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Sylvia Townsend Warner ã 1 REVIEW

Eally they are so autocratic and exacting it seems to me that it must come as a relief to her husband or her lover when a ueen decides to lavish her affection on another Yet the title of Favorite when it is bestowed is envied by all As in so much else pride seems to take precedence over practicality If ou are still reading Three Barnyard Tales yet have never known the delights of these sophisticated little tales ifou have never experienced the transitory pleasures of a mortal in Elfin realms then ou would do well to seek them out but the book is not easy to find and the individual stories are scattered through numerous collections and anthologies A collection of wickedly witty stories about an imagined world of Elfin kingdoms though they are all ruled by rather fickle ueens and their kings tend to be in rather precarious positionsAlthough mainly about the Elfin aristocracy there is also a rag tag collection of common elfins changelings werewolves and humans to add a little breadth and depth The locales are mainly northern Europe with the occasional excursion to eastern Europe and the Near East The time is vaguely 13th to 17th century it doesn t really matter to the elfins as they live for hundreds possibly thousands of earsThese aren t jolly gnomes and fairies nor noble elves battling evil goblins the elfins are selfish untrustworthy cruel and unpredictable all beneath a veneer of courtly manners and traditionThe stories read like folktales and like such they often end suddenly leaving If an Elephant Went to School you wanting The endings are rarely good ones for the protagonists few coming away unscathed thoughou can never be uite sure I like this as nothing is guaranteed and Morse Code for Radio Amateurs you usually can t predict at least I couldn t which way the stories will runFantasy and folklore murder and the macabre wonder and wit brilliant This is a reread of a favorite book Good lord Warner s stylistic control is perfect I am at her feet Unfortunately the book is so much its own strange creature that there s very little it can offer to modern genre fiction its blood is a compound of dew soot and aconite and it does not easily breed A glorious collection of stories reminiscent of Susanna Clarke s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories and of Mervyn Peake my only experience with his writing being Gormenghast and to some extent The King of Elfland s Daughter and Lud in the MistWarner wrote matter of factly about fantastic things her long lived fairy courtiers are fickle unpleasant often stupid creatures andet she imbues them with a plain tricky charmThe collection is loosely linked story by story Kingdoms from one story are alluded to in the following ones certain characters crop up by mention on a couple of occasions but each of these could be read alone They are strange picaresue by turns jolly and grim adventurous and dangerous flighty and rather dark There is nothing I d recommend uicker to someone who loved The Ladies of Grace Adieu as I did it s the closest thing I ve found to Clarke s confident otherworldly style I am consistently fascinated by Warner s writing and this one has paid off all my fascination with interest Deeply strange and often amazing but rarely enchanting if there can be such a thing as a clear headed unsentimental study of a phenomenon that doesn t exist then this 20th century English author and formidable fantasist Lolly Willowes Mr Fortune s Maggot has accomplished exactly that Kingdoms of Elfin consists of
sixteen stories most 
stories most which appeared in the New Yorker in the early to mid 1970 s Warner s last work it was published posthumously in 1977The stories are loosely linked an occasional character will appear in than one story a couple of courts are the settings for multiple stories With the exception of one set partly in Persia they take place in various Elvin Kingdoms located in Western Europe from the late middle ages to just before the end of the 19th century These small separate realms remind me of the jigsaw puzzle of tiny states that made up so much of Central Europe before the late 19th century Each has its own customs and traditions For instance the kingdom that considers itself the most sophisticated and has the most elaborate etiuette is famous for its hunting pack of werewolves The fairies are not immortal they live for centuries and have no souls They have wings but using them is distinctly d class Only servants are supposed to fly Fairy magic is rudimentary and they are feckless easily distracted casually cruel to the humans they encounter and occasionally abductAn adventurous fairy in the 17th century travels from the mortal land of Holland to Persia the place where his race originated