< style="float: left; padding-right: 10px; text-align: top;" />Have you ever heard of Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees? You can be excused if you haven’t. It was originally published in 1926, predating Tolkien’s The Hobbit by eleven years. It was the third book written by Mirrlees, and the first to be of a full fantasy setting. As such, it has heavily influenced many modern fantasy writers, especially those who love the encroachment of the world of faerie with our own. I challenge the you to read the book and not spot other creations in it, such as Neil Gaiman’s Stardust or Susanne Clarke’s
The story is set in a very mundane city with the whimsical name Lud-in-the-Mist. The city is situated at the junction of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl, in the fictional country of Dorimare, but it feels very much like a provincial English town. Lud-in-the-Mist is the capitol of Dorimare, so despite its small-town feel the city is the hub of all law and commerce for the country.
The citizens would be happy to go about their droll lives filled with politics and business if not for their unfortunate proximity to Fairyland, separated only by the Debatable Hills to the West. Although the two countries have not had any official interaction for centuries, Lud-in-the-Mist deals with a constant annoyance in the form of fairy fruit contraband smuggled over from Fairyland. The fruit can bring madness and addiction, but also expands one’s mind to the world of faerie. This, of course, is never discussed in polite company.
The story swirls around mayor Nathaniel Chanticleer as he at first denies the presence of fairy fruit—as is the respectable tradition for generations—then to his realization that he has been living a lie all of his life. His sudden conviction to discuss fairy fruit gets him removed from office, but he is not without allies as he tries to find out who is responsible for the influx of contraband while also trying to save the children of Lud-in-the-Mist, who have fallen sway and run off to Fairyland.
The story is sumptuously told in copious detail. If you are planning on a bit of light reading, you may want to look elsewhere. Unlike modern high fantasy, there aren’t endless chapters of traveling, but as a poet Mirrlees fills her pages with lavish, colorful details that paint a picture of the world of Lud-in-the-Mist so artfully composed that you’d swear she had visited it. I wonder how much of this was political allegory for her day.
Mirrlees was very familiar with the workings of aristocracy and law which can be seen in the way she paints convincing scenes with dialog between merchants, politicians, and socialites. Her representation of magic as wild and dangerous hearkens to folktales of old, which gives her work an old world feeling. Lud-in-the-Mist is not a typical fantasy tale, more like works by Patricia McKillip than Tolkien-esque high fantasy as it has become stratified.
As I looked over my notes, it was clear I was more impressed with the writing than the story. However, Lud-in-the-Mist was fascinating and I plan on revisiting the world again to enjoy not just the writing, but the allegory and vision of this classical fantasy tale that should be in everybody’s library.
Release Date: 1926 (Country)
ISBNs: 1434442179 (9781434442178)
Publisher: Wildside Press
Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (social and tavern drinking)
Language: 1 (d-words. Hey, it’s extreme for 1926)
Violence: 1 (death, insanity, peril)