Lord Dunsany,
The King of Elfland's Daughter
(1924; Del Rey, 1999)

Lord Dunsany was a master fantasist of the early part of our century. He was a major influence on classic fantasy and horror writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Fritz Leiber, and remains a writer worth rediscovering.

This fantastical story begins with the Parliament of Erl, consisting of men of the community, asking their ruler for a magic lord, so that Erl will not be forgotten in generations to come. The ruler abides by their request. This begins the avalanche which follows through two generations of rulers and takes the reader between Erl and Elfland.

The ruler asks his son, Alveric, to go to Elfland and wed the King of Elfland's daughter, so that the Parliament of Erl might have its wish. Alveric agrees. Before he starts on this quest, however, he pays a visit to the local witch, who gives him a magic sword. Once in Elfland, the magic sword enables Alveric to find the beautiful Lirazel, the King of Elfland's daughter. He takes her back to Erl, where Alveric discovers that ten years have passed and his father is dead. Alveric marries Lirazel and rules Erl to the best of his ability.

This, of course, is where most fairy tales end. Dunsany, excitingly enough, gives us the consequences of the actions of marrying a fairy. Lirazel, being a fairy, doesn't act like a sober Christian wife. She persists in laughing at sober moments, worshipping the moon and stars, and being herself. Alveric is not pleased, and tries to force her into the mold of wife of the ruler. After their child, Orion, is born, Alveric tries even harder to turn Lirazel into the opposite of her true being. Lirazel, as a result of this pressure, eventually disappears, leaving Alveric to mourn. The rest of the plot involves quests, magic, unicorns, and the fulfillment of the Parliament of Erl's dream -- much to their dismay.

This is merely a taste, for Dunsany's lush prose and brilliant descriptions lead the reader down paths rarely taken in fantastic literature. The influence of this book and Dunsany's other writings are obvious once the glow of finishing the book fades a little, and the reader can really think about what she has read.

This influential book is finally back in print, courtesy of Del Rey. The trade paperback edition has a lovely and evocative Waterhouse print for the cover. The Neil Gaiman introduction is also worth reading, and has wonderful commentary on Dunsany and fantastic literature.

[ by Beth Derochea ]



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