A Very Far-Out Fantasy

Taking a break from reporting on the slow murder of our civilization at the hands of its ruling classes…

In 1924 Lord Dunsany published one of the strangest and most creative fantasy novels ever, The King of Elfland’s Daughter. If you’ve ever gotten bored with same old-same old in fantasy, this might be your antidote.

So… there’s this English town whose elders want to be ruled by “a magical lord,” because they think it will make them famous. And so the prince sets off for Elfland and, after some odd adventures, comes back with the King of Elfland’s daughter as his bride; and in due course they have a son.

But Elfland is a parallel universe. Everything is different. Elfland is entirely and uncompromisingly other. So the elders get their wish, and they have a magical lord; but it has not turned out as they expected or desired. Not even close.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so let’s say no more about the plot. Lord Dunsany’s writing style, though, will surprise you. Every word is chosen with care, with the eye of a jeweler. The effect is almost hypnotic. There are very, very few writers who can do this.

Dunsany himself was quite a character–soldier, big-game hunter, writer and producer of plays, famous for his weird short stories, and a great amateur chess player (he once played to a draw against the immortal Capablanca–you can find their game on http://www.chessgames.com).

The King of Elfland’s Daughter is in a class by itself. A few writers–most notably H.P. Lovecraft–have tried to imitate it, but fallen far short of the mark. Today, 90 years since it was first published, it remains one of the most original fantasies ever written.

Leave a Reply