Lord Dunsany

The King of Elfland’s Daughter

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The King of Elfland’s Daughter Summary

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The King of Elfland’s Daughter is a fantasy novel by Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany), published in 1924. Although considered to be one of the most important works in the fantasy genre, it was largely unknown more than four decades after publication until the rising popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings inspired its republication in 1969. Dunsany used many Irish myths and fables as the foundation of this story, much in the same way Tolkien used Anglo-Saxon and Celtic myths in his own works.

The novel begins with a parliament of the men of Erl before their lord. The men complain that although the lord’s rule has been just, there has been nothing new in centuries, and so they desire to have a ‛magic lord’ to rule them. The lord gives his blessing to this idea, because it is the custom that the will of a parliament be obeyed, although he has misgivings.

The lord orders his son Alveric to go east to Elfland to marry Lirazel, the King of Elfland’s daughter, in order to satisfy this request. The lord gives Alveric his ancient battle sword, but Alveric knows that an ordinary sword will be of little use against the magical elves. Alveric visits Ziroonderel, a witch. The witch is initially distrustful of Alveric, but when she shows him her true, hideous form and he does not recoil in horror, she agrees to help him by fashioning an enchanted sword.

Traveling east, Alveric comes to the border of Elfland. Knowing he needs a scabbard for his new magical sword, he stops at a small cottage where a famous leather craftsman lives. The leatherworker will not discuss Elfland at all, however, and Alveric notices that the man won’t even look eastward. When the scabbard is completed, Alveric thanks him and enters the enchanted forest surrounding Elfland on foot.

In Elfland, Alveric is immediately struck by the beauty of everything, including the immaculate gardens and lawns surrounding the King of Elfland’s castle. While admiring them he sees an incredibly beautiful woman and realizes this is Lirazel, the King of Elfland’s Daughter. Alveric approaches her and they speak; he tells her who he is and about his homeland of Erl. Her father the King sends guards to kill Alveric, and Lirazel cannot stop them, so Alveric is forced to battle them with his enchanted sword and kill them. Lirazel then tells Alveric that her father has three magical runes and that they must flee before he arrives, and begs Alveric to take her with him back to Erl.

When Alveric and Lirazel arrive back in Erl, Alveric discovers that time moves differently in Elfland, and his father the lord is long dead. Alveric marries Lirazel, and Alveric asks the witch Ziroonderel to act as a nurse to the child, because he knows it is a magical being. Ziroonderel agrees and becomes Lirazel’s friend, teaching her about magic.

While their son, Orion, is a happy and healthy boy, Lirazel is unhappy. She finds the land of Erl strange and is distressed to watch people age and grow old.

The King of Elfland worries that Lirazel, now in the mortal realm of men, will age and die. He uses one of his three runes to bring the dead guards back to life, then writes the second rune on paper and sends it to Lirazel in a message. Initially she refuses to read the message, but over time she becomes complacent and reads it. The spell makes her long uncontrollably to see her homeland again. Lirazel leaves Erl and heads back to Elfland. When Alveric discovers her missing, he follows. When Orion realizes his parents are gone, he asks Ziroonderel where they are, and then hurries off to follow.

Alveric discovers that the King of Elfland has hidden his kingdom away with magic, and encounters Orion as he turns back, unable to enter Elfland. He tells Orion that Elfland is gone, but Orion tells him this is not possible as he hears the Elfland horns playing every night. Alveric becomes obsessed with locating the entrance to Elfland again, and begins searching everywhere. When he travels very far to the north, the King of Elfland can no longer sense his magical sword and so relaxes his security. Orion grows up to be an expert hunter and even captures a unicorn, which makes the men of Erl rejoice as they believe this confirms they are finally ruled by a ‛magic lord’ as they requested.

In Elfland, Lirazel’s sadness at being away from her husband and son has a deleterious effect on Elfland itself. The King of Elfland cannot stand to see his daughter so unhappy, and so he uses his final magic rune to enlarge Elfland so that it includes the land of Erl as well. Lirazel is reunited with Alveric and Orion and all the men of Erl live on eternally in the magic realm.