Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter is one of the seminal masterpieces of fantasy literature. Rife with literary motifs, symbols and imagery, Dunsany tells his tale in a distant, almost mythological style, evoking powerful emotions and longings in his audience with the images he uses.
One of the most poignant of these images is that of "the "Border of Twilight." In the novel, "the fields we know" are separated from the mysterious kingdom of Elfland by this border, upon which twilight rests perpetually. It is this border that foxes and unicorns traverse in their journeys in and out of Elfland; and which all who seek to enter Elfland must cross. There's something mystical and strange about this border, something that's frightening and incredibly beautiful at the same time, provoking awe in anyone who reads this book and has their heart invested in it. It is a frightful and wonderful thing to cross this permeable but formidable border, and likewise to walk the border, to remain there for a while; for on the border one is beckoned by two worlds: Elfland on the one hand and the realm of humans on the other; lured by the charms of Elfland and the familiarities of the fields we know, one can sit in tension and indecision on the border for a great long while, gazing into one world or the other until suddenly pulled into one by either a certain call that outstrips all others or by the mere pull of time upon the human spirit.
There is a border of this kind in our lives also; while we all traverse the border many times in our lives, and while we all linger there from time to time, some of us remain there for longer, caught between two worlds, lured by both and unable to choose one over the other. This Border of Twilight separates a world of darkness from a world of light, a world of suffering from a world of thriving, a world of sorrow from a world of joy.
Some of us dwell in the light. No one, of course, escapes suffering during their lives, but some are able, by the grace of God, to experience long stretches of happiness and prosperity. They seem to have their lives all together. No serious harm seems to touch them. If they experience loss, they recover quickly.
Some of us, likewise, dwell in the darkness. Misfortunes befall them at every turn. They seem to bend and break under the wrath of God or some wicked twist of fate. Tragedy after tragedy, pain after pain comes into their lives, piling on like debris in a hurricane of travesty. Or, perhaps, they are overwhelmed by a single but chronic pain, either physical, mental, or emotional, that will not let them go no matter how they struggle against it.
These, of course, are the two extremes; most of us have a mixture of these things in our lives, experiencing sorrow and joy in turn or even simultaneously, but each of us also goes through periods in their lives when we experience ourselves as more in the darkness or in the light, to varying degrees of extremity.
But besides these two and their various admixtures, there is a third state which humans can fall into. It falls between the darkness and the light but is in fact neither. Both lie on either side, but neither encroaches into the no-man's-land between.
This land is the Border of Twilight.
Those who wander this border live in perpetual dusk, neither in the darkness nor the light, but between the day and the night. One one side of them they see the joys of human life, on the other the pains, and cannot fully take part in either of them. From time to time, like the fox, they wander to and fro from day to night, tasting the pleasures and pains of each one, but always return to linger at the border, and there they wait - and wait - and wait.
For these people are those who are relatively free of trouble in their own lives; although they must experience good and bad like anyone else, on the whole they are mostly healthy physically and otherwise, having not enough misfortune to like a sorrowful existence, so that even though they may have times of sorrow they are able to bounce back quickly and to enjoy life, knowing that life is good despite occasional misfortunes.
However, these cannot enjoy the happiness that their own lives would seem to afford them, for close to them lies a darkness, a darkness they can neither disperse nor penetrate, which does not cover them but weighs upon their soul because of its closeness. This darkness, the darkness which overtakes the lives of those close to our border-dwellers, evokes compassion, pity, empathy, and sorrow in them, so that they cannot freely enjoy their place in the light but feel compelled to assist their friends and neighbors in their struggling and stumbling in the dark.
But they cannot.
Why can these men and women not penetrate the darkness? The answers could be many. One who dwells on the border may be a parent of a son or daughter who has rejected their upbringing and lives in evil and injustice. Despite the pleas of mother and father, the child refuses to listen and continues in his evil ways. Or he may have a friend who is struggling with any type of suffering, but shuts him out and will not allow him to help. Alternately, for some reason this person of the border may feel incapable of helping or unqualified to do so, or may merely be afraid of rejection or of making the situation worse. He may furthermore see a great injustice in the world but not know what he can do to stop it. In each case, he dwells close to the darkness that covers others, but cannot enter it.
So in this way, the Border of Twilight houses those who will not dwell in either the darkness or the light. They cannot dwell in the light because of their empathy for those in the darkness. They cannot dwell in the darkness because it shuns those who it has not overcome. So for these people, neither darkness or light will come, but instead twilight never ends. They wander the border attempting to break into one or the other, oftentimes failing and occasionally succeeding - but success in penetrating the border does not guarantee success in endeavors on either side. Oftentimes they limp back to the border in defeat, lingering there and unwilling to leave for many days because of the fear that failure will once again meet their penetration of the border.
They long sometimes for the darkness, sometimes for the light, but their longing for the light rebuffs that of the darkness, and their longing for the darkness rebuffs that for the light. They do not feel at home in either place. When in either place, they feel they belong on the other. They do not feel at home on the border, but return their because they have no other place.
Everyone traverses the border at some point in their lives. Everyone lingers there for a few minutes at the least. But some wander for days, months, years. Sometimes they wander by choice, sometimes by circumstance, but they wander nonetheless, feeling self-pity and ashamed of it, knowing they are fortunate but feeling unfortunate, torn between two worlds and lost in fear and indecisiveness.
I often walk the border. I have lingered there many times in recent days. It is a lonely place.