The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Title: The King of Elfland’s Daughter
Author: Lord Dunsany
Date Added: June 16, 2016
Date Started: May 16, 2018
Date Finished: June 15, 2018
Genre: Classic, Fantasy/High Fantasy, Fairy Tale

The King of Elfland's Daughter coverPages: 203
Publication Date: 1924
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Media: eBook/Kindle

The poetic style and sweeping grandeur of The King of Elfland’s Daughter has made it one of the most beloved fantasy novels of our time, a masterpiece that influenced some of the greatest contemporary fantasists. The heartbreaking story of a marriage between a mortal man and an elf princess is a masterful tapestry of the fairy tale following the “happily ever after.”

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany was considered one of the greatest writers in the English speaking world during the 1910’s.  More than 90 of his works were published in his lifetime, but today he’s best known for The King of Elfland’s Daughter, a novel that explores life after the “happily ever after.”

The lord of Erl is told by a parliament of his people that they want to be ruled by a magic lord so that their land could go down in history, so the lord sends his son Alveric to fetch the titular fairy princess, Lirazel, who goes with him willingly.  As time passes slower in in the fey lands than they do in the real world, Alveric returns many years later to discover he has inherited the lordship after his father’s death.  Alveric and Lirazel have a son, Orion, and Lirazel tries to adapt to a mundane life, while still keeping some of her fae traditions.  Alveric; however, discourages this and admonishes her for her “un-Christian” ways.  He tries to make her less fae and more like the court ladies, but she is what she is.  Eventually, Lirazel uses the rune her father gave her, returning to him in Elfland.  Lovesick Alveric goes after her, leaving their son to be raised by his witch nursemaid.  Abandoning his kingdom for the hopeless quest, Alveric is eventually betrayed by his own men who hold him hostage and keep him from Elfland out of their own jealousy.  Meanwhile, Lirazel becomes lonesome for her mortal husband and son, and, seeing she’s unhappy, the king of Elfland uses up the rest of his runes to engulf the land of Erl, transforming it into a part of Elfland and bringing about half the wishes of the old men who wanted Erl to have a magic lord, but as the land passed out of the human history due to this act, no one in the mundane world would ever remember it or know.

This was…interesting, oddly interesting though the writing was so dry and plodding (a common “complaint” of classics).  You are still drawn into how it all will end.  Will Alveric find Elfland?  Will Orion heed the call of its horns?  Will Lirazel return of her own accord?  The story is a literal classic “Be careful what you wish for” tale with the elders of Erl wishing for a magic lord so that Erl would be remembered for its greatness, but in obtaining their desire, they lost what they hoped to gain from it.  Erl passed out of all living memory in its absorption by Elfland.  To this end, as well, all of the years of Alveric’s searching are washed away as Elfland finds him instead of the inverse.

The King of Elfland’s Daughter was incredibly hard to read at times.  If Soulless was endowed with dry humor, this novel was just dry.  The text functions more as poetry in the language used, as well as in how it repeats.  Dunsany frequently mentions “the fields we know” and “the fields we don’t know” to reference earth and Elfland respectively.  It’s not annoying, but the prose has a winding way about it that can be hard to follow if you’re not paying attention.  The value of this novel comes more from the foundation it laid in showing the modern subversion “happily ever after” is older than I thought.  The happy ending occurs in the first two chapters where the rest of the book is dedicated to the aftermath.  It’s the difference between conquering a kingdom and ruling one, which is not my most feminist metaphor, but it serves to show how enamoring a princess isn’t the same as maintaining a relationship.  Since this was published in 1924, over a decade before Disney’s release of Snow White (1938), Elfland proves that subversion of fairy tale tropes predates the mouse’s co-opting of them.

This is worth exploring for the sake of education, research, or posterity, but I wouldn’t recommend it to the casual reader.

4 stars.

11 thoughts on “The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

    • I totally would! It’s one of those books that’s such a major foundation to fantasy, and you can see its influence even today. I read it more like I’d read a textbook or school project, which is something that helps me get through works that come off as a bit dry, but that I want to read for research purposes 🙂


    • I don’t think you would at all. I got through it because I’m a big ole literature dork lol. People are allowed to like different things, be bored with different things, and not fucking read certain things. The author was definitely influential with how fairy tales work, but I’ve found a lot of classical authors to be hard to get through. Oddly sci-fi writers tend to remain relevant far beyond their time, which makes sense since sci-fi is looking forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. When you approach a king, you courtesy. When you approach a Lord, you respect his rank. When you approach a book that has been read for over a century, you don’t treat it like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

    Some troubling things about your review is that you haven’t approached it with the reverence it deserves. I probably would hate this book. I like happily ever afters. But this man. being an expert on Lord Byron, I do have Byron on my bookshelf and have done some pretty deep studies on him.

    With that said… I don’t want to sound pretentious but I know I do. This man influenced every major Fantasy Author of note. J. R. R. Tolkien, H. P. Lovecraft, to name two.

    It’s like… I don’t want to insult you. But inevitably when you call old writing “Dry” and that you “Plod” through it, and then review it like you would some common thing… it’s just a little weird.

    When I come to a book in a review, even if I don’t like it, I will pay it the respect it deserves without condescending it. I didn’t like the Pearl by John Steinbeck. Or Candide by Voltaire. But, often I find the reason I don’t like the book is the reason why it’s so important. Candide was very sad, and the Pearl was about crossing boundaries in society that are unassailable. So, I don’t like it. I don’t like the Pearl or Candide, but both novels, I don’t like them because the truth they contain is contrary to how I want reality to be.

