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The King of Elfland's Daughter
Lord Dunsany
Orion Millennium Books, 241 pages

John Williams Waterhouse
The King of Elfland's Daughter
Lord Dunsany
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, the 18th Baron Dunsany, lived from 1878 until 1957. He was was born in London, in the house of his grandfather, Admiral Lord Dunsany. Lord Dunsany was a big game hunter, chess-master, Boer War and WW1 veteran, and one of the greatest and most influential fantasy writers of modern times. Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) (who said: "his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-worlds, and his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to me more than anything else in modern literature") were greatly influenced by his works. Much as the English of the King James Bible molded the translations of numerous ancient religious and epic texts published in English during the 19th century, we owe to Dunsany, along with William Morris (1834-1896), much of the language, structure and sources of modern fantasy.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Time and the Gods
SF Site Review: Arthur C. Clarke & Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence
Dunsany Information and E-Texts

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Gabriel Chouinard

If you're looking for an alternative to Tolkien's overly-hyped pastoral Middle-earth saga, you could do much worse than to sit down with a copy of Lord Dunsany's classic novel The King of Elfland's Daughter.

This perennial tale has often been overlooked by the average fantasy reader, who seems to prefer Big Fat Trilogies over slender (241 pages), old (originally published in 1924), single volumes. Oh, the shame! Because those readers are missing out on one of the loveliest fantastic tales of all time.

Everyone has heard of The King of Elfland's Daughter, lauded by people like Neil Gaiman (who provides a touching introduction to the volume), Fritz Leiber, John Clute and numerous others. Still, how many have read the tale? Woefully few.

But why? Why, when Lord Dunsany has crafted a tale of princes and magical swords, beautiful maidens, unicorns and other impossible creatures, and (of course) elves galore? Isn't this the stuff that fantasy is made of?

Perhaps it's the leisurely pace. Dunsany is a storyteller, a yarn spinner, a weaver of the tapestry of tale. His language is rich and vibrant, meant to roll from the tongue like droplets of fine wine. Modern readers just aren't built to process a tale that does not grip them in a troll-like grasp, shaking them and tugging them along for the ride. No, The King of Elfland's Daughter isn't exactly a rousing, action-filled story. Rather, it is an experience in wonderment; a blissful rejoicing of all that is strange and unknown.

Yet, this is no mere fairy tale, no simplistic Disney cartoon. There's grit here, lurking dark beneath the surface.

The tale begins with the ruling Parliament in the no-land of Eld, a kingdom in a long-ago England, and their desire to be "ruled by a magic lord." And so they send fearless Prince Alveric to Elfland, to steal away Lirazel, the King of Elfland's daughter, in order to marry her. Alveric obliges, in standardized Princely fashion, accompanied by his magical sword.

But that is just the fairy tale beginning.

Upon his return, Alveric finds that ten years have passed, and his father the King is dead. Alveric weds Lirazel, produces a son (Orion, after the constellation), and settles down to rule the land of Eld.

Ah! But eventually, Lirazel pines away for her Elfland, unable to exist happily in the realm of mortals. And so she steals away, returning to her homeland, leaving Alveric to quest along behind her in fruitless pursuit.

The tale weaves and slithers about, tangled between the three threads of the Parliament, Alveric and Lirazel, and their son Orion. It takes us to places magical and wonderful, but it also takes us to places dark and haunting. And we learn, in the end, that when we go seeking magic in those lands 'beyond the fields we know', we may not get what we wish for...

Dunsany is a stylish master of prose, with lush and lyrical descriptive power. His evocation of Elfland is among the best I've ever read, recalling (and influencing!) stylists like Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft. The King of Elfland's Daughter is a timeless tale, meant to be savored and enjoyed.

So do yourself a favor; the next time you happen upon this slender volume, with its romantic Waterhouse cover, buy it. Take it home, turn the lights low, curl up beneath a blanket with a bottle of Pinot Grigio, and savor the stylings of a master.

Copyright © 2002 Gabriel Chouinard

Gabe Chouinard likes to savor things. Right now, he's savoring his newest daughter (Ava), his weblog (at, and being able to write...

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