Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The A to Z Fantastic: Elfland and Faerie

The first week of this year's A to Z Challenge coincided with spring break, which meant that all 5 of my kids were home all week. This on top of having a brand new baby and a sick two year old. So needless to say I've been having some trouble finding time for blogging and am already way behind. Rather than just picking up where the Challenge is now, I'd like to make up the letters I've missed. So I'll be blogging two letters per day this week until I'm caught up. So today will be E and F.

Today I'm going to kill two birds with one stone by using two words for the same idea. (Hahaha!)

I am currently reading the book The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany. In it, the people of the Vale of Erl desire to have a magic lord to make their lives more interesting. So the old lord of Erl sends his son, Alveric, into Elfland to marry the King of Elfland's Daughter. The story so far seems to me less about the characters and more about the relationship between the "Fields We Know", as Dunsany calls the mundane world where the Vale of Erl is, and the magical realm of Elfland. The story strongly stresses the differences between the two and indeed those differences are the major source of the conflict. The people of the Vale of Erl are drawn to the magic of Elfland and yet have trouble understanding and accepting it.

I don't know how this conflict will play out but I am eager to find out.

One of the pages above talks about Tolkien's brilliant essay On Fairy Stories. In it he talks about the nature of fantasy as rooted in Faerie. Not Fairies, but Faerie, or as Tolkien called it, the Perilous Realm. The place from whence the stories come.

Faërie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold. ... The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

Tolkien goes out of his way not to define Faerie, saying that part of its nature is to be indescribable though not imperceptible. But one thing is for certain: whatever Faerie is, it is other. It is something that is at once wondrous and dangerous, compelling and repulsing, beyond us and yet a part of us. Faerie, or Elfland, is the essence of Fantasy, allowing us to pass beyond the Fields We Know and emerge again different, and hopefully better, people.


  1. Thanks for the Tolkien quote.
    Doubling up sounds like a good way to catch up.

  2. I love the idea of faerie being a dangerous place and that authors like Butcher are returning to that idea. For so long, it was just a happy happy joy joy place.

  3. Tolkien did the same thing for elves, before him I always pictured short, fat, little helpers of a certain Mr. Clause.

  4. Hey, there, bless your heart, honey, with sick kids and a new baby to boot! That is enough to keep anyone busy alone, without trying to keep up on a blog. Thank you for taking the time to write such an interesting "elven and faerie" post. Best regards to you. Hope you soon are able to get some rest. Ruby

  5. Truly thought provoking post. I'm of a mind to agree with what Faerie is, but also add to it as part of the inner self- the imagined/unknown and the Orphic. I adore the magical realms, particularly Fae creatures/myths/legends. I've done a great number of research on fairies as a whole but I'm a fan of it- the entire otherly realm of it.
    New follower.
    My A-Z

  6. Dont stress over the A to Z letters (have fun when you can)

    Tolkien was a master at fantasy he certainly didn't look at it as a cute place to frolic.

    We write fantasy Lady's Knight

  7. Loving your series so far. And hey - doesn't Neil Gaiman have an introduction to that Dunsany book? It's on my wishlist!


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