There he encounters and barely escapes astounding magic and savage cruelty The inhabitants of the Elvin Kingdoms perhaps by interaction with humans are like mortals than they are like their ancestors In 2006 while I was reading The Ladies of Grace Adieu I happened to meet Susanna Clarke s husband through a mutual friend And I said to him how for all the fantasy I d read I d never encountered anything uite like hers was he aware of much that had influenced her or came anywhere near it And he recommended this book which of course I then sought out But the time frame here might clue ou in that I didn t devour it like I did Clarke s too few books I can certainly see a glancing resemblance in this rather chill vision of the good folk who at times suggest 18th century courtiers taken to their illogical conclusion creatures at once fickle and fixated beset by baffling social restrictions only the low born amongst them fly callous gossips among whom POSSESSING A SOUL SEEMS THE GROSSEST TRESPASS AND WARNER a soul seems the grossest trespass And Warner a waspish wit and a black humour which keep these curious tales like fables without morals ticking along nicely But from great Broceliande to the parochial kingdom of Catmere there s too much 11 substitution of the appurtenances of mortal aristocracy not a one of these elfin lands has the grand strangeness and dark power of Clarke s Lost Hope. Comes a vogue to the Kingdom of Zuy in the Low Countries trafficking suppositories and religious picturesSylvia Townsend Warner's richly exuberant imagination combined with the calm precision of her language conjures up a sublunary realm that is entirely convinci. I enjoyed Kingdoms of Elfin a uirky unusual collection of short stories recounting life among the various kingdoms ueendoms actually of FaerieOf the sixteen stories my favorites wereThe Revolt at Broceliande which recounts the precarious position of mortal changelings in a fey courtThe Search for an Ancestress where a European fairy Joost learns how dangerous it can be to return to one s homelandThe Occupation another tale of the dangers of mortal infatuation with Faerie which can only lead to tragedy in this case a trip to BedlamFoxcastle another example of man s fundamental incapacity to understand elf and vice versaThe elves of these stories are not the un Fallen Men of Tolkien s Middle Earth nor the humans with funny ears who populate far too many fantasy novels Rather they re the amoral soul less bogies that inhabit the woods and wastes of Medieval Europe In my experience the author who most closely captures the otherworldliness alienness that Warner obtains is Tad Williams in his Memory Sorrow Thorn Shadowmarch and The War of the Flowers novels This one took a long long time for me to finish and I have a feeling I ll be pondering it for uite some time to come It wasn t the uality of the writing at fault for my slowness in reading oh noeach of these stories is full of splendid glittering prose Most of them managed to disturb me in some way Not in an overtly horrifying way like Poe s short stories It s just that the fairies of Sylvia Townsend Warner s Kingdoms of Elfin which should really be ueendoms of Elfin but our benighted language has no such word are socold Cold if beautiful creatures Ice cold Snow cold Diamond cold Not cruel necessarily Justcareless Oblivious Oblivious to each other s or to mortal feelings and to the sufferings they cause the mortals that they abduct or otherwise tamper with on their journeys For some reason Fitzgerald s description of Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby kept springing to mind They were careless people Tom and Daisy they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made So with the royalty of the Fairy Courts Most of these Fairy tales are grimly grotesuely comic little tragedies None of them has what ou might call a happy ending I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when Hey Nobody died In some hideous or just really careless way In this one anyway Makes the Fairies of other tales seem positively shining with benevolence by comparison If Linux Networking Cookbook you are an aficianado of the modern fairy story andou haven t read this collection stop what ou re doing and order it It s worth reading for the sheer uality of the writing That s what I end up coming back to what kept me going Sylvia Townsend Warner manages to take the tone of an omniscient polite slightly jaded Court historian or perhaps court stenographer and make it shine Just don t make the mistake of looking for her Broceliande or any of her other ueenKingdoms like the hapless scholar of the last story our encounter with Fair Folk may not turn like ou the hapless scholar of the last story our encounter with Fair Folk may turn out like Amok you becauseou re a fan