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Traveller

Traveller

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The King of Elfland's Daughter - Lord Dunsany, Neil Gaiman Recommended for: Those who have patience and are comfortable with Victorian and poetic styles in prose, who have romantic souls, and people who enjoy reading poetry and who enjoy introspective, speculative, and exploratory literature and fanciful fantasy.

Not recommended for : Those who prefer fast-paced action and down-to-earth and gritty prose styles and label some styles "too flowery"

The name:" Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett" has a rather strange ring to it, doesn't it? I think "Lord Dunsany" sounds rather better, so I find it no wonder that such a poetic man as the 18th Baron of Dunsany chose simply to be known as Lord Dunsany.

According to WP, "The title Baron of Dunsany or, more commonly, Lord Dunsany, is one of the oldest dignities in the Peerage of Ireland, one of just a handful of 13th to 15th century titles still extant, having had 21 holders to date."

And Edward Plunkett:
"Born to the second-oldest title (created 1439) in the Irish peerage, Dunsany lived much of his life at perhaps Ireland's longest-inhabited home, Dunsany Castle near Tara, worked with W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, received an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, was chess and pistol-shooting champion of Ireland, and travelled and hunted extensively. He died in Dublin after an attack of appendicitis."


Chess and pistol-shooting, eh? That part sounds good to me, but not the hunting part, which brings me to one aspect of TKOED that I liked decidedly less than the rest of it: -in the story, unicorns are hunted simply because they are haughty creatures. Somehow, that didn't quite fit into the idyllic nature of the rest of the story for me. Besides, like it behooves any maiden worth her salt, I always used to love unicorns and I still do.

This is not an easy piece of literature to review. Written in 1924, smack-bang around the time that the Bloomsbury group and people like James Joyce were churning out modernist prose, it is as if this novel was written in a magical bubble in time and space.
Transcending the vagaries of being grounded in time and space with its themes that touch on the eternal, it yet, in a wistful way, seems to be longing for the days of the rural idyll; for the days before the modern world drove the wild magic of nature from our midst.

In my personal experience, although Dunsany's shorter works are as poetic and lyrical as far as use of language is concerned, I have not noticed in them quite the same metaphysical implications that this work has. After reading this though, I might start searching more deeply under the surface of his other works for deeper themes and implications as well.

At this point, I would like to pay homage to Keeley's wonderful review of this story : http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/39920752
Keely writes: Dunsany wrote his stories with a handmade quill in a single draft. His language is a precise and delicate thing: a crystal skein from which he suspends his story. The descriptions are constantly turning and surprising, glinting with unexpected revelations, so that the whole of his world, from the most mundane to the fantastical teems with sorcerous possibility.

Isn't the bolded sentence pure poetry? That is exactly the way in which Dunsany writes; his writing weaves a magic of its own; a crystal web of such beauty, that it is almost too much to bear. Some would accuse him of purpleness, but his imagery and choice of word and phrase is so fine, so delicately poignant, that I'd posit that Dunsany's art is in a class of its own.
Purple as the prose might be, it fits so very well with the subject matter, that in context of the story, such prose is definitely appropriate here.

Quite a few themes are weaved through the story. I imagine each reader will spot themes that draws their own attention. For me it was mainly, I think, the theme of "otherness" that drew my attention the most.

"Otherness" is a theme that we find both in philosophy and in anthropology, and both senses of otherness or alterity applies here.

Elfland is the symbol for 'otherness' and Dunsany makes it even more so by subverting the essence of what one would have expected Elfland to be. True, I may have expected time to stand still in Elfland, so that its denizens could live eternal life, but I would not have expected it to be the symbol for stasis, whereas "the world we know" is seen by the Elfin princess as a wonderful, strange, and magical place.

So, our world is just as magical to her, as her world is to us.

I found it interesting that Dunsany managed to subvert traditional ideas of the mundaneness of our world and the wondrousness of the place you would expect Elfland to be. He made Elfland a cold, static place, as opposed to our world ( "the world we know" - though that exclusively refers to rural landscapes--he pointedly ignores the modern urban landscape as if it does not exist).
Our own world is drawn as a warm, enticing place, alive with activity, flux and wonder.

Alveric, the hero from our world, and Lirazel, the king of Elfland's daughter, are then, the representation of the "other" for each other, and each of their worlds represents otherness for the other. When reading the book, I also thought of the common theme of how, romantically speaking, "Opposites attract".

Another theme that is dealt with, is our tendency to feel that the grass must always be greener on the other side. The strange, the new, the unconquered, always winks and beckons, but once we have attained it, we have to deal with the reality of it, with aspects that we might not have foreseen when it looked all bright and inviting with the dewdrops still sparkling on it.

Eventually, both Alveric and Lirazel have to struggle with and deal with the problems springing forth from the acquisition of the strange otherness that they had managed to capture and make their own.

I think I should stop here though, lest I inadvertently drop a spoiler.

The bottom line is that is a novella imbued with a strange beauty, a beauty that goes deeper than skin-deep; that turns our known world upside-down and looks at the concepts of time, otherness, reality and desire with a new, poetic but astute pair of spectacles.

For some additional points of view on this little gem, here are links to two other reviews that I enjoyed greatly:

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/319320224

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/425322429