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The King of Elfland's Daughter
Reviewed by Sara Sutterfield Winn, ©

Format: Book
By:   Lord Dunsany
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   1924
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

I love political messages. Yep, they get me hot. I ADORE reading a novel that combines the beauty of the written word with solid storytelling all designed to convey a message. A purpose, a meaning, a point. Semantics, if you will. I love me some political semantics. Lord Dunsany's masterpiece The King of Elfland's Daughter, however, has no political message at all. Nor even any message period, that I can see. And I love the hell out of it. For Dunsany's work is that of pure imagination, the heart of every fantasy reader's aching, yearning celebration of Magic and Otherworldness. He is the lens through which we witness the strange and ethereal beauty of Elfland, the trumpeting of Faerie music at dawn, the mad shaping of lightning-born swords and midnight witchcraft.

An inspiration to numerous modern fantasy authors including Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint, not to mention the great H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany isn't a name widely known in the general fantasy field, mostly due to the unavailability of his work. With Del Rey's recent reprinting of Dunsany's classic, The King of Elfland's Daughter (as well as the equally stunning The Charwoman's Shadow), however, those not already indoctrinated into the exquisitely, painfully beautiful craftsmanship of Lord Dunsany's work can experience his unique magic for the first time, while those already familiar with Dunsany can finally stop loaning out their precious copies to well-meaning but dubious friends. Hallelujahs all around! (Note to dubious friends: You must now relinquish those stolen goods and go out and get your own… you fiends.)

The tale of The King of Elfland's Daughter is pure, simple story. Young Alveric is set upon by his city's parliament to go out and win some magic for the community when, in their sweet hubris, they decide that a magic Lord to rule over them is what's needed to put their 'burg on the map. And just how does one procure a magic Lord? Why, by sending the local Lord's son out to win the hand of the King of Elfland's Daughter, of course. Duh. And Alveric, with the help of a witch's sword, does exactly that. The End. Except in this particular book, the end is just the beginning, for Alveric finds that the lovely Lirazel is quite a handful. Elfin wives are, I'm told. And so the resulting journey through the marriage of Alveric and Lirazel, the adventures of their son Orion and the final fulfillment of a foolish parliament's wish unfolds like some priceless, delicate cloth purchased in exotic mysterious bazaars or discovered glowing in an ancient attic trunk. All the makings of fantasy abound: trolls, kings, castles, unicorns. This is the good stuff, the meat, if you will, of fantasy literature.

But what's the point? Where's the message? What does it all MEAN? Silly literary critic! The STORY is the point. The LANGUAGE is the message. Imagination and creation, these make their own meanings. Dunsany's finely tuned novel will majestically sweep you away to a different world, at once something eerily familiar, and "something rich and strange," as that old wordmaster Billy Shakespeare would say. No matter your political or critical inclinations, we all love to touch beautiful things.

Lord Dunsany is considered one of the fathers of modern fantasy. His breathtaking and evocative use of language leads the reader on through page after page of delightful and intense imagery without the need for purpose. It is sheer fantasy for fantasy's sake. What's the point? Ah, my fellow fantasy enthusiasts, you know it already. That we should all drink the slow gold of good storytelling, rest our earth-weary hearts in the "realms dreamed on in that ageless repose, of which deep green pools in summer can barely guess," and relish the magical wonderment of the land "beyond the fields we know."

That there's some fine semanticizin' if you ask me.

Sara Sutterfield Winn lives in a constant half-state between Austin, Texas and the swirling vortex of poetry and other useless trivia in her head. Please do not touch her books unless wearing protective gloves. Thank you.

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