Fortunately for Lud, the otherwise staid and respectable Nathaniel has a secret — as a child, he encountered an aging lute which "gave out one note, so plangent, blood-freezing and alluring, that for a few seconds the company stood as if petrified", a note which has haunted his dreams since. This familiarity with the unearthly equips him to deal with the crisis and find a revolutionary resolution: he can give imagination and wonder and whimsy their due while respecting justice and moderation and tradition.
Lud-in-the-Mist has some strange plot twists — among other things, it incorporates the revival of a long cold murder mystery — and unusual characters — such as Nathaniel's even more respectable friend and fellow senator Master Ambrose. But it maintains its own logic: Mirrlees was a scholar and historian, and in Lud gives us a firmly grounded city state. There is one place where the narrator wonders what Winckelmann, a real art historian, might have made of the town, but its world is free from self-consciousness, without any apparatus explaining its inventions or attempting to place it in some corner of the real world.
Published in 1926, Lud-in-the-Mist looks back directly to older English notions of Faerie, unshielded by the imbrications of the modern fantasy genre, but in other ways it has a remarkably current feel to it. Mirrlees is modernist rather than antiquarian in her style — she was a friend of Virginia Woolf — and is markedly easier to read than writers of a similar vintage such as Eddison or Dunsany or Cabell. It won't have universal appeal, but anyone who enjoys fairy tale as well as fantasy should take a look at Lud-in-the-Mist.
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