Friday, November 25, 2016

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The Erlking

The Erlking (from Elf-King) or Lord Herne is a name from Danish and German folklore for the figure of a spirit or "king of the fairies".The Erlking comes from Scandinavian folklore, from a time when, as in England, elves had become depicted as creatures of dread. The character is most famous as the antagonist in Goethe's poem Der Erlkönig and Schubert's musical adaptation of the same name. 


The Erlking as a character has its origins in a common European folklore, the seductive but deadly fairy or siren (compare La Belle Dame sans Merci and the nix). In its original form in Scandinavian folklore, the character was a female spirit, the elf-king's daughter (Elverkongens datter). Similar stories existed in numerous ballads throughout Scandinavia in which an elverpige (female elf) was responsible for ensnaring human beings to satisfy her desire, jealousy or lust for revenge.

According to Jacob Grimm, the term originates with a Scandinavian (Danish) word, ellekonge "king of the elves", or for a female spirit elverkongens datter "the elven king's daughter", who is responsible for ensnaring human beings to satisfy her desire, jealousy or lust for revenge.The New Oxford American Dictionary follows this explanation, describing the Erlking as "a bearded giant or goblin who lures little children to the land of death", mistranslated as Erlkönig in the late 18th century from ellerkonge.

The Erlking's Daughter:

Johann Gottfried von Herder introduced this character into German literature in Erlkönigs Tochter, a ballad published in his 1778 volume Stimmen der Völker in Liedern. It was based on the Danish folk ballad Hr. Oluf han rider "Sir Oluf he rides" published in the 1739 Danske Kæmpeviser. Herder undertook a free translation where he translated the Danish elvermø ("elf maid") as Erlkönigs Tochter; according to Danish legend old burial mounds are the residence of the elverkonge, dialectically elle(r)konge, the latter has later been misunderstood in Denmark by some antiquarians as "alder king",  Danish elletræ "alder tree". It has generally been assumed that the mistranslation was the result of error, but it has also been suggested (Herder does actually also refer to elfs in his translation) that he was imaginatively trying to identify the malevolent sprite of the original tale with a woodland demon (hence the alder king).

The story portrays Sir Oluf riding to his marriage but being entranced by the music of the elves. An elf maiden, in Herder's translation the Elverkonge's daughter, appears and invites him to dance with her. He refuses and spurns her offers of gifts and gold. Angered, she strikes him and sends him on his way, deathly pale. The following morning, on the day of his wedding, his bride finds him lying dead under his scarlet cloak.

Goethe's Erlkönig:

Although inspired by Herder's ballad, Goethe departed significantly from both Herder's rendering of the Erlking and the Scandinavian original. The antagonist in Goethe's "Der Erlkonig" is, as the title suggests, the Erlking himself instead of his daughter. Goethe's Erlking differs in other ways as well: his version preys on children, rather than adults of the opposite gender, and the Erlking's motives are never made clear. Goethe's Erlking is much more akin to the Germanic portrayal of elves and valkyries – a force of death rather than simply a magical spirit.

Goethe’s poem tells of a father riding through the forest with his feverish young son. The son is aware of the presence of the foreboding presence of the Erlking, who calls to him to leave his father and join him in his faery abode. The father, however, believes the son is merely hallucinating. In the end, the father arrives at home, but not before his son dies in his arms.Franz Schubert used Der Erlkönig as the text for a Lied or art song for solo voice and piano in 1815


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