Book Review: THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER and the precursor to modern fantasy

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.

Steve D

May Write Day: Habits

April was a solid month. We spent some time with friends and family, welcomed a new baby to the family, and started making moves on our house. April felt long, but also passed quickly. As my status update post indicated last week, I made progress on a lot of things throughout April, but didn’t bring many to completion.

Progress without “finishing” it still progress, so that’s something to feel good about.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Finish two revision cycles for Uprooted, the Herb Witch Tales #1.
  2. Read three books.
  3. Exercise three times per week.

Finish two revisions for Uprooted?

No, but I’m almost done with the first. In the first half of the month, I just didn’t spend enough nights revising. In the second half of the month, we were dealing with our toddler getting Scarlett Fever, of all things, and now I have a minor bout of strep myself.

I still definitely should have finished the first revision and at least made a good start on the second. As with everything, this has more to do with not being in the habit of revising.

Read three books?

Also no. I finished one book in April and have made good progress on two others. I’m currently listening to two different books on Audible, because they are quite different and require different kinds of my attention.

The first is a parenting book, Raising Good Humans, which I’m trying to listen to earnestly, which means it requires more of my focus. I’m finding the book helpful so far, but progress is slow, because it comes with exercises. A couple times each chapter, the author stops for an exercise, typically consisting of journaling about your experiences as a parent, or your experiences being raised by your parents.

Again, because I’m trying to listen to this book in earnest, I’m doing all of the activities, which means I need to take the time to sit down and write my responses. I think it will help, though.

The second book I’m reading is The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. I have previously listened to a collection of his short stories, which I found difficult to get through. In retrospect, I think those were difficult because the narrator was awful. The narrator for The King of Elfland’s Daughter is quite good, and I’m enjoying the story far more. Reading Dunsany has been an incredible glimpse into the fantasy stories that Tolkien likely grew up on when he was a child, and the influences are obvious. Looking forward to writing a bit more about this one.

I’m also still reading A Memory of Light. I’m at the point in the story where everything is going wrong for the protagonists and it feels like everything is about to collapse around them. The dread is real.

Exercise three times per week?

I think I was not far off from this, but it was not nearly as consistent as I would have liked. I need to take a new tack. See below.

Goals for May

  1. Actually finish two revisions for Uprooted. I need to get this done.
  2. Plan next steps for The Herb Witch Tales. After the above is complete, I need to plan my next steps for this duology. It will likely depend on whether I need further revisions for Uprooted. If not, perhaps I cans end it to beta readers and/or my editor while I start revising New Earth.
  3. Read three books. I should finish the two audiobooks I’m listening to, and finding a third will not be hard.
  4. Exercise every day. Time to knuckle down. I really need to get back into a proper exercise routine, but I can’t do that unless I’m exercising habitually. Three days per week is not cutting it. I want to try to exercise every single day this month. Whether that’s some basic morning yoga, resistance training, or full yoga sessions. I’m not targeting a specific routine here, again, because I just want to do something each day. That’s it. The routine will come later.

Steve D