The tale of the child recorded in Der Erlkonig, while potentially not an exactly true account, is a generally accurate warning about against the dangers of Erlkings hidden in muggle folklore. We notice there are some partial discrepancies or vagaries, but these can (and will) be accounted for and do not hinder the overall meaning and truth of the piece. We know this to be a true account for a number of reasons. Some of the most basic reasons include the prevailing theme of the “elf king’s” voice only reaching the child and not being heard by the father and the feeling of temptation that is insinuated.
One of the most obvious similarities between the dark, evil “Elf King” mentioned in the work and real Erklings is the fact that father in the story cannot hear his messages. The child, however, clearly hears and understands them. One of the best examples of this is found in the fourth stanza. Here the child says “father… can you not hear the promise the elf-king breathes in my ear? “.
The father, while he clearly senses something is amiss, cannot fully comprehend what is upsetting his child and does not acknowledge the “Elf King’s” existence and replies “stay calm, my child… n withered leaves the nightwinds blow. ” This exchange shows us a typical Erkling sighting (or hearing). The child is able to read more into the horrid cackling that the best produces, whereas the adult does not hear anything but leaves in the wind. This is consistent with our understanding of Erklings and their call. Additionally, one common trait of Erklings is their irresistibility. Magical children are often educated from a young age in the dangers of Erklings and their call, but yet the cackle is still tempting.
This is portrayed –though slightly more romantically in Der Erlkonig through the creature-king’s honeyed words. He calls to the boy and offers him promises and sweet words in multiple instances such as: “I love you, your comeliness charms me, boy” and “come along with me… my daughters shall care for you tenderly”. This temptation is a clear echo of the lure of the Erkling’s cackle. Lastly, there are some parts of the work that some wizarding scholars may feel prove the poem is only a coincidence.
One might point to the fact that the child is safe and secure in his father’s arms but then is suddenly, and apparently violently dead. This is not typical behavior of the Erkling. Erklings devour their prey and do not leave them dead in their father’s arms. However, I believe this piece to have coincided with the beginning of the appearance of the Bavarian Erkling. While it is true that no one would expect an Erkling to cause a child to die in their father’s arms, there is a parallel to be drawn.
Were one simply used to the common Erkling, Bavarian Erklings would seem to be quite a new and dangerous threat. I believe Goethe takes dramatic liberty with the powers of the Erkling here to highlight the new Erkling breed’s taste for violence and the unpredictability. In the poem, he is trying to invoke the feeling that your children are no longer assured their safety if they are with you, as Bavarian Erklings will venture out on their own to find their prey, rather than simply relying on luring them in.
This new attitude towards Erklings is developed in a few ways throughout the poem. One such way is through the mouth of the dark king himself when he says: “if you’re not willing, my force I’ll employ. ” This is also true of the child’s cry at the end “father, he’s seizing my arm! “. Overall, it truly is not shocking that Muggles may have had knowledge of this creature, especially in the times before the International Statute of Secrecy, when magical creatures were not as carefully hidden and regulated as they are now.
Additionally, this poem seems to very easily mesh with the idea that Muggles are introduced to ideas about and allowed to produce literature on the topic of magic (creatures, spells, plants and more) when it is deemed necessary or dangerous enough. In this case, I believe that this poem was requested to be allowed through simply because of a rising problem with Erklings, specifically Bavarian ones, among the Muggle population in Germany. Perhaps they hoped that by arming Muggles with rudimentary knowledge they may be able to save Muggle lives as well as make their job of secrecy (per the ISOS) easier due to having to cover up fewer attacks.