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"Childe Rowland" is a Fairy Tale, the most popular version having been published by Joseph Jacobs in his English Folk and Fairy Tales in 1892, and written partly in verse and part in prose. It is said to be inspired by a Scottish ballad, which is why the text alternates between prose and rhyming stanzas.
The fairy tale details how four children of a queen, Childe Rowland, his two older brothers and his sister, Burd Ellen, were playing ball near a church. Rowland kicked the ball over the church and Burd Ellen went to retrieve it, inadvertently circling the church "widdershins", or opposite the way of the sun, and disappeared. Rowland went to Merlin to ask what became of his sister and was told that she was taken to the Dark Tower by the King of Elfland, and only the boldest knight in Christendom could retrieve her. The remainder of the tale follows Childe Rowland's attempt to save his sister, venturing to the Dark Tower of Elfland.
Child Rowland to the dark tower came,
His word was still 'Fie, foh, and fum
I smell the blood of a British man.'
It is on the grounds of the King Lear lines that Joseph Jacobs called the King of Elfland's palace "the Dark Tower" in his version, as this name was not in the immediate source he used.
"Childe Rowland" has been referenced in many works, including Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Lord Dunsany's 1924 novel The King of Elfland's Daughter, Alan Garner's 1965 novel Elidor, Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men and even Alastair Reynolds' 2003 novella Diamond Dogs. The fairy tale was also used in Martin Carthy's song "Jack Rowland" and a radio drama based on the tale.
Tropes associated with this work:
- Can't Argue with Elves: Averted.
- Distressed Damsel: Burd Ellen.
- The Fair Folk
- Girl in the Tower
- Our Elves Are Better
- Screw You, Elves
- Space Whale Aesop: Never run around a church widdershins, or evil elves will kidnap you.