Der Erlkönig (The Erlking) by Goethe

A wonderfully haunting illustration of the Goethe poem by multimedia artist Raymond Salvatore Harmon, whose write-up on the Vimeo page is worth quoting in full:

Goethe’s poem of gothic horror has haunted me most of my life. As a child I found the poem in a collection of books at an estate auction. I read it over and over, fascinated by this idea of the fairy realm as dark and ugly, something sinister that we should fear – not the glamour and sparkle of modern fairy tales. A warning about things that haunt old woods and black forests.

The bits and pieces, techniques and layers used to create this film are many. Dozens of forms of manipulation have been brought together, from animation to live action, from drawings to rotoscoping. This is my homage to Starewicz, Svankmajer, and the Quays – their dark dreams have inspired my nightmares, have given birth to a generation who see the eyes in the forest and know that all that is fairy is not light.

For more on the figure of the Erlking, see the Wikipedia. For a decent translation, see Robert Bly’s version, “The Invisible King.”


  1. Reply
    dale 21 August, 2009

    One of my favorites of Goethe’s poems. (I have a long, long love-hate relationship with Mr Goethe.) I love the fact that even the name “Erlkönig” is ambiguously natural/supernatural: it literally means “alder king,” but that’s probably a mistaken translation of a Danish compound noun meaning “elf king.” The doubt about whether what’s going on here is natural or supernatural is coded into the title of the poem: and I’m quite sure (on zero evidence) that Goethe meant it to be.

    This is a great rendering.

    • Reply
      Dave Bonta 21 August, 2009

      Glad you liked, Dale! There’s really a lot of amazing stuff going up on Vimeo these days. That’s an interesting point about the title — something that Mr. Bly’s translation completely fails to honor. (I’m actually not sure why I linked to that, except that it was my first exposure to the poem. I really dislike the liberties Bly takes with his source texts.)

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