that Selznak may be involved.

Jonathan—accompanied by his wonderpooch Ahab, the Professor, and Miles the Magician—will have to set off to darkest Balumnia, to the city of Landsend, to find the treasure, and the Squire. And to make matters worse, Selznak will be there, too...

The delightful sequel to The Elfin Ship by World Fantasy and Philip K. Dick award winner James P. Blaylock. The Disappearing Dwarf was first published in 1983.


I'm a huge, huge Jim Blaylock fan – not only is he one of the original founders of steampunk but the author of many magical fabulist novels that are quirky and unique. He writes like no one else, and here he created an original and magical world. Come in and be charmed! – Lavie Tidhar





The Man of Leisure

It was late May, and the weather was warming up in Twombly Town. The great brass kaleidoscope had been wheeled out from under a shingled awning where, as usual, it had been stored all winter so that it wouldn't turn color and go to bits in the rain. It sat now amid a sea-green clump of moss that had sprouted late the previous year, covering the little bit of ground where Mr Twickenham's airship had landed. No one could determine the reason for the sprouting of the strange moss, not even Professor Wurzle, but the stuff was covered with a thousand little flowers in a rainbow of pastel colors and was so altogether beautiful that it really didn't much matter where it had come from.

Mayor Bastable had hired an assistant town gardener to oversee the plot. But the weather was so unusually fine, and the sight of the flowers so peaceful and idyllic, that the fellow had fallen asleep in the middle of the moss for three days running, and the Mayor was forced to pay a lad to go out and roust him every half hour or so.

It turned out that the moss, which had come up on its own and would probably go on in much the same way, didn't need a gardener anyway; so Mayor Bastable created a department of agriculture, and the assistant gardener was put to work planting strawberries all up and down the avenues. He'd even planted a big patch behind Jonathan Bing's cheesehouse.

On the twenty-fourth of May, Jonathan was out poking around in the strawberry patch, trying to find enough ripe ones to smash up over ice cream. Jonathan's dog, old Ahab, was out there too, sniffing along the rows. He didn't care much about strawberries. In fact, it's reasonably certain that he liked his ice cream better without anything smashed over the top. There were certain bugs, though, out in the strawberries, that Ahab liked to chase about. So they were both busy there amid the little creeping vines, or at least were trying to be busy. Actually there weren't any more bugs out than there were strawberries, and wouldn't be, likely, for a couple of weeks yet.

Jonathan had done well that past December with his raisin cheeses. He'd made such a good profit selling the things to the dwarfs in Seaside that he was set for a number of months. In fact, the previous January he had considered that he could abandon cheesemaking altogether for nine months out of the year, then make up a big batch of raisin cheeses come fall, sell it downriver, and slide on through spring and summer again. It was an appealing thought –so appealing that he talked himself into giving it a go for a year. He hired a helper, old Beezle's grandson Talbot, who was given to tramping in the woods making fearful noises on a tuba. He did it, he said, to frighten away bears and goblins. Jonathan asked him if it wouldn't be just as simple not to tramp in the woods at all and so not have to bother with the tuba, but Talbot said quite simply that that 'wasn't his way.'

He had a tremendous aptitude for cheesing, however, and by the first of May was making any number of fine cheeses without any help at all. At that point Jonathan had become a man of leisure, something he had fancied for a long time.

Men of leisure were always appearing in the books of G. Smithers of Brompton Village, Jonathan's favorite author. Every one of them wore a white suit so as to alert casual passersby to his status as a man of leisure; and in G. Smithers' books, such passersby, if they had any decency or intelligence about them, were invariably impressed. So Jonathan bought a white suit and a whangee from Beezle's store and, after about a week, worked up enough courage to go abroad in it. He set out having convinced himself that he cut a moderately fine figure, but halfway to town he ran into his friend Dooly who, quite innocently, remarked that Jonathan, dressed in that suit, was the spitting image of a gibbon ape he'd seen once in a sideshow up in Monmouth. Jonathan decided against going into town. He returned home instead and asked Talbot whether he looked more like a man of leisure or a gibbon ape. Talbot, who had just come in out of the woods with his tuba, said that all things considered it was about a tossup.

The result of all this was that Jonathan had given up both the white suit and the idea of being a man of leisure. He gave the suit to Dooly later that week, and Dooly, having nothing against apes of any nature, wore it when he went off down south to meet old Theophile Escargot, his grandfather. According to Dooly, they were heading down to the tropics – where such a suit would be just the thing –to go off pirating in Escargot's undersea device.

