The Erlking

Take care! Take care! Heed this warning when travelling through woods and forests, because the Erlking and his Daughter live there.

Traditionally, the Erlking is a malevolent spirit who preys upon travellers as they pass through the forest, ultimately carrying them to to their deaths. There have been numerous ballads inspired by this familiar figure from German folklore, but perhaps the most well known is Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s The Erlking. Goethe was inspired by the ballad The Erlkings’s Daughter by Johann Gottfried Von Herder, which was itself based on a Danish folk ballad, Sir Oluf he rides. In both of these earlier ballads the malevolent spirits are females, who haunt the woods and prey upon adult males. However in his poem, Goethe departs from the traditional archetype by presenting the malign figure as male and a stealer of children’s lives.

Below is a loose translation of Goethe’s poem by Sir Walter Scott, in which Scott successfully captures the eeriness of the original. It is suffused with dark and evocative imagery, reinforcing the folk tale idea of the wild wood as a marginal space. A place where the rules of society cease to exist, and where a life is easily forfeited.

The Erl-King

O! Who rides by night thro’ the woodland so wild?
It is the fond Father embracing his child;
And close the Boy nestles within his lov’d arm,
From the blast of the tempest to keep himself warm.

“O Father! see yonder, see yonder!” he says.
“My Boy, upon what dost thou fearfully gaze?”
“O! ’tis the ERL-KING with his staff and his shroud!”
“No, my Love! it is but a dark wreath of the cloud.”

[The Phantom Speaks]

“O! wilt thou go with me, thou loveliest Child!
By many gay sports shall thy hours be beguil’d;
My Mother keeps for thee many a fair toy,
And many a fine flow’r shall she pluck for my Boy.”

“O Father! my Father! and did you not hear,
The ERL-KING whisper so close in my ear?”
“Be still, my lov’d Darling, my Child be at ease!
It was but the wild blast as it howl’d thro’ the trees.”

[The Phantom]

“O wilt thou go with me, thou loveliest Boy!
My Daughter shall tend thee with care and with joy;
She shall bear thee so lightly thro’ wet and thro’ wild,
And hug thee, and kiss thee, and sing to my Child.”

“O Father! my Father! and saw you not plain
The ERL-KING’s pale daughter glide past thro’ the rain?”
“O no, my heart’s treasure! I knew it full soon,
It was the Grey Willow that danc’d to the moon.”

[The Phantom]

“Come with me, come with me, no longer delay!
Or else, silly Child, I will drag thee away.”
“O Father! O Father! now, now, keep your hold!
The ERL-KING has seiz’d me – his grasp is so cold!”

Sore trembled the Father; he spurr’d thro’ the wild,
Clasping close to his bosom his shuddering Child;
He reaches his dwelling in doubt and in dread;
But, clasp’d to his bosom, the Infant was dead!

It is difficult when reading any of the ballads mentioned not to think of how the Erlking has been reinterpreted in more contemporary literature. Parity between the life stealing Erlking and Tolkien’s Nazgul and Rowling’s dementors is so easily found.




The Visual Culture of Folk Music Part 2a: Ready Steady Folk!

Ready Steady Folk! 

In conversation with Steve Hardstaff, Artist, Designer & Performer

Click here to watch part 2a:  Ready Steady Folk!

Part 2a Filmed and presented by Stella-Louise Halliwell

With thanks to Steve Hardstaff, The Bolton Archive, The Working Class Movement Library, Jim Moray, Topic Records,
Anthony Doherty & Guy Kilgallen

Please note that every endeavour has been made to seek permission to use all the materials featured in this production.
The production team remains pursuant of permission to reproduce any image or sound recording not listed above.

The Visual Culture of Folk Music, Part One: Victorian Articulations

The short documentary Victorian Articulations has now been removed.

Many galleries kindly licensed images for a short period owing to the project being a student one, the rights to use certain images has now expired.

To all those who helped with the project I would one again like to extend my thanks.

Victorian Articulations written and presented by Stella-Louise Halliwell

Camera operator Anthony M Doherty



Clerk Saunders (1857) by Elizabeth Siddal is reproduced by kind permission of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Sir Patrick Spens (1856) By Elizabeth Siddal is reproduced by kind permission of Tate

The Ballad of Fair Annie (1854-56) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is Reproduced by kind permission of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Cecil Sharp's photographs William Burland and Mrs Carter reproduced courtesy of English Folk Dance & Song Society.

A Trip on the Metropolitan Railway [Film]1910 appears coutersy of the BFI under the terms of the Creative Archive Licence

Sound recordings 

June Tabor, Clerk Saunders
Martin Carthy  Sir Patrick Spens
Martin Simpson  Fair Annie
All artists appear by the kind permission of  Topic Records

Please note that every endeavour has been made to seek permission to use all the materials featured in this production.

The production team remains pursuant of permission to reproduce any image or sound recording not listed above.
Special Thanks to

Annthony M. Doherty; James Halliwell; Guy Kilgallen; Steve Hardstaff; Bev Sanders; Jim Moray; David Owen; Malcom Taylor at The Vaughan Williams Library ,Cecil Sharp House; Phil Budden at Topic Record; Tom Heaven at BM&AG and Emma Darbyshire at the Fitzwilliam Museum.