The King of Elfland's Daughter

The King of Elfland's Daughter

by Edward John Moreton Dunsany


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In spare, vivid, hauntingly poetic prose, this long-out-of-print classic tells the tale of a young prince who dares to brave the deep and mysterious forest to find the land of Faerie--and from that magical realm bring back the Elf-Princess as his bride.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781388201609
Publisher: Blurb
Publication date: 05/23/2019
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.39(d)

About the Author

Lord Dunsany was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the eighteenth baron of an ancient line. He hunted lions in Africa, taught English in Athens, fought in the Boer and Kaiserian wars, and was wounded in the service of his country. As senior peer of Ireland, he saw three sovereigns crowned at Westminster; part of the renaissance of Irish drama, he hobnobbed with Yeats and Synge and Lady Gregory during the great days of Dublin's Abbey Theatre. He was peer, sportsman, soldier, playwright, globe-trotter, and once chess champion of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.  He wrote more than sixty books before his death in 1957 and influenced some of the greatest writers of our time including H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Fritz Leiber.

Read an Excerpt

In their ruddy jackets of leather that reached to their knees the men of Erl appeared before their lord, the stately white-haired man in his long red room. He leaned in his carven chair and heard their spokesman.

And thus their spokesman said.

"For seven hundred years the chiefs of your race have ruled us well; and their deeds are remembered by the minor minstrels, living on yet in their little tinkling songs. And yet the generations stream away, and there is no new thing."

"What would you?" said the lord.

"We would be ruled by a magic lord," they said.

"So be it," said the lord. "It is five hundred years since my people have spoken thus in parliament, and it shall always be as your parliament saith. You have spoken. So be it."

And he raised his hand and blessed them and they went.

They went back to their ancient crafts, to the fitting of iron to the hooves of horses, to working upon leather, to tending flowers, to ministering to the rugged needs of Earth; they followed the ancient ways, and looked for a new thing. But the old lord sent a word to his eldest son, bidding him come before him.

And very soon the young man stood before him, in that same carven chair from which he had not moved, where light, growing late, from high windows, showed the aged eyes looking far into the future beyond that old lord's time. And seated there he gave his son his commandment.

"Go forth," he said, "before these days of mine are over, and therefore go in haste, and go from here eastwards and pass the fields we know, till you see the lands that clearly pertain to faery; and cross their boundary, which is made of twilight, and come to thatpalace that is only told of in song."

"It is far from here," said the young man Alveric.

"Yes," answered he, "it is far."

"And further still," the young man said, "to return. For distances in those fields are not as here."

"Even so," said his father.

"What do you bid me do," said the son, "when I come to that palace?"

And his father said: "To wed the King of Elfland's daughter."

The young man thought of her beauty and crown of ice, and the sweetness that fabulous runes had told was hers. Songs were sung of her on wild hills where tiny strawberries grew, at dusk and by early starlight, and if one sought the singer no man was there. Sometimes only her name was sung softly over and over. Her name was Lirazel.

She was a princess of the magic line. The gods had sent their shadows to her christening, and the fairies too would have gone, but that they were frightened to see on their dewy fields the long dark moving shadows of the gods, so they stayed hidden in the crowds of pale pink anemones, and thence blessed Lirazel.

"My people demand a magic lord to rule over them. They have chosen foolishly," the old lord said, "and only the Dark Ones that show not their faces know all that this will bring: but we, who see not, follow the ancient custom and do what our people in their parliament say. It may be some spirit of wisdom they have not known may save them even yet. Go then with your face turned towards that light that beats from fairyland, and that faintly illumines the dusk between sunset and early stars, and this shall guide you till you come to the frontier and have passed the fields we know."

Then he unbuckled a strap and a girdle of leather and gave his huge sword to his son, saying: "This that has brought our family down the ages unto this day shall surely guard you always upon your journey, even though you fare beyond the fields we know."

And the young man took it though he knew that no such sword could avail him.

Near the Castle of Erl there lived a lonely witch, on high land near the thunder, which used to roll in Summer along the hills. There she dwelt by herself in a narrow cottage of thatch and roamed the high fields alone to gather the thunderbolts. Of these thunderbolts, that had no earthly forging, were made, with suitable runes, such weapons as had to parry unearthly dangers.