Since then Jonathan had shingled his roof, built new screens for his windows, and fixed the bank of casements along the east side of his house that leaked when it rained. He was thinking of kicking his front door to bits in order to build a new one, but he wasn't desperate enough for that yet. He'd worked his way through half of G. Smithers, having long ago come to the conclusion that reading is perhaps the finest thing in the world to do in one's leisure time. But then it turned out that a man of leisure hadn't any leisure time; he just had suitcases full of the same sort of unidentifiable time, and reading for the sake of filling expanses of that sort of time wasn't as satisfying as it might be. So he had put down G. Smithers, called Ahab, and wandered out to the strawberry patch. He considered, after that first month of being a man of leisure, that he might do better to go back to being a full-time cheeser. A man has to have his work, after all – at least that's what the philosophers said. And he'd just about decided to pack up the whole business when Professor Artemis Wurzle, dressed in a striking sort of suspendered hiking garment, came clumping up the path from town in a determined way.

He seemed altogether too determined. It was easy to see that he wasn't just out after spring mushrooms or water-weeds and sticklebacks for his aquaria. Ahab went wagging along the path to meet him, suspecting that the Professor had some nature of treat – a dog biscuit or bit of cheese –in his shirt pocket. The Professor hauled out one of the square biscuits from Beezle's market that had the taste of rye about them and handed it to Ahab, who seemed pleased.

'Hello, Professor,' Jonathan said.

'Hello, Jonathan,' came the reply. 'I've just been down to town. Talked to Beezle. He tells me you've become a man of leisure.'

'Until about five minutes ago,' Jonathan replied. 'But I gave it up. It was too tiring. I couldn't quit and rest, as Dooly would say.'

'How about the suit? Beezle says that you bought an amazing suit, and cut a fine figure in it too.'

'I kept being mistaken for a gibbon ape,' Jonathan said. 'White suits don't do me much good, I'm afraid.'

'They don't do anyone any good,' the Professor explained. 'Especially at night. They tend to attract the rays of the moon. Something like osmosis. Set a man mad eventually. I did a treatise on it back in my university days. No white-suited man can stay sane long – not if he goes out after dark.'

'Then it's just as well I got rid of it,' Jonathan said. 'I would have become a mad gibbon ape. A frightening thought. I gave the thing to Dooly, though. He doesn't know anything about this moon madness business.'

The Professor thought about that for a moment before coming to the conclusion that moon rays probably wouldn't bother Dooly much anyway. He started to explain something to Jonathan about the scientific principle of saturation points, but it was far too hot there in the sunlight for such lectures. Jonathan suggested they wander over to the house and saturate themselves with iced tea. Ahab bounded off in the wake of young Talbot, who was trudging away in the direction of the forest, carrying his tuba.

All in all, Jonathan's house was fairly cool. There was such a profusion of windows that breezes blew in from every which way. Oak and tulip wood and liquidambar trees grew on all sides and shaded the roof from the sun. The house and its three little out buildings – a smokehouse, cheesehouse, and shop – sat atop a little rise about a quarter mile from town. Mayor Bastable's house was two hundred yards east, and in between was a broad expanse of pasture. To the north, beyond the cheesehouse and smokehouse, was a little garden, partly fenced by a tangle of berry vines that piled up right to the edge of the forest. Beyond that, for as many miles as anyone cared about, were the deep woods, rising up out of the valley toward the misty, distant mountains. On a clear day Jonathan could sit in his living room and see the snow-capped peaks of those mountains miles and miles away.

'Quite a view you've got from here, Jonathan,' the Professor commented. He was standing in front of the windows holding a glass of iced tea in his hand.

'It is that.'

'Makes a man content.' The Professor smiled. 'That garden and your big front porch and the valley all spread out around you – it would be hard to leave.'

'Impossible.' Jonathan remembered the look of determination on the Professor's face and suspected that all of this home and hearth business was leading up to something.

'But as a man of leisure, doing nothing all day but gazing out of the windows and standing about in the strawberry patch waiting for the green berries to turn, you run a terrible risk, Jonathan.'

Jonathan nodded. Just what I've been saying. All this free time takes the wind right out of your sails.'

