Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fortnightly Book, March 10

First, a bit of music:

(Mary Hopkin, "Lirazel".)

The fortnightly book this time around is Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter. Lord Dunsany was born Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, which is one of the oldest Irish noble families; Dunsany Castle, where he was born and lived, is still in the Plunkett family. Besides being an accomplished writer, he was also brilliant at chess, and still has some fame for being the inventor of the Dunsany's chess variant. He was famous for odd writing habits. He is said to have written while sitting on an old hat and always to have written with a quill pen. He also never revised, publishing only his first drafts.

The King of Elfland's Daughter was Dunsany's second novel, and has come to be regarded as his very best work, and the one likeliest to endure. Because of it he is usually regarded as having a pre-eminent place among the pre-Tolkien authors of fantastic fiction; perhaps only George MacDonald manages to be a serious rival in pre-Tolkien influence and importance for the fantasy genre. I've never I started it once but got distracted from it through no fault of the book, and so I'll set out to make things right.

The reason for the music at the beginning is that some members of the British folk rock group, Steeleye Span, put together a concept album based on The King of Elfland's Daughter, with an astounding array of talent. Wikipedia summarizes it so:

Two members of Steeleye Span (Bob Johnson and Pete Knight) wrote and produced a concept album entitled The King of Elfland's Daughter, which was 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.

The bits and pieces I've heard of it (including the above song) seem to confirm it's being a pretty awesome achievement of the folk revival, so it might be worth looking into. I leave you with yet more Mary Hopkin from The King of Elfland's Daughter album, this one even better, and also with a sample of Lord Dunsany's poetry.

(Mary Hopkin, "Beyond the Fields We Know")

A Dirge of Victory
by Lord Dunsany

Lift not thy trumpet, Victory, to the sky,
Nor through battalions nor by batteries blow,
But over hollows full of old wire go,
Where among dregs of war the long-dead lie
With wasted iron that the guns passed by.
When they went eastwards like a tide at flow;
There blow thy trumpet that the dead may know,
Who waited for thy coming, Victory.

It is not we that have deserved thy wreath,
They waited there among the towering weeds.
The deep mud burned under the thermite's breath,
And winter cracked the bones that no man heeds:
Hundreds of nights flamed by: the seasons passed.
And thou last come to them at last, at last!

1 comment:

  1. Robert Lennon2:52 AM

    Dunsany is a really fascinating author, and I really like his stuff. I like reading pre-Tolkien fantasy, because by having existed before J.R.R. stamped his (rightfully) titanic mark on the genre, there's no real sense of "you need X, Y, and Z to be capital-F Fantasy".


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