(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Dunsany’s novel illustrates the problematic nature of crossing borders. Once intermingled, Elfland and Earth influence each other in uncontrollable and unpredictable ways. Orion’s mixed heritage dissolves the boundaries between Earth and Elfland, collapsing the traditional distinctions between the pragmatics of everyday life and the magical tug of the imagination. When the Parliament of Erl arrogantly wishes to incorporate magic within Earths border, its members fail to foresee that by its very nature magic cannot be easily tamed or relinquished. Nor, perhaps, should it be. Ziroonderel explains to the members of Parliament who fear “overmuch magic” that magic is the “spice and essence” of life, its ornament and its splendor. Erls citizens rightly desire change through magic; they wrongly fear it. They also face the danger of the powerful draw of Elfland’s enchantments. The King of Elfland recognizes this danger and warns Lirazel that Elfland will have no measures left against the ruthless march of Earths material things and of men like the Freer who hate the “spice” and “splendor” of Elfland. Because of his love for his daughter, he brings forth the great rune, but he fears the consequences.

The story, far from having a happy, fairy-tale ending, concludes ambiguously. Erl has been colonized by Elfland and has passed out of historical memory. The interplay between Earth and Elfland, represented in the creation of Orion, cannot ever be truly balanced. Overpowered for now, Earth abides for other Alveric’s, other questers to enter Elfland and perhaps destroy it.