And alone would roam this witch at certain tides of Spring, taking the form of a young girl in her beauty, singing among tall flowers in gardens of Erl. She would go at the hour when hawk-moths first pass from bell to bell. And of those few that had seen her was this son of the Lord of Erl. And though it was calamity to love her, though it rapt men's thoughts away from all things true, yet the beauty of the form that was not hers had lured him to gaze at her with deep young eyes, till--whether flattery or pity moved her, who knows that is mortal?--she spared him whom her arts might well have destroyed and, changing instantly in that garden there, showed him the rightful form of a deadly witch. And even then his eyes did not at once forsake her, and in the moments that his glance still lingered upon that withered shape that haunted the hollyhocks he had her gratitude that may not be bought, nor won by any charms that Christians know. And she had beckoned to him and he had followed, and learned from her on her
thunder-haunted hill that on the day of need a sword might be made of metals not sprung from Earth, with runes along it that would waft away, certainly any thrust of earthly sword, and except for three master-runes could thwart the weapons of Elfland.

As he took his father's sword the young man thought of the witch.

It was scarcely dark in the valley when he left the Castle of Erl, and went so swiftly up the witch's hill that a dim light lingered yet on its highest heaths when he came near the cottage of the one that he sought, and found her burning bones at a fire in the open. To her he said that the day of his need was come. And she bade him gather thunderbolts in her garden, in the soft earth under her cabbages.

And there with eyes that saw every minute more dimly, and fingers that grew accustomed to the thunderbolts' curious surfaces, he found before darkness came down on him seventeen: and these he heaped into a silken kerchief and carried back to the witch.

On the grass beside her he laid those strangers to Earth. From wonderful spaces they came to her magical garden, shaken by thunder from paths that we cannot tread; and though not in themselves containing magic were well adapted to carry what magic her runes could give. She laid the thigh-bone of a materialist down, and turned to those stormy wanderers. She arranged them in one straight row by the side of her fire. And over them then she toppled the burning logs and the embers, prodding them down with the ebon stick that is the sceptre of witches, until she had deeply covered those seventeen cousins of Earth that had visited us from their etherial home. She stepped back then from her fire and stretched out her hands, and suddenly blasted it with a frightful rune. The flames leaped up in amazement. And what had been but a lonely fire in the night, with no more mystery than pertains to all such fires, flared suddenly into a thing that wanderers feared.

As the green flames, stung by her runes, leaped up, and the heat of the fire grew intenser, she stepped backwards further and further, and merely uttered her runes a little louder the further she got from the fire. She bade Alveric pile on logs, dark logs of oak that lay there cumbering the heath; and at once, as he dropped them on, the heat licked them up; and the witch went on pronouncing her louder runes, and the flames danced wild and green; and down in the embers the seventeen, whose paths had once crossed Earth's when they wandered free, knew heat again as great as they had known, even on that desperate ride that had brought them here. And when Alveric could no longer come near the fire, and the witch was some yards from it shouting her runes, the magical flames burned all the ashes away and that portent that flared on the hill as suddenly ceased, leaving only a circle that sullenly glowed on the ground, like the evil pool that glares where thermite has burst. And flat in the glow, all liquid still, la
y the sword.

The witch approached it and pared its edges with a sword that she drew from her thigh. Then she sat down beside it on the earth and sang to it while it cooled. Not like the runes that enraged the flames was the song she sang to the sword: she whose curses had blasted the fire till it shrivelled big logs of oak crooned now a melody like a wind in summer blowing from wild wood gardens that no man tended, down valleys loved once by children, now lost to them but for dreams, a song of such memories as lurk and hide along the edges of oblivion, now flashing from beautiful years of glimpse of some golden moment, now passing swiftly out of remembrance again, to go back to the shades of oblivion, and leaving on the mind those faintest traces of little shining feet which when dimly perceived by us are called regrets. She sang of old Summer noons in the time of harebells: she sang on that high dark heath a song that seemed so full of mornings and evenings preserved with all their dews by her magical craft from days tha
t had else been lost, that Alveric wondered of each small wandering wing, that her fire had lured from the dusk, if this were the ghost of some day lost to man, called up by the force of her song from times that were fairer. And all the while the unearthly metal grew harder. The white liquid stiffened and turned red. The glow of the red dwindled. And as it cooled it narrowed: little particles came together, little crevices closed: and as they closed they seized the air about them, and with the air they caught the witch's rune, and gripped it and held it forever. And so it was it became a magical sword. And little magic there is in English woods, from the time of anemones to the falling of leaves, that was not in the sword. And little magic there is in southern downs, that only sheep roam over and quiet shepherds, that the sword had not too. And there was scent of thyme in it and sight of lilac, and the chorus of birds that sings before dawn in April, and the deep proud splendour of rhododendrons, and the lit
heness and laughter of streams, and miles and miles of may. And by the time the sword was black it was all enchanted with magic.

