The King of Elfland's Daughter (Del Rey Impact)

The King of Elfland's Daughter - Lord Dunsany, Neil Gaiman This book was recommended in A Reader's Guide to Fantasy on it's "Seven-League Shelf"--a list of the 33 most important books in the genre--at least as of 1982 when the guide was published. The King of Elfland's Daughter was published in 1924--well before CS Lewis' Narnia or Tolkien's Chronicles of Middle Earth. The writing has a fairy tale quality--although as Lin Carter who wrote the introduction points out, it's rather subversive in twisting the requisite happily ever after. The heart of the story begins when most fairy tales end--after the marriage of the fairy princess. The style is lyrical, with the cadence and repetitions of an epic poem (often repeated is the phrase "the fields we know"). Its language is slightly archaic (not as much as in parts of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings though) and there's little dialogue, which contributes to the rather ponderous feel. At times the book sported long sinuous sentences. Here's a quote that gives you a flavor: Not like the runes that enraged the flames was the song she sang to the sword: she whose curses had blasted the fire till it shriveled big logs of oak crooned now a melody like a wind in summer blowing from wild wood gardens that no man tended, down valleys loved once by children, now lost to them but for dreams, a song of such memories as lurk and hide along the edges of oblivion, now flashing from beautiful years of glimpse of some golden moment, now passing swiftly out of remembrance again, to go back to the shades of oblivion, and leaving on the mind those faintest traces of little shining feet which when dimly perceived by us are called regrets. I loved the way Lirazel, the King of Elfland's daughter, is painted. Her alien mindset, how she's never at home in our world, yet once she returns to Elfland pines for earthly things. Next to her, Tolkien's elven maidens are mundane. The ordinary and human village of Erl and the magical Elfland clash and conflict and connect in ways I didn't expect. Our foxes are creatures of fable there, as their unicorns are here--and both occasionally pass boundaries. There be trolls. Not evil lumbering monsters, but mischievous, agile, curious. The troll Lurulu is a winning character. There are powerful magical runes, and even a fellowship on a quest. This isn't a fast-paced action tale but rather the opposite, rather dreamy and slow moving, and although it's not very long--248 pages in my edition--it's not the kind of story you rush through, and probably will strike the usual fantasy reader as rather weird really. I wouldn't count it as a favorite, exactly. I can't imagine ever rereading it. The characters are a bit thin, not the kind I fall in love with and want to revisit. But Lord Dunsany created a unique fantastic landscape I found well worth journeying through. His book has a shimmering otherworldly quality that reminds me of Debussey's tone poem La Cath├ędrale Engloutie.