I just finished listening to an audiobook of The King of Elfland’s Daughter, by Lord Dunsany. I’ve previously listened to a short story collection of his that I had enjoyed less than I could have, most likely because of the dull voice actor.
So I came into this novel hoping I could find more enjoyment out of it (and a better voice actor).
I really enjoyed this story. The King of Elfland’s Daughter follows a family, a human lord and his elfin wife and their son, as they each navigate the boundary between the human world and the realm of magic, Elfland. The story started slowly, but the shifting of perspectives between “the fields we know” and Elfland brought an interesting dichotomy between the worlds and how each character wrestles with their desires, the relationships to each other, and their home.
This story feels like a progenitor of modern twentieth-century fantasy. It leans quite heavily on mythical creatures that would have been quite familiar to an English reader in the early twentieth century: elfs, unicorns, witches, trolls, and an enchanted forest. Where Tolkien borrowed ideas and themes from Northern European (and other) mythologies and shaped them into his own distinct world, Dunsany inserts fantasy elements into a world that feels not so far removed from our own. Thus, his story reads as if it could have been a lost fairy tale of pre-modern England.
In that way, the tone of this story is solemn and full of wonder.
Throughout The King of Elfland’s Daughter, a pervading sense of yearning is captured between the different characters: yearning for love, for lost love, for home, for the hunt, for so many small things, and this helps the solemn tone feel earned, rather than overwrought. The reader yearns with the characters and feels their losses and gains.
Like in all classic fantasy, the theme of the realms of magic receding from human knowledge stands stark, and so the entire story feels like a lamenting and a yearning for that deeper connection to a world we have lost, or perhaps abandoned.
As I mentioned above, the voice actor for the audiobook version is also excellent, and has definitely endeared me to Lor Dunsany’s writing in a way that the previous stories I’d listened to did not. Now I know I will need to go back and read his other work, either in hard copy or with a different narrator.