    So with this, I see the truth you’re conveying is that the reality it contains is true: There’s life after Happily Ever After. It’s all the asides, and saying “This book isn’t for the casual reader,” I would disagree. I think the casual reader has read enough crap in their life. I think this is the kind of thing they need to read in order to, in all clarity, fix what’s wrong with their expectations in life, and learn that happiness is hard work. It’s not fortuity. Which is what every Fairytale expresses in the long run, is that the good fortune happens by a lot of hard work. Not by chance, and the idea is that the character is what brings a person fortune. Which is what Grimm Fairytales is all about.

    I hope you enjoy this… I’m not criticizing you as a person. Just trying to help you understand a genre of book that needs to be read, when it clearly isn’t being read and the consequences are very visible today.


    • It is very possible to appreciate a work of art for what it adds to the zeitgeist and still comment on how it would be viewed through the current spirit of the time, which is what I did. I said it was dry because it was dry. I said it plodded because it plodded despite the moments of eloquent prose. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be found in the words, nor did I insinuate it wasn’t a momentous influence on modern fantasy, but even J. R. R. Tolkien would find it hard to obtain readership nowadays (were he a new author writing in that style) even though he’s one of foundational authors of the era, which also isn’t to say there are writers of that time who *do* hold up and are, in fact ahead of their time.

      I think a casual reader would find this boring whereas someone interested in the history of modern fantasy would find it vital due to the paradigms it presents, but not everyone cares about that, and it would be elitist for me to insist they must. I’ve been on that side of classism before where I looked down on those who don’t do the deep dive that I love, and it’s bullshit. People are allowed to enjoy and interact with media however they see fit so long as they’re not mocking others for their methods. Since I’ve been on the receiving end of “You look too much into this” it took me a while to realize that my “You’re not smart enough to understand the depths of this” was problematic and classist. Insisting something “needs” to be read as a general rule closes out certain people from participating, and reading should never be like that and have gatekeeping to relevance. Nor is this to say that those who don’t have any interest in doing that kind of work should be in certain positions. I don’t want a math teacher who couldn’t be arsed to study the Pythagorean Theorem, but I also shouldn’t judge some rando for not knowing it, because I don’t now what their access to education or ability to understand such is.

      People should read what they enjoy, and enjoyment is relative. I’m not going to recommend someone force themselves though something that’s not going to give them any fulfillment. While I might like studies in symbolism like The Hero With a Thousand Faces because I’m an essayist, amateur theologian, gigantic nerd, or whatever, I won’t assume every is, even though Campbell’s examinations can be found in every story. Learning that other people enjoy things in different ways for different reasons was a hard lesson my recovering elitist self had to learn, and it’s something to consider when you say things like “the casual reader has read enough crap in their life.” I don’t like Nicholas Sparks, but who am I to say someone else can’t enjoy it, find it fulfilling, and maybe looking forward to reading another one of his novels has gotten someone to another day.


      • I don’t really know how to respond to this. But, I’m not going to argue with you.

        But, the reason why I read the Pearl, despite not liking it, was because it had something valuable to teach me.

        Despite hating it, it taught me something. And that something is highly tied to what you said. That corruption exists.

        Because there is no reason what you’re saying should be true.


      • Like, I hope you understand it ought not be “Elitist” to say other things should be read and written, and commonly at that, beside Nicholas Sparks. What you’re saying sounds elitist. To me, anyway. It’s like saying, “Yeah, people who are really good at what they do ought to just suck it, and realize capitalism rules all.”


      • It’s also a little insulting to me that you say that the writers who wrote in older styles couldn’t get published today. That’s elitism, right there. Like, you’ve just changed a classical style out for something else.

        And, it’s probably better the other way, so that way someone like me who spent 10 years learning how to master my craft, don’t end up poverty stricken, and people who basically just write an outline and have editors write their material don’t end up being national best sellers. Because that’s what happens today.

        I mean… just give it some thought. Maybe you’ll realize that you’re wrong, and your ideas are causing a lot of problems in the outset because people don’t recognize quality, and then talented people can’t eat.


        • “I’m not going to argue with you.” *proceeds to continue talking and posts three more comments*

          LOLOLOL dear man on the internet, wow, you are hilarious. One, I’m anti-capitalist however I am a realist. At no point did I say that they *shouldn’t* be published, I said they more than likely wouldn’t be today because I’m aware of the zeitgeist, and while I hate capitalism, I know that it’s a major factor in what is/isn’t published. The publishing market is unforgiving and what’s in changes constantly. While there can be a niche for anything, what is popular tends to take precedence.

          What should exist and what does exist are two different things. I would love to live in a world were dudes don’t try to mansplain and tell me to realize I’m wrong and “people don’t recognize quality” because they missed the fucking nuance of what I said, but here we are. Something can have quality and still not be for everyone, and insinuating that “people can’t recognize quality” sounds pretty fucking elitist to me. Is it what *you* attempt to identify as objective quality or is it legitimate objective quality? And even if it is, people are still entitled to their preference on whether they’d enjoy reading it. As I mentioned, I have no problem slogging through something that’s might not be all that interesting but that I can garner knowledge from, but not everyone shares that sentiment. My non-judgment of what people want to spend their time doing is the opposite of elitism, Talent doesn’t always equal success, and yeah that sucks. You can make no mistake, have loads of talent, write an awesome story, and still not succeed. It’s not fair, and, I don’t think people should starve for any reason, whether they’re talented or not. My observation of the paradigm doesn’t mean I agree with it. It means I understand the mechanism behind it. I can lament it as much, but it’s going to take much more than some random dude berating me and my review on the internet to fix the underlying, foundational problems with our society that makes all of this so.


  2. Pingback: The State of the Writer: 6/16/19 | The Shameful Narcissist Speaks

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