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The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany

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Oftentimes, the pioneering works of a certain movement (whether it be a literary style or a musical genre) are often criminally neglected, the majority of the praise given instead to the movement's later proponents, who adapt and perfect the tools given to them by their mentors or stylistic fore-bearers. Such is the case with The King of Elfland's Daughter, an essential work in the genre of fantasy, written in 1924 by Lord Dunsany. At the time of the book's release, fantasy wasn't even regarded in literature as a style, but the range of influence this novel holds has been quite extensive: everyone from J.R.R. Tolkien to Neil Gaiman have cited this book, and many of Lord Dunsany's other works, as direct inspirations for their disparate styles. And, after reading through this masterful novel, I am honestly surprised that it hasn't received the widespread public recognition it deserves, as a fantasy story on par with the groundbreaking Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The story concerns the magical realm of Elfland, a sort of parallel world inhabited by wonderful creatures, directly bordering the world we know. In the village of Erl, the people are desperate for new leadership and fresh things, so they persuade the lord of this village to send his son, Alveric, to fetch the King of Elfland's Daughter, Lirazel, so that they may be married. The king of the magical world, as you might surmise, is less than pleased with Alveric's mission. And so begins a mellifluous, 34 chapter tale of magic and adventure, a story which maintains consistency throughout its duration. Whether it's a florid description of Elfland's environment, or a pensive musing from Lirazel, Lord Dunsany, with his elegant prose, ensures that the reader is kept attentive and spellbound, making the book seem infinitely shorter than it actually is.

The characters themselves add to the mystifying effect this book has. This isn't simply a book populated by cardboard cut-outs: impudent trolls, a sly witch, and a handful of determined madmen all make their unique marks on the story's vibrant personality, adding a whole new layer of life to the narrative. Through the imaginative characterization, the dreamlike quality of the book is magnified and preserved.

However, if I’m being completely honest, this particular “dreamlike” quality might be repellant to some. This book is written in a soft, florid style, which some could dismiss as being too introspective or slow moving. You won't find any noteworthy combat scenes in this book either: Lord of the Rings fans expecting a Battle of Helm's Deep equivalent will be sorely disappointed. Nevertheless, if a whimsical tale filled with excellent writing is something you'd be interested in, I urge you to give this book a read. Within the parameters of this unique fantasy subgenre, containing a fairy tale's sense of magic and wonder, few can match the prescient genius of Lord Dunsany.



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