Sylvia Townsend Warner, although a British writer, first published in The New Yorker all but two (“The Climate of Exile” and “The Late Sir Glamie”) of the sixteen stories included in Kingdoms of Elfin. The characters are different in each of the stories, although a few appear in more than one. Beliard, for example, is a minor character in “The Mortal Milk” but the central character of “Beliard.” Several stories are set at the elfin court of Brocéliande in Brittany (in northwestern France), a place familiar to readers because of its connection with Arthurian legend. Other settings are the fairy kingdoms of Elfhame and Foxcastle in Scotland, Wirre Gedanken and Schloss Dreiviertelstein in Austria, Bourrasque in France, Zuy in Holland, Rings in Ireland, Ash Grove in Wales, Pomace and Catmere in England, and the kingdom of the Peris (from whom all elfins are descended) in Persia.
The fairies are about four-fifths the size of humans (also called mortals) and otherwise resemble them except that the fairies have wings, live for hundreds of years, and are invisible to humans unless they choose to be visible. The plots and characters of the stories fit well into two of the three main motifs of fairy legend recognized by scholars of fantasy literature and legend.
The motif of a mortals timeless sojourn in fairyland is contained in “Five Black Swans,” in which the mortal Sir Thomas of Ercildoune—a familiar...
(The entire section is 510 words.)