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
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.