Del Rey has recently introduced a new imprint called Impact, under which they plan to release classic and ground-breaking novels of speculative fiction. One of their new releases is The King of Elfland’s Daughter, originally published in 1924 by Lord Dunsany.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, to give him his full name, was the eighteenth Baron Dunsany. Aside from that, he was also a prolific writer, with numerous works to his credit. It was he who first introduced the phrase “beyond the fields we know” to readers (as well as the phrase “the horns of elfland” which should be familiar to Folk Tales readers) and much of The King of Elfland’s Daughter is concerned with what happens when one gets tangled up with those who live beyond those fields.
The inhabitants of the tiny kingdom of Erl one day decide that in order to make their vale known, they should be ruled by a magic lord. Accordingly, they approach their human lord and make known to him their desire. He forthwith sends his son Alveric to Elfland, to win the King of Elfland’s daughter, Lirazel, so that their heir will be the magic lord that the people of Erl wish for. Armed with a magical sword made by the witch Ziroonderel, Alveric boldly enters Elfland and spirits off Lirazel. In time, they have a son, named Orion, after the constellation.
But that is by no means the end of the story. In fact, it’s just the beginning, for Lirazel disappears and Alveric must once more take up his magical sword and search for her. Orion becomes a great hunter, with a pack of trolls to control his hounds. And the people of Erl realize that perhaps magic is not what they wanted in their lives after all.
There are really three story lines here, one involving Alveric and Lirazel, one involving their son Orion and one involving the parliament of Erl, those men who wanted to be ruled by a magic lord. The completion of Alveric’s quest is not at all what one would expect, and the ending of the story is not necessarily a happy one. One of the major themes of the novel is that one should always be careful of one’s wishes, for they may come true in a manner that one is not prepared to deal with.
This is a magical, lyrical novel, not at all like the run of the mill, Tolkien-clone quest novels to be seen on shelves these days (witness the hunting of the unicorn, for instance), which is to be expected, since it was published thirty years before The Lord of the Rings. Del Rey should be congratulated for presenting The King of Elfland’s Daughter to a new generation of readers.
(G P Putnam, London, 1924; Del Rey, 1999)