The King of Elfland's Daughter/Blind Raftery
by G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1924. 8vo. xx+301 pp. $2.00.. New York:
by The Century Company. 1924. 16mo. viii+ 175 pp. $1.25.. New York:
‘SUCH speed was new to the dog, and he went in a long curve after the troll, leaning over as he went, his mouth open and still, the wind rippling all the way from his nose to his tail in one wavy current.’ This sentence comes from a page of Lord Dunsany’s latest book.The King of Elfland’s Daughter, from the seventh chapter of it, entitled ‘The Coming of the Troll.’ Please notice that, while in this sentence there is the mention of such a fairy thing as a troll, there is in the rest of the sentence but the description of a very real dog running in very real fields.
I point this out because it indicates the manner which Lord Dunsany has of endearing what is familiar to us, by introducing gently, delicately into it the things of Elfland. That manner is indeed what we have most to thank him for, and what he himself would seem to take for his greatest delight.
For instance, the story of The King of Elfland’s Daughter is, in spite of its dramatic and beautiful ending, a loitering one. Our enjoyment in it comes from the loving and intimate glimpses of this world, of ‘the fields we know.’ as he calls them, which this story makes possible. We all have seen foxes. But in Lord Dunsany’s book we learn how white a fox’s breast must look, when seen by a troll over the tips of the buttercups. Me all have seen marshlands. But how blind we have been to the many secrecies of marshlands we better realize when we see in the gray of the evening against the dim green of the fields a traveler, black in solemn clothes and high grave hat, going down to the edge of a marsh. He is a troll in disguise.
Mr. Donn Byrne has, I should judge, a power of perception almost equal to that of Lord Dunsany. No two winds are to him alike. The sun is sometimes ‘like golden ale’ to him, and on one page a road is as ‘shining as pewter.’ He rejoices in his eyesight. If a man has a moustache, let that moustache look like a horseshoe as he plunges it into his mug of ale.
His story, Blind Raftery, is a real story, and it is told in the face of many self-imposed difficulties, not the least of which is a lofty lyric style maintained throughout. The first two sentences of chapter ten, for instance, can be placed one under the other with this result.
Builded now was the leafy house of June.
Each tree was dressed like a young girl for a dance.
That Mr, Donn Byrne could succeed as well as he does in telling his story, in giving those explanations and dialogues which are necessary for a novel, all in a style so poetical, if not ornate, bespeaks to all of us most eloquently his skill and to some of us his wisdom. He leaves everything half said. He describes one thing by describing another. He is marvelous in his condensation. We have but several glimpses of Raftery and Hilaria, yet we know them.
The care, conscious or unconscious, given to both these books is exquisite. One word put out of its place would change the pace of either book. We can take off our hats then at least to craftsmen — or is it to harpers?
’I wish I were a good harper.’ Raftery was musing, ‘for the sake of the harp.’