Nobody can tell you about that sword all that there is to be told of it; for those that know of those paths of Space on which its metals once floated, till Earth caught them one by one as she sailed past on her orbit, have little time to waste on such things as magic, and so cannot tell you how the sword was made, and those who know whence poetry is, and the need that man has for song, or know any one of the fifty branches of magic, have little time to waste on such things as science, and so cannot tell you whence its ingredients came. Enough that it was once beyond our Earth and was now here amongst our mundane stones; that it was once but as those stones, and now had something in it such as soft music has; let those that can define it.

And now the witch drew the black blade forth by the hilt, which was thick and on one side rounded, for she had cut a small groove in the soil below the hilt for this purpose, and began to sharpen both sides of the sword by rubbing them with a curious greenish stone, still singing over the sword an eerie song.

Alveric watched her in silence, wondering, not counting time; it may have been for moments, it may have been while the stars went far on their courses. Suddenly she was finished. She stood up with the sword lying on both her hands. She stretched it out curtly to Alveric; he took it, she turned away; and there was a look in her eyes as though she would have kept that sword, or kept Alveric. He turned to pour out his thanks, but she was gone.

He rapped on the door of the dark house; he called "Witch, Witch" along the lonely heath, till children heard on far farms and were terrified. Then he turned home, and that was best for him.

Table of Contents

IThe Plan of the Parliament of Erl1
IIAlveric Comes in Sight of the Elfin Mountains9
IIIThe Magical Sword Meets Some of the Swords of Elfland17
IVAlveric Comes Back to Earth After Many Years25
VThe Wisdom of the Parliament of Erl30
VIThe Rune of the Elf King38
VIIThe Coming of the Troll43
VIIIThe Arrival of the Rune50
IXLirazel Blows Away58
XThe Ebbing of Elfland64
XIThe Deep of the Woods71
XIIThe Unenchanted Plain78
XIIIThe Reticence of the Leather-Worker86
XIVThe Quest for the Elfin Mountains92
XVThe Retreat of the Elf King99
XVIOrion Hunts the Stag105
XVIIThe Unicorn Comes in the Starlight113
XVIIIThe Grey Tent in the Evening117
XIXTwelve Old Men Without Magic123
XXA Historical Fact132
XXIOn the Verge of Earth138
XXIIOrion Appoints a Whip145
XXIIILurulu Watches the Restlessness of Earth153
XXIVLurulu Speaks of Earth and the Ways of Men161
XXVLirazel Remembers the Fields We Know168
XXVIThe Horn of Alveric177
XXVIIThe Return of Lurulu188
XXVIIIA Chapter on Unicorn-Hunting195
XXIXThe Luring of the People of the Marshes201
XXXThe Coming of Too Much Magic208
XXXIThe Cursing of Elfin Things214
XXXIILirazel Yearns for Earth218
XXXIIIThe Shining Line224
XXXIVThe Last Great Rune232

