Lud-in-the-Mist - Hope Mirrlees

Reviewed for Usenet (or see Google archive ).

Hope Mirrlees
Fantasy Masterworks
Victor Gollancz publishers
ISBN: 1857987675 (Amazon link)

Maybe this book is already well known, maybe I'm going to sound like someone on a classical music newsgroup reviewing the forgotten work of "someone called Mozart", but I hope not. I hope not because I want other people to have the same delightful surprise I had. And yes, I used the word 'delightful' - it's an after effect of the novel's prose (well, it was written in 1926). Gaiman calls this novel "The single most beautiful, solid, unearthly, and unjustifiably forgotten novel of the twentieth century". I'm tempted to agree - go find this book and be grateful someone is keeping this in print!

Lud is a country town, between two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. It's backed on two sides by mountains. It's a commercially prosperous small town, peopled with prosperous, sensible, well-mannered folk. Oh, yes,and Fairyland is next door. But no-one ever mentions that, and it's in terribly bad taste to ever refer to it. After all, the sensible folk here don't believe in elves or any of that nonsense. Not these days.

There is a shameful and secret commerce in 'fairy fruit', and it's typical of the flavour of this novel, that not only do the town worthies refuse to discuss this topic, instead charging people with smuggling 'silk', they also debate for a day or two on what type of forbidden 'silk' is being smuggled...

The story revolves around, well, a few axes. The main story, is a well defined corker of a mystery as well as being by turns comic, tragic, and possibly an allegory of something, though I'm not sure what - centring around the impact of some of this smuggled 'silk' upon the life of the mayor and his associates. The mayor's son is tricked into eating some fairy fruit, and will never be the same.

There are characters in here who speak only in riddles, others who always end with 'Ho-hi-hoh!', and others who play fiddle which no-one can resist - oh, and if anyone can tell me the reference for the frog eater I'd be thankful - but they're as clear a look as we get at the Silent People - a term covering the dead as well as the faeries. Anyone whose read plenty of older English literature, or is familiar with the plentiful myths of Faerie will have a field day with this. And yet it's all very original; at no point did I know what was going to happen, indeed in several places my assumptions were subverted. Nor is this a silly slice of nonsensical folklore, due to the stolidly respectable heroes at the centre of the tale, things always seem sensible and practical, even when they're patently not...

I loved this book and devoured it in a day (well, it helped that I was off work sick!). It's seriously good, seriously well written, and utterly unique (well, maybe Crowley's Little, Big has some of the same flavour). Lud-in-the-Mist is a fantastic piece of fantasy, and makes almost everything else I've read in the genre, including a lot of good stuff, look drab and mundane. Seriously highly recommended - this is one of those books you should wave around in front of friends who believe Fantasy only came around when Tolkien started writing.

I usually quote the opening of a book to give you a flavour of a novel, but that would be pointless with this deceptive and rich piece of work. It'd be like trying to give you a flavour of a rich banquet by offering a currant from one of the cakes... No, I'll be perverse and offer the final paragraph instead:

[...] this is but another proof that the Written Word
is a Fairy, as mocking and elusive as Willy Wisp,
speaking lying words to us in a feigned voice. So let
all readers of books take warning! And with this final
exhortation this book shall close.

Posted: Thu - April 10, 2003 at 07:52 PM