I am reading The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany, first published in 1924. Normally, I do not like reading fantasy, but Bookpilled praised this novel so extensively and claimed it was so influential that I had to try it. I’ll review the book itself in the future. What I’m writing about now is how I tried to visualize the story using AI software.

I have a condition called aphantasia, which means I can’t visualize images well in my head. Most people can close their eyes and see things. I can’t. I didn’t discover this until I was in my sixties. I’ve often read that ordinary people when they read a story visualize it in their mind’s eye. When I discovered Midjourney I got the idea that maybe I could use that program to help me see what fiction was describing. I’m just beginning to learn Midjourney. It’s easy to make striking pictures, but very hard to make specific striking pictures.

In The King of Elfland’s Daughter, the Elfland’s daughter is Lirazel, a princess who leaves her magical world to live in our ordinary world to marry Alveric and become his queen in the nonmagical land of Erl. Lirazel has a hard time coping without magic. Alveric wants her to become Christian and worship his way. Lirazel can’t understand why. She wants to worship the stars, but Alveric considers that evil. She tries to skirt his commands by worshipping the reflections of stars in a lake. That’s what the picture at the top of the page is trying to show.

Midjourney will draw almost anything, in any style you request. However, you have to describe what you want in words and codes, and Midjourney does its best to guess what they mean. It’s very hit-and-miss, and quite often Midjourney will ruin a beautiful image with weird deformities of the human form. If you look closely at the image at the top of the page, the women’s hands are ugly. Or look at this image. At first, it’s beautiful, until you see her arms. So many attempts have to be thrown out because of these deformities.

Here is another go at the same scene but asking for a more artistic view. However, I definitely didn’t imagine The King of Elfland’s Daughter looking like this art style. Mentally, I pictured the setting of the story to be a darkly medieval world lit by natural light. That’s why the picture at the top fits better in my mind. But the picture below does have an enchanting fantasy flavor. I can imagine that some readers see the story like this picture.

I went looking for previous artwork used for The King of Elfland’s Daughter but didn’t find much. Here is some artwork from an early edition, maybe even the first. I’m not sure. It’s very stylized. And it’s from the 1920s, so maybe this is how they pictured fantasy worlds.

This is how they pictured it in the 1960s when Ballantine reprinted this novel for its Adult Fantasy series. Notice how stylized the art is compared to how I’m trying to picture it.

These illustrations aren’t from The King of Elfland’s Daughter but show art styles that I think people associate with fantasy. However, probably they are more suited for children’s books. Using Midjourney you can apply any artistic style you want. The trick is convincing the program to use it and that can be hard.

People are using Midjourney to create art that can be used as digital art, book covers, illustrations, or in a series for comic books, graphic novels, and even animation. There are many hurdles. The first is to develop a consistent character out of a program that generates art from randomness. This can be done by using the same random seed number. You can also guide the program by uploading illustrations or photos, or even crude hand-drawn sketches. And there are endless keywords, styles, switches, datasets, etc. that can be applied. It really is something to be learned. And using Midjourney is a skill requiring artistic understanding. You either need to know about art or you need to learn about it quickly.

This is why it will be a while before I could ever read a book and routinely picture scenes in Midjourney. But while I’m reading The King of Elfland’s Daughter I’m often finding scenes I would like to see. There is one with a troll talking to a fox. Another with Lirazel, her small son, his nurse who is a witch, and the troll. And I just read one where Alveric is walking across a vast deserted landscape. He starts out with a bag of food thrown over his shoulders, enough to last him two weeks, a blanket around him as a coat for warmth, carrying a bundle of firewood, and a sword at his side. I’d like to visualize those scenes.

You can try Midjourney for free, but when I did, it warned me there were too many free users at the moment. I joined for $10 a month, but I soon realized that learning the program requires cranking out more images than the $10 account limit, and upped my account to the $30 version. And it’s not easy to use. You have to be a member of the Discord community because you send commands to Midjourey through that social site and view the results there too. There are tons of videos on YouTube that show how to do all of this if you’re interested.

You can view a gallery of Midjourney art here. It’s dazzling. If you crave beautiful pictures, this program might become addictive.

James Wallace Harris, 4/8/23

8 thoughts on “Visualizing Fiction with AI

  1. The artist who originally illustrated Dunsany’s work in the 1920s was the wonderful, alas mostly forgotten Sidney Sime (pronounced as ‘seem’). Admirers have maintained an internet presence and judicious searching will reveal many wonders.


  2. Your project sounds interesting. It is an example of technology opening up the opportunity of being more creative for many more people. That, anyway, is all to the good.


      1. Self publishing is another example of technology – computers & the internet – making it possible for a lot more people to be creative, no matter what one can say about the results.


  3. So how come for all its technical achievement the vast majority of the items on display in the Midjourney gallery look like the work of a horny 14-year-old boy who spends all his time playing video games or reading comics? Obviously I’m not the intended audience here. A piano does not provide its owner with musical talent. It helps someone who already possesses musical talent to express themselves. Alas, AI will not quicken the dull.


    1. A lady friend of mine said the same thing. And I think it’s because young guys are generating the art by what they want to see. However, it’s theoretically possible to generate other kinds of art. And it’s exciting when I do see more varied examples.

      Right now I think it’s like current pop music — everything sounds the same.


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