of theirs doesn t make them a fan of ours You ve been warned Beautiful strange and ephemeral stories Sylvia Townsend Warner has to be one of my favourite writers I haven t come across fiction that I viscerally loved as much as Kingdoms of Elfin for uite a while I read most of it last night after getting home from work to find the internet not working TalkTalk had decided to cut me off from Brexit coverage and I was grateful for it In fact it s the happiest I ve ever been about an outage I listened to the prog rock musical of War of the Worlds on the record player and delighted in these elegant acidic short stories The obvious comparison is Jonathan Strange Mr Norrell which has a similar subject and wit The writing style however is very different While Susanne Clarke crafts an amusing pastiche of fussy early Victorian narration Warner has cool acuity that recalls Saki The stories are linked by recurring characters but disdain the bourgeois superstition of linear time just as their subjects do Warner s fairies aren t as actively nefarious as Clarke s although they exhibit a sometimes shocking callousness towards humans animals and each other The humans aren t much better however and some of the worst fairy behaviour in the book comes of them imitating humans The two introductions to the edition I read weren t hugely enlightening overall but did comment that Warner s approach is rather ethnographic This is certainly the case in The Corner That Held Them a similarly detached narrative about a 14th century convent Throughout both books the characters rotate in and out while incident succeeds incident It s a very decentralised approach to storytelling one that emphasises atmosphere and institutions over individuals That Warner creates such fascinating fiction while defying the conventions of plotting and characterisation really emphasises what a great writer she is Her deft treatment of heavy themes religion in particular her deadpan humour and her artful way with words set her apart Each of her novels has a very different setting but I gather they all share this striking sensibility Those that I ve read so Far Have Been EnchantingBefore I Start Uoting My Favourite Phrases have been enchantingBefore I start uoting my favourite phrases s worth noting that I did not experience Kingdoms of Elfin as a book of short stories As the atmosphere and milieu are so recognisably consistent throughout I read them as a single novel told in nonlinear fashion I liked this than standard short story collections which I rarely find satisfying unless written by Borges I couldn t tell ou which story was my favourite as that would be akin to picking a favourite chapter in a novel Considering them separately seems inappropriate as they all fit together so well Onto some uotes that caught my eyeFor his part Master Blackbone was delighted with an assistant who was so uick. Elfindom is an aristocratic society jealous of its privileges The ruling classes engage in such pursuits as patronizing the arts or hunting with the Royal Pack of Werewolves while the lower orders take pleasure in conducting brutal raiding parties into the world. To learn so free from prejudice and above all a fairy To employ a fairy was a step up in the world In London practice every reputable necromancer kept a spiritual appurtenance fairy familiar talking toad airy consultant When he had accumulated the money he would set up in London where there is always room for another marvelOne day in early Spring the ueen was bitten by a mouseThe result was totally unforeseen Exhausted by the cares of sovereignty Balsamine decided to go for a rest cure to Bad Nixenbach the fashionable Elfin health resort The greater part of the court went with her for she did not wish to travel like a nobody Those she discarded remained at Wirre Gedanken with a small staff and on the euivalent of board wagesThe discards were named Ludo Moor Tinkel Nimmerlein and Banian Ludo was her Consort Moor Tinkel and Nimmerlein had been at various times royal Favourites All had proved disappointments and were now middle aged Banian was Crochet young and slender and had been chosen to make one of her party till at the last moment he became a disappointment by coming out in an anxiety rashApart from the element of piety court life at Broc liande was much the same as in other Kingdoms There were fashions of the moment collecting butterflies determining the pitch of birdsongs table turning cat races purifying the language building card castles There were expeditions to the coast to watch shipwrecks summer picnics in the forest deer hunts with the Royal Pack of WerewolvesIt was of a crawfish souffl that Count Luxus committed his only metaphor It is like eating a cloud he said His cousin Count Brock who had a searching mind replied But unlike a cloud it