The Erl King
The story opens with a long descriptive passage depicting the stark and gloomy atmosphere of the woods in late October. These woods are characterized as entrapping and menacing, not so much because of any physical danger they present as because of their ability to undermine human identity: ‘‘It is easy to lose yourself in these woods.’’ This point is further emphasized though disorienting shifts from second- to third- to first-person narration. The setting during the first paragraph is dream like, bordering on a fine line between dreams and reality. This is enforced with the personification within the woods; "anorexic trees", creating the illusion that the narrator is not alone, but is surrounded by a hidden life force. There seems to be a presence in the wood, hidden in the descriptions of the surroundings Carter plants the idea of an underlying being.
She looks "hopelessly for a way out", connoting entrapment and suggesting she is in danger. "Of no ambiguities", paradoxical imagery, with the idea of certainty within a dream like state.
"Erl king will do you grevious harm" - his full name. Something we are often not subjected to within fairy tales and Carter's short stories.
When a clear first-person narrator’s voice does emerge, she describes hearing a bird song that expresses her own ‘‘girlish and delicious loneliness’’ as she walks through the woods. She believes that she is alone. She then comes upon a clearing where animals have gathered. The Erlking enters playing a pipe that sounds like a birdsong and reaches out to the narrator. She is immediately subject to his strange charisma. She states that he has the power to do ‘‘grievous harm.’’
Ideas of marriage and entrapment. "Pretty wedding rings round their necks"; as if marriage chokes you, suffocating you and keeping you at arm's length.
The gothic theme of attraction and revulsion noticeable in the phrase "Consoles and devastates me".