Hope Mirrlees

Gollancz 2008 [1926]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2015
Centuries ago the burghers of Lud-in-the-Mist rose up, evicted Duke Aubrey, and turned their backs on Fairyland, anathematizing fairy fruit and preferring more mundane trade. But now things are stirring: fairy fruit is being smuggled into the city; the son of the mayor, Nathaniel Chanticleer, is sent off to a farm for his safety; and the girls of the town's most prestigious boarding school go wild and run off into the Debatable Hills. Everyone turns to the mysterious doctor Endymion Leer for advice.

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.

May 2015

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%T Lud-in-the-Mist
%A Mirrlees, Hope
%I Gollancz
%D 2008 [1926]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781857987676
%P 264pp