genre stuff reading pile

The King Of Elfland’s Daughter

This isn’t a review, but the book deserves more attention that being rounded-up with another post. The King of Elfland’s Daughter, by Lord Dunsany, is a heck of a novel. There is much of the fairytale here, and I was reminded of the fantasies of William Morris. There’s something very ornate, something elegant about the aesthetic, and the prose, though at first densely structured in olde speak, is crafted in the same manner.

The story concerns proper magic and a country’s thirst for it. Because of the demands of his citizens, a king sends his son, Alveric, across “the fields we know” to find Elfland, in order to find and wed Lirazel, the King of Elfland’s daughter, and bring a spot of magic back to his own kingdom. Which Alveric does, pretty early on, and returns with her to find that some considerable time has passed.

It’s really the theme of time passing which runs deep throughout the novel – since time does not really pass in Elfland, it makes ageing and death so prominent and issue in our own world. (It’s something that crops up in Dunsany’s other stories, too.)

Much of modern fantasy literature is criticised for its use of magic as a way out of any tricky situation, like some fancy oh-so-useful weapon, but many writers could do worse than study how Dunsany has used it here, most of which doesn’t really become apparent until the end. It’s bound up in the setting and characters so well, influences motivation and outcomes, and reflects much deeper, primitive desires. I was impressed how well fantastical elements were used, and that in itself puts a lot of modern writers to shame – Dunsany is clearly proud to explore elements of the phantasmic.

As an aside, I very much noticed an influence on Neil Gaiman, and it came as no surprise that he wrote the introduction to this edition. So, well worth a read, and I shall certainly be reading more.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

3 replies on “The King Of Elfland’s Daughter”

Lord Dunsany was of course a huge influence on Lovecraft, and Lovecraft mentions him an awful lot in his letters. Some of Dunsany’s short fiction is quite wonderful and the antecedent of the “weird fiction” genre that sprung up in the 1920s and 30s.

Sounds very interesting, I will have to check it out.

As far as the whole magic as Deus Ex Machina goes. I have to say that I haven’t noticed the trend myself in the fantasy that I read. I don’t believe that any author worth his/her salt would be so transparent as to use magic to unknot him/herself from a poorly conceived plot. I’m also troubled by the implication that the readers of any such book would be happy with such an unimaginitive device. This of course leaves open the possibility of an author using magic in a novel way to carry the story forward.

I’m keen to see how Dunsany does it. Thanks for the heads up.

I tend to agree with Phillip, I can’t think of any fantasy novels I have read that really uses magic as the ultimate solution. Sure, many fantasy authors go a little too far and make thier magic a little overpowered, so maybe this might be an interesting take on that?

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