"CHILDE ROWLAND" is a fairy tale , the most popular version written
* 1 Synopsis * 2 Cultural influences * 3 See also * 4 References
The story tells of how the four children of the Queen (by some
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
Elfland , and only the boldest knight in
The eldest brother decided he would make the journey, and was told what to do by Merlin. He did not return, and the middle brother followed, only to meet the same fate. Finally Childe Rowland went forth, having been given his father's sword, which never struck in vain, for protection. Merlin gave him his orders: he must chop off the head of anyone in Elfland who speaks to him until he sees his sister, and he must not eat or drink anything while in that realm. Rowland obeyed the orders, dispatching a horseherd, a cowherd, and a henwife, who would not tell him where his sister was. The henwife would only say he had to circle a hill three times widdershins, and say each time "Open, door! open, door! And let me come in." Following the instructions, a door opened in the hill and Rowland entered a great hall, where sat Burd Ellen, under the spell of the King of Elfland. She told him he should not have entered Elfland, for misfortune befell all who did, including their brothers, who were prisoners in the Dark Tower, nearly dead.
Rowland, forgetting Merlin's words, was overcome with hunger and asked his sister for food. Unable to warn him, she complied. At the last moment, Merlin's words returned to Rowland and he threw down the food, upon which the King of Elfland burst into the hall. Rowland fought with the King, and with the aid of his father's sword beat him into submission. The King begged for mercy, and Rowland granted it, provided his siblings were released. They returned home together, and Burd Ellen never circled the church widdershins again.
The synopsis of Childe Rowland is found in a Scandinavian medieval ballad. Although the hero and heroine appear under different names and the elf-king is replaced by a mermaid , the story is essentially the same: the youngest brother rides out to rescue his sister and succeeds. The sister in this ballad has lived under a different name, probably oblivious of her background until her brother revives her.
Childe Rowland" is referenced briefly in
The story has influenced several lesser known fantasy novels as well.
Lord Dunsany 's 1924 novel The King of Elfland\'s Daughter shares many
similarities with it, while
English folk singer
The Irish poet and playwright
Louis MacNeice wrote a radio play , The
Dark Tower, based on the
Childe Rowland story. In it, Rowland, the
youngest son, is sent to face the Dark Tower. After many adventures he
arrives and raises the trumpet to his lips. A major theme of the play
is the notion of free will . Initially, Rowland is impelled through
duty and his mother's driving will. Eventually, he breaks the shackles
she has imposed on him and makes his own free choice. The play was
first broadcast on the
BBC Home Service (now Radio 4) on 26 January
1946. The original music was composed by
* Louis MacNeice, The Dark Tower and Other Radio Scripts, Faber Finds, 2008. ISBN 0-571-24341-X