nourishes The only person at Dreiviertelstein unmoved by Ludla s cooking was ueen Aigle For her meals recurred like sunrise and sunset If a sauce had been curdled a dumpling petrified she would have acknowledged its cometlike apparition without feeling personally involvedThe reflection of her earrings flitted about the room like butterflies as she nodded in satisfaction Rats are wise animals they know when to move out they are not immune to mortal diseases as fairies are If the pestilence came to the very gates of Bourrasue if the dying frantic with pain leaped over the palace wall if the dead had to be raked into heaps under their noses no fairy would be a penny the worse Her court was glad to think this was so but wished there could be a change of subject My vow forbids me to fly Your vow My vow of poverty chastity and gravity Gravity Butou laugh ou tell funny stories Gravitational gravity I do not leave the ground And of course that perfect phrase which I couldn t help mentioning in an update the sea looking like ships wouldn t melt in its mouth Flicking through the book to choose uotes proved challenging given that practically every para KINGDOMS OF ELFIN by Sylvia Townsend WarnerLet us establish this at the very beginning these are not Tolkien s elves neither the noble and aloof elves of The Lord of the Rings not the passionate and reckless elves of the Silmarillion Where they are passionate it is of another type altogether They are sophisticated fashionable creatures egotistical and selfish and even though capable of intense attachments they are generally fickle essentially a cold hearted species The stories in this collection are full of whimsy and humor but often of an uncomfortable kindWarner s style is elegant simple et very detailed As much of the story is in these details beguiling style is elegant simple et very detailed As much of the story is in these details beguiling ou love that sort of thing tedious if Desire and Deceive you don t as it is in the actual events Ifou don t like her style Dannys Dragon (Tao of Love, you will not like these stories and vice versa There is no author behind the scenes winking at the audience as if to say do not take these stories seriously Very little is played for laughs There is no need the irony and the absurdity speak for themselves Ifou are a fan of broad humor it is likely that ou will not enjoy these stories In the course of this collection we visit a number of different realms located in our own world but invisible to human eyes Each of these realms is distinctive Both Like And Unlike The like and unlike the realms in which they are located Into their own world they may occasionally admit mortals but almost always in infancy as changelings who live among the fairies only so long as they remain oung enough to be comely Then they are discarded during a sort of fairy house cleaning and sent back into a world they neither know nor understand Of the fairy children who are exchanged for them robbed of their immortality knowing nothing of their true origins there is only one story describing the fate of a single individual Yet if Warner s fairies are cruel it is a heedless cruelty rarely calculated they simply don t think beyond what they want Elfhame strikes cold says a fairy nursemaid and that is no exaggeration at all Though all these stories have a decided charm of their own there is as Maos Little Red Book you may have gathered by now freuently a darkness behind the humor and the glittering fa ade for Warner s fairies seem to know nothing of morality and only the rules of courtly behavior For the most part the elfin nobles are caught up in the idle pastimes and seasonal fads of the various courts but they are also prone to sudden enthusiasms sometimes for uite mundane hobbies like fishing or embroidery This is but one of their many contradictions Slightly smaller than humans they are winged but do not fly This is reserved for servant fairies who must be agile and swift indeed to satisfy the whims of their betters Flyingou see is considered vulgar for the upper classes though the temptation to take flight is sometimes over mastering and practiced in secret by those who can t resistThe title is a deceptive for these realms of Faerie are ruled exclusively ruled by females As a race they are are often infertile and succession to the crown is not hereditary so infidelity is hardly an issue though they do marry ueens take lovers but their attention soon wanders elsewhere and To torment mortalsThe Kingdoms of Elfin are diverse and widely scattered than is often thought; from the Welsh Elfins who though constitutionally incapable of faith remove mountains and the elegant and witty French Court of Brocéliande where castration almost be. Kingdoms of Elfin

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