Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist (1926)

We end/begin the year with this piece of old-school fantasy. Lud-in-the-Mist is the name of a town in a faintly-described secondary world. This town is closely associated with faerie, but in the novel's present, that is taboo, and "faerie fruit," the consumption of which allegedly permanently changes people in strange ways, is strictly illegal. However, this status quo surely will not last. The city's sometime-mayor, Nathaniel Chanticleer, is alienated from the world around him in subtle and intermittent ways, but when his son is comes under apparent faerie influence, he takes action.

I vaguely feel like there's some sort of political allegory that I'm not quite grasping buried somehwhere in here. There's this idea that the rational, human world is governed by the laws that we make to tame it, but that the world outside--the world of delusion, as the book terms it--has its own law, which corresponds to ours. It's certainly something to think about.

To tell the truth, the actual conflict in this book--involving figuring out who's smuggling faerie fruit and how to stop them--is not super-interesting. It all feels a bit perfunctory. However, Mirrlees is very good in terms of evoking the eerie, liminal world of faerie. One may be reminded of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, as well as John Crowley's sublime Little, Big, and while Mirrlees isn't quite on the level of either of those, she did get there substantially first, and her novel is very good in its own right. She has a great descriptive talent, and it's a shame that her literary career (this is the third of only three novels--although she lived to a ripe old age, writing seems to have been kind of a dilettantish interest for her, and she didn't do much of it in her later life).

There really, really is something to be said for fantasy that has absolutely nothing to do with either Tolkien or Dungeons and Dragons.  I can't help feeling--no doubt I've mentioned this before--that the fantastic imagination has been significantly straitened in recent years.  Please strike back against this phenomenon by reading books like this, and overlook, if you can, the fact that it's one of nine hundred billion classic genre books blurbed by Neil friggin' Gaiman.


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