B.G. Hilton – Author

Review – The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

I’ve decided that I am writing too much and not reading enough. It seems to me the best way to combat this is to split the difference and write some reviews. Anyhoo…

I’d heard of this book for many years. Historians of Fantasy mention this one a lot, as a precursor to Tolkien or even Howard. I’d say it stands somewhere between the nineteenth century fairytale tradition and modern fantasy. It has those fairytale elements – a simple plot belying complex themes, very broadly written characters, and a dreamy sort of descriptive narration – but the entire thing is written around a very nerdy sort of meditation on the precise nature of magic that is very modern. Having said that, modern writers who play with such things are limited to making some tiny change to years of established elf-lore, while Dunsany could paint a picture that is bigger because it is simpler.

I honestly quite liked it. It’s a sort of transitional fossil between Hans Anderson and Tolkien; or between the pre-Raphaelites and Frank Frazetta if you like. There’s fantasy violence (a swordfight, and there’s a scene where Dunsany uses his own experience as a hunter do describe a unicorn hunt, which is a little hard to stomach) but violence and daring-do has little role in the resolution of the plot. The end comes not with an explosion, but with the slow inevitability of the separating plot strands coming back together, and stitching two worlds together when it comes.

There’s a slowness to the story, but one that is perfectly fits the premise, which contrasts the timelessness of Elfland to the slow change of the fields we know. And magic is presented as both attractive and worrisome, both a welcome and an unwelcome distraction from the humdrum of the day-to-day.

As an author, I enjoyed it specifically because it was so very different from anything I write. My stuff is dialogue heavy and I love very complex plots. The simplicity of this is wonderful, as is the fact that Dunsany could sustain this over the course of a novel.

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B.G. Hilton - Author