The Erlking

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The Erlking

History/Origin

  • Frequently mentioned in German poetry.
  • He is sometimes depicted as a Lord of the Forests, or a tree spirit.
  • In Scandinavian folklore the character was female. She was Elverkongens datter (the Erlking’s daughter).
  • The Erlking is said to have been introduced by Johann Gottfried von Herder in Erlkonigs Tochter (non English link). This was based upon the Danish ballad Hr Oluf han rider (non English link).
  • He has featured in numerous novels and poems. Some of them include Angela Carter‘s The Erl-King and the (very good) compilation of short stories, Nocturnes by John Connolly,

How do I recognise him?

  • It is said you can hear him whistling before you cross his path. He often likes to watch those walking through the forest.
  • In modern stories he seems to have developed a particular taste for children. He lures them into the forest with trinkets or toys.
  • He has been described as wearing a cloak made of children’s skin and a crown made from their finger bones.

Where will I find him?

  • He haunts ancient forests and carries off unwary travellers.

How do I get his attention?

  • He will mostly find you, but he certainly does not like the destruction of woodland.
  • It is said he can enter unprotected houses at night to steal away naughty children.

How do I escape?

  • It is said that he is afraid of fire and has been driven from place to place by the destruction of the forests in which he lives.
  • Beautiful women and girls need not fear. He desires flesh and will allow them to pass through the forest in return for sex. It is said he rewards virgins who give themselves to him, but the reward is never detailed.
  • One story states that carrying a piece of alder or elder wood with you when travelling will protect you.

General information

  • Another variation is described in this blog.
  • It is said he takes the souls of those he kills into himself, where they are trapped for eternity.
  • Sometimes linked to the Dark Father.
  • There is more information here.
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