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The lure of magic
on 2 November 2006
The folk of Erl lived close to the border of twilight and longed for some of the magic from the land beyond the fields they knew. Just the other side of the glimmering boundary lay Elfland and, bowing to the will of parliament, the lord of Erl sent his son to that perilous realm to wed the king's daughter and bring magic back to Erl. The old lord had a bad feeling about it and guessed the people would probably end up with a lot more enchantment than they wanted. He was right. Very little happened to start with. A helpful neighbour witch lady, forged a magical sword for Alveric (the lord's son) so he could steal Lirazel (the king's daughter) from Elfland and marry her. All seemed well. They had a son, Orion. Nothing changed for ages but Alveric wanted Lirazel to stop being so other-worldly and kept badgering her to be more normal until, confused and unhappy, she heeded her father's summons, leaving Alveric and Orion behind. Alveric spent a long time searching for Lirazel and in the meantime Orion grew up - half human, half elven. Gradually his magical heritage awakened and he attracted the magical denizens of Elfland into 'the fields we know'. Then, when it was too late, the parliament of Erl had second thoughts.
As Neil Gaiman says in his introduction, the writing is poetic and the story is a work of pure imagination. I know what 'the myriad-tinted border, the deep green elfin foliage and Elfland's magical flowers' look, sound and feel like - can sense the attraction and the danger of the magic - from Dunsany's vivid descriptions. The beauty and enchantment are irresistible. Published in 1924, when fantasy stories were rare, it must have seemed rich and original. It still does.