Kingdoms of Elfin Analysis
by Sylvia Townsend Warner

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Kingdoms of Elfin Analysis

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The stories in Kingdoms of Elfin appeared late in Warner’s life and writing. Her earlier writings, however, had a fairy-tale quality, a touch of the fantastic. Lolly Willowes: Or, The Loving Huntsman (1926), her first novel and generally considered her best, was about a woman who becomes a witch. Kingdoms of Elfin also continues an earlier trend toward satire. The scene in “Foxcastle” of the captured and tethered James Sutherland recalls Gullivers examination by the Lilliputians in Jonathan Swifts Gullivers Travels (1726). Warner uses the aristocratic elfins as Swift used the Lilliputians: to exemplify unattractive traits of the British upper classes. The aristocratic elfins live only for pleasure. They are so proud of their idleness that they decline to fly, thereby distinguishing themselves from working fairies, and Zuy is despised by the other kingdoms (see “The Search for an Ancestress”) because it makes its money honestly through trade.

Although queens rule, gender roles are carefully defined: Ladies do needlework, like Lady Fidès in “Winged Creatures” (who embroiders a pavilion with all the birds of her native land), and men go questing, an activity unsuitable for ladies. Entertainment consists of feasting (see “The Power of Cookery”), gaming, gossip, and blood sports; cultivation of the intellect is left to the court poet and court rejects such as the debating society in “The Blameless Triangle.” Physical beauty is greatly valued, and deviation from the mostly white racial type is despised. The two lovers in “Elphenor and Weasel” die as nomads because Elphenors kingdom will not accept a green Suffolk fairy such as Weasel and her court will reject Elphenor because he is not green.

Warner’s intentions are not entirely satirical. She was genuinely interested in fairy lore, which she apparently feared would die out with the coming of the twentieth century and its technology. In “Visitors to a Castle,” set in 1893 (the only date provided in the stories), when a visiting mortal strays into Castle Ash Grove on her bicycle, one of the fairies sees a vision of the end of the fairy race. To Warner, this would indicate a lessening of the human desire to imagine something beyond the material. Her epigraph from Thomas Love Peacock speaks of connecting the immaterial with the material world. Her fairies live in a parallel world, but they are products of the human creative imagination. As a fiction writer, poet, and biographer, Warner knew about the creative imagination of the human soul, and she also knew, as a serious researcher of fantasy lore, quite a bit about fairies.