'Exactly. What you need is a vacation from it.'

So that was it. That explained the Professor's look of determination. He wanted to go off traveling and he aimed to talk Jonathan into going along. 'But I just got home,' Jonathan stated flatly.

'We've been back six months,' the Professor said, 'and you've got an air of boredom about you. It hovers around you like a little cloud. They say that once you've tasted the highroad you never lose your craving for it. It's like root beer or brandy or green olives. Traveling is in your blood.'

'I'm not sure they are correct,' Jonathan answered. 'And besides, I've my cheeses to see to.'

'Talbot can see to your cheeses.'

'Then there's my garden,' Jonathan said weakly. 'It'll go up in weeds.'

'Give it to the Mayor,' the Professor suggested. 'How many of those zucchinis do you think you can eat anyway? There's not a man alive who can eat zucchini for three days running with a straight face. And I seem to recall, Jonathan, your having said something about going off this spring to visit the Squire. What happened to that idea?'

'I don't know.' Jonathan swallowed a last gulp of iced tea. He looked at the little patch of sugar at the bottom of the glass. It would actually be fun to see the Squire again, not to mention Bufo and Gump and Stick-a-bush. And it would be nice to travel on holiday rather than on business. 'Why doesn't this sugar dissolve like it's supposed to?' he asked the Professor. 'You can stir for an hour and there's still sugar on the bottom of the glass.'

'It's a matter of chemistry,' the Professor replied knowingly. 'Very complex affair.'

'Is that it?' Jonathan seemed satisfied. 'When do you want to leave on this venture?'

'That's the spirit!' Professor Wurzle shouted, pouring himself more tea out of a green glass pitcher. 'We leave tomorrow. At sunrise.'

'Impossible. I'll need a week,' Jonathan replied.

'What for?'

'I've got to square the lad away about the cheeses.'

'I had one of his cheeses last week. He doesn't need any squaring away,' the Professor stated emphatically. 'Just tell him to keep at it while you're gone. You trust him, don't you?'

'Of course,' Jonathan said. 'He'll do well.'

'Then we leave tomorrow.'

'I need time to lock up, to stow things away.'

The Professor pulled out his pocketwatch, gave it a look, strode over and shut one of the casements, then slid the flip-lock into place. He looked at the pocketwatch again. 'Seven seconds,' he said. 'Multiply that by eight, add ten seconds for the door, and this room's locked up tight. A blind man doesn't need more than five minutes to lock up a house.'

Jonathan could see that his rationalizations were crumbling in the face of reason. 'How about supplies, Professor?'

'They're loaded. What do you think I've been doing all morning, chatting with Beezle about white suits?'

'Loaded where?' Jonathan asked, convinced, finally, that fate had raised its peculiar head once again.

'Why onto your raft, of course. I took the liberty of picking the lock on the hold. We're ready to push off. In fact, we could leave tonight. There's a full moon. We could sail by moonlight and troll for river squid.'

'Tomorrow,' Jonathan said, 'will be soon enough.'

The sound of an approaching tuba echoed out of the forest, and away up the path beyond the berry vines Talbot and Ahab could be seen tramping in out of the woods, pursued neither by bears nor goblins. The Professor jumped up and pushed open the screen door. 'I'll just inform the lad of our plans, Jonathan. I have all the dates and such written down. Don't worry.'

I Jonathan sat over another glass of iced tea, looking out the window. G. Smithers lay half finished on the table beside his chair. Just an hour earlier Jonathan had been convinced that he couldn't read another word. Now it seemed to him as if there were nothing in the world he would rather do. And it struck him that he'd be on the Oriel or somewhere off along the river road when the strawberries finally ripened. Talbot and Mayor Bastable would get the lot of them.

But then it was true that he could always take G. Smithers along with him, since he'd have hours of good, lazy reading time ahead of him on the river. It was true too, that if it was strawberries he wanted, the Squire would be just the man to see. In fact, Squire Myrkle probably ate them by the bushel-basket-full, being as large as he was. Furthermore, when he finally returned home from his trip, he'd feel pretty much as he had when he got home from the k last – doubly glad to see his little house and his wheels of suspended cheese and all the rest of the things that the Professor had pointed out as making a man content. There was nothing like returning home from travels to make a man content – and, of course, you couldn't return until you'd gone. So there Jonathan was at last – going again. He walked into his bedroom to pack his bag.