The King of Elfland's Daughter

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The King of Elfland's Daughter
First edition, 1924
AuthorLord Dunsany
CountryUnited States
PublisherG. P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback)
Pages301 pp

The King of Elfland's Daughter is a 1924 fantasy novel by Anglo-Irish writer Lord Dunsany. It is widely recognized as one of the most influential and acclaimed works in all of fantasy literature.[1][2][3] Although the novel faded into relative obscurity following its initial release, it found new longevity and wider critical acclaim when a paperback edition was released in 1969 as the second volume of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series.

It has also been included in a more recent series of books reprinting the best of modern fantasy, the Fantasy Masterworks series. While seen as highly influential upon the genre as a whole, the novel was particularly formative in the (later-named) subgenres of fairytale fantasy and high fantasy.

Plot summary[edit]

The lord of Erl is told by the parliament of his people that they want to be ruled by a magic lord. Obeying the immemorial custom, the lord sends his son Alveric to fetch the King of Elfland's daughter, Lirazel, to be his bride. He makes his way to Elfland, where time passes at a rate far slower than the real world, and wins her. They return to Erl and have a son Orion, but in the manner of fairy brides of folklore, she fits uneasily with his people. She returns to the waiting arms of her father in Elfland, and her lovesick husband goes searching for her, abandoning the kingdom of Erl and wandering in a now-hopeless quest. However, Lirazel becomes lonesome for her mortal husband and son. Seeing that she is unhappy, the King of Elfland uses a powerful magic to engulf the land of Erl. Erl is transformed into a part of Elfland, and Lirazel and her loved ones are reunited forever in an eternal, enchanted world.

During the course of the novel, the King of Elfland uses up all of the three powerful magic spells (known as runes) he had been reserving for the defense of his realm.


Alveric—Son of the ruler of Erl and commanded to bring magic to Erl, who travels to Elfland to find Lirazel and wed her and attempts to convert her to Christdom. He later forms his "company of six" to return to Elfland to find Lirazel after the Elf Kings first rune brought her back to Elfland, but he cannot find the border of twilight to enter Elfland.

Lirazel—Princess of Elfland (the King of Elfland's daughter), who marries Alveric and births a son, Orion. After the Elfking casts the first rune, she is returned to Elfland (blown away with the leaves), but longs to return to her husband and Erl. The Elf King grants her his third rune to do so.

Orion—Son of Alveric and Lirazel, who is nursed by the witch Ziroondel and later influenced by Threl's stories to become a hunter, and taught to do so by Oth. Though he began as a deer hunter, he soon learns to hunt the unicorns that pass through the border of twilight from Elfland to Earth in order to graze.

The Elf King—Ruler of Elfland, father of Lirazel, who possesses three master runes (powerful magic spells that dissipate once cast, thus rendering them no longer usable). Over the course of the story he employs all three runes.

Ziroonderel—A witch with a magic broom who aids Alveric by making him a magic sword.

Lurulu—A troll sent by the Elf King to deliver a rune that will return Lirazel to Elfland, who later becomes Orion's whipper-in and lures other creatures of Elfland to Erl. He and the brown trolls aid Orion by controlling his hounds, and they live in a pigeon roost while in Erl.

The Grizzled Troll—A troll, grizzled from a period he spent on Earth where time moves faster than in Elfland, who attempts to warn the other brown trolls from following Lurulu to Earth by issuing warnings that by doing so it will cause them to age. Yet, Lurulu's humorous appeal breaks down the Grizzled Troll's argument.

The Old Leatherworker—Helps Alveric by making a scabbard for his magic sword, and is aware of the "border of twilight" between Earth ("the fields we know") and Elfland.

A Fox (known by the fairies as "Noman's Dog")—Helps Lurulu by pointing him toward the "haunts of men" so that he could retrieve Lirazel. Foxes are known to travel across the "border of twilight" between "the fields of men" and Elfland

The Freer—A pious man of Christdom in Erl who weds Alveric and Lirazel, but curses all magic and creatures of Elfland.

Narl—One of the twelve members of the Parliament of Erl; a blacksmith at whose forge the Parliament meets and drink mead whhile discussing matters.

Guhic—One of the twelve members of the Parliament of Erl; a farmer who is concerned about the presence of magic in Erl.

Nehic—One of the twelve members of the Parliament of Erl; a horse driver.

