‘A book for anyone who has heard the horns of Elfin in the distance at twilight, as much as it is for readers who crave fine literature and are certain that elves and their kingdoms are bosh.’ Neil Gaiman
Sylvia Townsend Warner’s last short stories were originally published in The New Yorker, and appeared in book form in 1977. This Handheld Classics reprint brings these sixteen sly and enchanting stories of Elfindom to a new readership, and shows Warner’s mastery of realist fantasy that recalls the success of her first novel, the witchcraft classic Lolly Willowes (1926).
‘The subtlety of Warner’s vision, and ultimately of her empathy towards her fellow beings, is a refusal despite all inclinations to separate the rational and the irrational, the material and the immaterial, the earthly and the yearning for something else. She might have dismissed faith but she understood the impulse towards an elsewhere.’ The Times Literary Supplement, 26 October 2018.
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In Kingdoms of Elfin Sylvia Townsend Warner explores the morals, domestic practices, politics and passions of Elfins. She follows their affairs with mortals, and their daring flights across the North Sea. The Kingdoms of Brocéliande in France, Zuy in the Low Countries, Gedanken in Austria and Blokula in Lappland entertain Ambassadors, hunt with wolves and rear changelings for the courtiers’ amusement. But love and hate strike at fairies of all ranks, as do poverty and the passions of the heart. Enter Elfindom with care.
The foreword is by the noted US fantasy author Greer Gilman, and the introduction is by Ingrid Hotz-Davies.
Warner (1893-1978) was one of the great 20th-century feminist modernist novelists, also a poet, a musicologist, and a Communist, and lived for most of her life in Dorset with her lover Valentine Ackland.
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Sylvia made a friend in America, Elizabeth Wade White, who was a young poet and a dissatisfied heiress. Their relationship turned bitter when Valentine and Elizabeth fell in love, and Elizabeth would not let go. Read the story of their tumultuous relationships in Peter Haring Judd’s The Akeing Heart.
While her first novel, a fantasy, was succeeded by realist works and historical novels, Sylvia did not abandon the genre. In 1940 she wrote The Cat’s Cradle Book, a wildly imaginative collection of fables purporting to come from the tradition of cats telling tales to their kittens, and prefaced it with a long short story about her life with Valentine in a Norfolk manor, with their cats. These, and other fantasy short fictions, have been republished as Of Cats and Elfins.
Frances Bingham has written the first biography of Valentine Ackland. You can order it here.
For more information about Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland, visit the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society website.
‘Handheld Classics’ republication is a triumph, complete with a beautiful Arthur Rackham cover and a blurb from Neil Gaiman.’ Paperback Preview Book of the Month, The Bookseller, 27 July 2018
Strange Horizons did us the honour of hosting a round table discussion on Kingdoms of Elfin: ‘a conception of Fairy that is dominant in English-language writing —a magical land populated by strange beings who look like humans and act like sociopaths. Terry Pratchett’s elves, for example, who are terrific and beget terror. Warner’s kingdoms obviously belong to this tradition of Fairy’.
Nick Hubble in the British Science Fiction Association Review, summer 2019: ‘Under the surface there is something inexorable which gives these stories an exquisite, but nonetheless mortally sharp, edge.’
‘The writing is beautiful, full of subtle literary flourish. More than once I found myself rereading sentences simply in order to savour their perfectly-formed elegance, their economy. Towards the end of her long life of writing, Warner was clearly a fairy queen of sentence-weaving. Her style is sly, witty, beautifully-observed, luscious … a gem of a book.’ – Simon Kewin
Watch the video in which we discuss Kingdoms of Elfin and how we came to publish it. And if you’re interested in the cover, watch this short conversation with the Mary Evans Picture Library on how we chose it.
Read our article on the Scottish kingdoms in The Bottle Imp.
Download and read a Warner biography