The books are works of High Fantasy based in part on Celtic mythology. Arafel, a main character, is a Daoine Sidhe, the highest of the Sidhe faery-folk. She dwells in the magical small forest of Ealdwood, from which the tales take their name.
Cherryh first introduced readers to the world of Ealdwood in 1979 with her short story "The Dreamstone." In 1981, she published the novellette Ealdwood, which was nominated for both the World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Novella. In 1983, she then published two novels in the series, both of which were nominated for the Locus Award for Best Novel:
An omnibus edition of the two novels entitled Arafel's Saga was also published in 1983 as a Science Fiction Book Club selection. Fourteen years later, Cherryh finally published the 1997 compilation The Dreaming Tree, which included a revised version of both 1983 novels, including a new ending which Cherryh felt was more appropriate and satisfying than her previous efforts.