Oth—One of the twelve members of the Parliament of Erl; a hunter who teaches Orion hunting skills.

Vlel—One of the twelve members of the Parliament of Erl; a master ploughman.

Threl—One of the twelve members of the Parliament of Erl; a wise man whose stories of the woods inspire Orion to become a hunter.

Niv—One of Alveric's "company of six" who quest with him to find the border of twilight to find Lirazel. Though a witless lad, Alveric appoints him master of encampment because he is the least sane member of the group.

Vand—A shepherd who becomes one of Alveric's company of six. Alveric initially chose him to be the master of encampment, but due to Vand's sanity, he was disqualified from filling that role.

Zend—One of Alveric's company of six.

Thyl—A young dreamer of songs who becomes one of Alveric's company of six.

Rannock—A lover who becomes one of Alveric's company of six.

Critical reception[edit]

Although the novel fell into obscurity after its initial release, it found a new readership when Ballantine Books re-issued it as part of their Adult Fantasy series in June 1969. The novel has since become widely recognized as one of the most influential and most praised of the genre. Many critics,[1] including L. Sprague de Camp, described it as being on par with The Lord of the Rings in terms of its quality and influence.[4] Arthur C. Clarke felt that the novel helped cement Dunsany as "one of the greatest writers of this century".[citation needed]

The novel's reputation has continued to grow in the ensuing decades. In his review of the 1999 edition for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Charles de Lint praised the novel as superlative: "It's not simply the beauty of the language, the astute eye for character, the hint of humor, or even the spell of legendry and wonder, but Dunsany's unique combination of all of the above. Even read today, with all the fantasy novels I've read, his work remains fresh and exuberant".[5] Gahan Wilson also praised Elfland's Daughter lavishly, calling it "likely Dunsany's masterpiece" and concluding "that may well be the same as saying it could be the very best fairy story ever written".[6]

Other reviewers have been more guarded in their praise. E. F. Bleiler wrote that the novel included "many stylistic brilliances, but the story suffers from too many shifts of attention".[7] Jo Walton commented that it "is probably best described as good but odd. [Dunsany] isn't at his best writing characters, which gets peculiar at novel length. What he could do, what he did better than anyone, was to take poetic images and airy tissues of imagination and weight them down at the corners with perfect details to craft a net to catch dreams in. It's not surprising he couldn't make this work for whole novels, when as far as I know, nobody else has ever quite made it work in prose".[8]


Two members of Steeleye Span (Bob Johnson and Pete Knight) wrote and produced a 1977 concept album The King of Elfland's Daughter, inspired by the book. The singing talents of Frankie Miller (as Alveric), Mary Hopkin (as Lirazel), P.P. Arnold (as the Witch), and Alexis Korner (as a troll) are featured on the album, and the voice of Christopher Lee as the narrator and the King of Elfland. The musicians included Nigel Pegrum, Herbie Flowers, Ray Cooper and Chris Spedding.[9]

The game designer Gavin Norman cites Dunsany's novel as one of the inspirational media behind his creation of the Dolmenwood fantasy role-playing game. It seems to be at least one of his sources for the Hunter class, and Runes (a type of Fairy Magic within the game), both of which are described in The Player's Book. Furthermore, Norman's Dolmenwood adventure module Winter's Daughter contains a quest possibility that parallels Alveric's quest to journey to Elfland to find his wife Lirazel. [10]


  1. ^ a b Westfahl, Gary (2005). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes. Westport: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313329500.; pp 1124
  2. ^ Clute, John; Grant, John (2005). The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. London: St. Martin's. ISBN 0312198698.; pp 304
  3. ^ Philip Raines, "review of The King of Elfland's Daughter"
  4. ^ Smith, Steve (July 2008). "The King of Elfland's Daughter Review". Washington Science Fiction Association Journal.
  5. ^ Books to Look For, F&SF, February 2000
  6. ^ "Everything Old is New Again: The Return of the Lord (Dunsany)", Realms of Fantasy, December 1999, p.10
  7. ^ Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 104, 170.
  8. ^ Walton, Jo (10 June 2009). "Licensed to sell weasels and jade earrings: The short stories of Lord Dunsany". Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  9. ^ "Bob Johnson & Peter Knight: The King of Elfland's Daughter". Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  10. ^ Norman, Gavin. Dolmenwood: The Player's Book and Winter's Daughter, published by Necrotic Gnome.

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