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King of Elfland's Daughter 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
MLucero More than 1 year ago
The King of Elfland's Daughter is a classic of fantastic literature, one of the works upon which the genre as it is today understood is based. In this sense, Lord Dunsany can be called, with George MacDonald, a proto-fantasist. His fantasies were based partly on traditional folklore and fairy-tales, and partly on the heroic romances popular during the Middle Ages. In this way, quite apart from the character of Dunsany's writing, the man stands above most modern fantasy fare. Yet the voice of his writing, as well, echoes on the mind like distant horns sounding from beyond the horizon, turning, with the alchemy implicit in the best fairy tales, mere words into visions of brilliant landscapes, mere turns of phrases into casts of golden age, though ringing in the present. Yet as Neil Gaiman's introduction observes, it is not a particularly comforting story, a fact likely due to the ambiguity of many of its events. There are notes of childlike wonder and innocence in the beauty of Elfland, but also notes of hubris and things beyond the realm of what is healthy. Similarly, there seems at first mere blunt cruelty in the priest's cursing of all magical things, but it later reveals hidden stores of wisdom and foresight. By the time Lord Dunsany's tale has ended, it is a question unresolved whether it was a good thing or no for characters to have endured "the coming of too much magic". Perhaps the truth depends on one's approach to Elfland: come with ambition, pride or greed, and you will meet with more than you bargained for. But approach with caution, humility and restraint, and Elfland is a paradise of hallowed splendors and wonders. In this, Dunsany is (and ingeniously so) following generations of traditional tales of Perilous Realms, where, as Tolkien said, there "are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold"...
CharlesFerdinand on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is usually called a fantasy novel, which I think doesn't do it justice. It leads the reader to expect high adventure and action, while in fact this book is a very poetic fairytale about human dreams and aspirations. So, depending on your viewpoint, this is the most boring book ever, or a wonderful and enchanting tale. I found it beautifully written, and for all its whimsy, it has much wisdom. Not recommended for unicorn lovers, however.
atimco on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter, first published in 1924, is widely acknowledged as a classic work of fantasy fiction. This is Dunsany's second novel and probably the most famous among his large body of work. It tells how the parliament of Erl asks its lord Alveric to bring magic to their isolated valley. Alveric crosses over into Elfland and wins the King of Elfland's daughter, but Lirazel is restless in the mortal world. Eventually her father's powerful rune compels her to leave her husband and son Orion for the ageless calm of Elfland. Alveric sets out on a hopeless quest to bring her back, while Orion grows up and becomes a hunter. Everything seems ordinary until Orion begins to hear the horns of Elfland, and hunts his first unicorn. And Lirazel languishes amidst the astonishing beauty of her father's realm, sighing for earthly things.Oh, Dunsany's writing... I can't get over it, and apparently it has taken many other readers the same way. It is full of phrases to savor like the lines of a poem, and almost demands to be read slowly. Its archaic touch is courtesy of Dunsany's abiding love for the language of the King James Bible and his admiration of an earlier fantasy author, William Morris. His graceful style has had a powerful influence on the authors who followed; I saw elements and ideas picked up by Patricia McKillip, J. R. R. Tolkien, and possibly C. S. Lewis, to name a few. I can't describe his distinctive voice adequately; you simply must read it for yourself.At the core of Dunsany's imagination is the idea that Elfland, or magic/enchantment, is a place bordering our ordinary everyday world ("the fields we know")¿and it is far from benign. Its strangeness is not welcoming and its creatures operate under a completely different set of ideas about the world. Sometimes these differences lead to hilarity (like when we get a glimpse of the trolls' perceptions of the human world) and other times the differences are tragic (as when Alveric, angry, is unable to understand his wife's attempts to worship the Christom God by practicing worshiping the stars first). I've only found this sense of profound, unbridgeable otherness in a few other authors (one of whom is Peter S. Beagle, who cites Dunsany as a strong influence). There is tension that eventually breaks into antagonism between Christianity and Elfland; "For between Elfland and Heaven there is no path, no flight, no way; and neither sends ambassador to the other" (219). The Freer (Christian priest) curses Elfland and all its inhabitants, which carves out a little island of unenchanted ground for him when Erl is taken into Elfland. He isn't a sympathetic figure in his harsh denunciations of magic, but Dunsany calls him "the good man," and the ordinary people who once defied his dictums by longing for magic come to regret it. Christianity isn't benign... but neither is Elfland. Over and over again we are reminded that elvish creatures are "beyond the hope of blessedness" in the Christian Heaven, which, left undescribed, seems pale and unreal next to the lush enchanted lands. I don't like the dichotomy, that the two realms are innately opposed to one another. Interestingly, Dunsany's descriptions of Elfland remind me strongly of Lewis' New Narnia¿which of course is his conception of the New Heavens and the New Earth described in the Bible. I don't usually care for Neil Gaiman, but he writes a nice introduction to this novel. He's right about taking the time to savor it; usually I read at a breakneck speed but something about this book forced me to slow down. This story is a distinctive experience; I will seek out more of Dunsany's strange wine.