I would have sworn that nothing could make me like a book about elves, but three-quarters of the way through this book about elves, Sylvia Townsend Warner's stories began to get to me - or maybe I began to get the hang of her stories. Anyway, quite unexpectably, they became interesting.
Warner's elfin kingdoms, which stretch from Scotland to Persia, have diverse and remarkable customs and are inhabited by large numbers of ingratiating Elfin queens, consorts, cooks, huntsmen, dissidents and exiles. There are even a few mortals who get mixed up with elves but who, sooner or later, always lose out: like the scholar, James Sutherland, whose special passion was the study of elves, until he was kidnapped by the elves of Foxchapel who set about to study him.
Elves do have an edge over the rest of us: they live forever - well, seven or eight hundred years; they become invisible at will; and they fly.
Sylvia Townsend Warner is well known for her short stories and novels. But in Kindowms of Elfin she has found a whole new scene - a scene spun entirely out of her own rich and vivid imagination. She is publishing this book at the age of 83 which must make her some kind of elf herself.
Fairy stories are not everyone's cup of mead, but for those who manage to acquire the taste, Sylvia Townsend Warner's stories could be intoxicating. (Viking, $8.95)
- By Katherine Evans