The 1977 album cover
In my recent post about Faery in the music of Mark Bolan and English rock of the 1960s and ’70s, I mentioned the rock opera based upon the 1924 book, The King of Elfland’s Daughter, by Edward Lord Dunsany.
I hadn’t read this, and thought I really should. Having ordered the book through my local library, my default is now corrected!
The story concerns the land of Erl. The people there feel neglected and unknown in the world, a situation that could be corrected if only there was magic in their land. Their prince, Alveric, agrees to resolve this problem and travels through the misty frontier into nearby Elf Land. There he meets and woos the king’s daughter, Lirazel.
They return to Erl and have a son, who is named Orion. However, Lirazel cannot adapt to earthly ways and pines for her home. Eventually, her father calls her back with magic and then hides Elfland from men.
Alveric sets out on a quest to recover his elvish bride, leaving behind his infant child. Orion grows up to be a naturally skilled hunter in the forests and fields of Erl. As time passes, and as Alveric heads further and further away in his futile search for his wife, the King of Elfland allows the border of his realm to draw nearer to earth again. In due course, Orion discovers that unicorns stray over into our fields to graze and he becomes addicted to hunting them. Inevitably, though, they are very hard to chase and he recruits a troll, Luralu, to help. Slowly, then, Elfland and Earth are becoming intertwined, building up to the point when the magical world flows over Erl completely and the sundered family are reunited.
The plot of The King of Elfland’s Daughter is simple, but entertaining, and the author makes excellent use of such faery themes as the differential passage of time, but what is most attractive about the novel is its style. Dunsany’s prose has a stately, poetic elegance; certain phrases are repeated, almost like an incantation, “the fields we know” and the faery palace, that “may be told of only in song.” This is a feature, too, of traditional ballads (many of which are faery themed) and it gives a dreamlike quality to the majestic progress of the narrative, entirely appropriate to its magical subject matter. (Dunsany achieved a similar effect in his chronicles of Pegana, too, which in creating an entirely new universe and pantheon, were key sources of inspiration for H P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu).
All in all, it’s a lovely book, and highly recommended.
Other books for your collection
I’ve been catching up on my faery fiction recently, and I can also recommend the following.
The Lore of Proserpine
The Lore of Proserpine was published by Maurice Hewlett in 1913. It’s an intriguing and elegant read, unlike any other book I have yet found in this subject area. The work is fiction (we might assume) but it is written as a biographical account of a life-time’s encounters with faery folk. The ambivalent status of the book, presenting itself as a sober and considered account of supernatural experiences, is part of its attraction.
Hewlett first sees a fairy boy in a wood when he is a child himself. Regular sightings follow into adulthood, many of these occurring in the ostensibly unpromising surroundings of London, as well as in some of the remoter parts of the British countryside (deep in the Cheviot Hills or on the downs in Wiltshire). Some of the sightings are presented as personal, others are relayed as reports from witnesses whom Hewlett has interviewed). It’s full of wise remarks and informed speculations on fairy nature and, at only 130 pages in length and available as a very cheap paperback, it comes with the strongest British Fairies endorsement.
Kingdoms of Elfin
I’ve mentioned it before, in passing, but I should also give honourable mention here to Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin (1977). In this book, too, a unique universe of faery is invented, based upon traditional faerylore but moulded by the author to her own vision. It is a crueller Faery than Dunsany’s, where all is calm and peace, and in that respect is truer to the authentic nature of British fairies.