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended in A Reader's Guide to Fantasy on it's "Seven-League Shelf"--a list of the 33 most important books in the genre--at least as of 1982 when the guide was published. The King of Elfland's Daughter was published in 1924--well before CS Lewis' Narnia or Tolkien's Chronicles of Middle Earth. The writing has a fairy tale quality--although as Lin Carter who wrote the introduction points out, it's rather subversive in twisting the requisite happily ever after. The heart of the story begins when most fairy tales end--after the marriage of the fairy princess. The style is lyrical, with the cadence and repetitions of an epic poem (often repeated is the phrase "the fields we know"). Its language is slightly archaic (not as much as in parts of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings though) and there's little dialogue, which contributes to the rather ponderous feel. At times the book sported long sinuous sentences. Here's a quote that gives you a flavor:Not like the runes that enraged the flames was the song she sang to the sword: she whose curses had blasted the fire till it shriveled big logs of oak crooned now a melody like a wind in summer blowing from wild wood gardens that no man tended, down valleys loved once by children, now lost to them but for dreams, a song of such memories as lurk and hide along the edges of oblivion, now flashing from beautiful years of glimpse of some golden moment, now passing swiftly out of remembrance again, to go back to the shades of oblivion, and leaving on the mind those faintest traces of little shining feet which when dimly perceived by us are called regrets.I loved the way Lirazel, the King of Elfland's daughter, is painted. Her alien mindset, how she's never at home in our world, yet once she returns to Elfland pines for earthly things. Next to her, Tolkien's elven maidens are mundane. The ordinary and human village of Erl and the magical Elfland clash and conflict and connect in ways I didn't expect. Our foxes are creatures of fable there, as their unicorns are here--and both occasionally pass boundaries. There be trolls. Not evil lumbering monsters, but mischievous, agile, curious. The troll Lurulu is a winning character. There are powerful magical runes, and even a fellowship on a quest. This isn't a fast-paced action tale but rather the opposite, rather dreamy and slow moving, and although it's not very long--248 pages in my edition--it's not the kind of story you rush through, and probably will strike the usual fantasy reader as rather weird really. I wouldn't count it as a favorite, exactly. I can't imagine ever rereading it. The characters are a bit thin, not the kind I fall in love with and want to revisit. But Lord Dunsany created a unique fantastic landscape I found well worth journeying through. His book has a shimmering otherworldly quality that reminds me of Debussey's tone poem La Cathédrale Engloutie.
jvalka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me a while to get used to the author's prose, which is very poetic, lyrical and wistful. It's the kind of writing that's easy to imitate, but incredibly difficult to do correctly. I think this was highly influential on Neil Gaiman's "Stardust" (he writes an introduction to this edition). Even though the book is short, the narrative spans several years, weaving back and forth between Alveric, his grown son Orion, Lirazel and a troll named Lurulu. I enjoyed it much more as soon as I realized that it wasn't plotted in a traditional way. One to read again some time.
plappen More than 1 year ago
Written in the early 20th century, This fantasy tale is about a small town that wishes to be ruled by a magic lord. Several leading citizens of the Vale of Erl go to their King, suggesting that a magic lord will help their town to be famous far and wide. The King sends his son, Alveric, into Elfland to bring back Lirazel, the King's daughter, as his bride. The misty border between the two lands causes those who live just to the west of Elfland to pretend that the compass direction of East, toward Elfland, does not exist. Lirazel produces a son, Orion, but the marriage is not happy. She is unwilling, or unable, to give up her belief in praying to the stars, in favor of Alveric's religion. In his desperation to get her back, Lirazel's father sent over a powerful rune to Lirazel, which she puts in a drawer. She knows that if she reads the rune, it will immediately send her back to Elfland. After being told, again, to give up her religion, now, in frustration, Lirazel uses the rune. Alveric immediately goes after her. After traveling for several days through a vast wasteland, he is forced to realize that not only has the castle of Elfland disappeared, but the entire land of Elfland has vanished. Alveric goes back to Erl and puts together an expedition to the far North to find some piece of Elfland that is not gone. After several years, a couple of members of the expedition return to Erl, no longer as committed to finding Elfland as they once were. Alveric shows no sign of giving up. Watching with her father, Lirazel begins to think that maybe she should go back to Alveric. Do they get back together? Do the people of Erl get their wish to be ruled by a magic lord? This was written in a very different time, so it is not a quick read; it will take some effort on the part of the reader. But that effort will be richly rewarded, because Dunsany, one of the overall masters of the fantasy field, does a wonderful job with the language and descriptions of this story. It is lyrical and poetic and it is a joy to read.
landrover More than 1 year ago
This is a book for every adventurer and dreamer. The edge of the fields we know applies to everything we do - from job changes, to school starts, to adventure trips, to new relationships. Basically once you go there you can never really come completely back, so it is understandably scary.
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mleiv More than 1 year ago
It took me a long time to wade through this book. It is written in that artificial flowery Victorian prose mimicking the King James Bible. Nonetheless, the second half of this book just sucked me in - it was so cynical and modern. I can definitely hear it in Neil Gaiman's Stardust, but the mood of it reminds me more of Baudolino by Umberto Eco. Dunsany represents very astutely how we both reach for and fear dangerous magic, how magic and madness must go hand-in-hand, and how the rejection of a magical world for a common, monotheistic one is both sensible and terribly sad. And the relationship between the prince and the fairy princess is more honest than most modern-day romances. He loves her for her playful, other-worldly nature, but then reprimands her for not settling down and taking on the common ways of his people after they are married. This book has definitely left a mark on me that will stay a long while.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a classic fantasy from the time before overblown Tolkien-clone epics. As such, you will not find the length or detail of Robert Jordan or any recent fantasist; but you will find an intriguing, non-traditional storyline, and some of the most simple yet beautiful writing I've ever come across. Any fans of the genre ought to read this.