The King of Elfland’s Daughter

Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 19, 2009

The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Eleven of us gathered at the Milwood Library for this meeting.  Our topic was The King of Elfland’s Daughter, a classic fantasy novel first published in 1924. Five of us had read Lord Dunsany before. Ten of us started the book, and eight finished it.

One reader said that this book starts like a fairy tale but has surprising depth. He could easily see why it is considered a classic.

Another commented that the book pulled together various tropes and goes through several myth cycles.

There are several wonderful scenes. The witch forging a sword feels like science fiction. The attack on the unicorn is impressive. We loved the walk through the forest and the battle to remove magic from trees.

The author handles religion and myth well. One reader appreciated the religious element of the story, which came to the forefront when the prince married the elf.  Another felt the author’s understanding of fairy and elf mythology seems true.

There are many topical references. The book seems to be making fun of Tennyson. There is clever satire on the Catholic Church. One person commented that World War I seems to be a strong influence on the story.

We talked a lot about the author’s writing style. Several said that it reads like an oral history. One person said the writing is poetic, lyrical, and beautiful. We liked the asides, and phrases like “the lands we know”. Dunsany imparts a sense of wonder without giving great detail. One reader commented that it was unusual to read a novel with such little dialog, which creates a distance from the characters.  Another liked the vivid imagery, particularly of the boundaries between worlds. One person read aloud some of his favorite paragraphs. Another simply stated that she felt this lyrical language was the way high fantasy should sound.

One reader liked the moral conundrums at the end of the book. He commented that the book’s anecdote about a unicorn horn being given as a gift to the Pope is historically accurate.

There were some complaints. One reader simply felt that it was not a compelling story.  Others felt that the author kept the reader at such a distance from the characters that it was hard to become emotionally invested.

At the end of the meeting, several people said that if more fantasy were like this, they would read more of it. After the meeting, many of us had a nice dinner at Opal Divine’s.
—A. T. Campbell, III