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Lud-In-The-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
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Lud-In-The-Mist (original 1926; edition 2005)

by Hope Mirrlees, Hope Mirrlees (Foreword)

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Member:Victrix20
Title:Lud-In-The-Mist
Authors:Hope Mirrlees
Other authors:Hope Mirrlees (Foreword)
Info:Cold Spring Press (2005), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Lud-in-the-mist by Hope Mirrlees (1926)

Recently added byprivate library, Jedidiah_Evans, equestrian57, bigcurlyloz, naturaworld, newnoz, KateSherrod
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Of course, I come to this novel via Tim Powers, who quoted it quite tantalizingly and memorably in Last Call as one to which Scott Crane and his late wife often referred in their intimate shorthand with one another. At one point Susan's ghost, or at least the chthonic spirt-of-alcohol that is impersonating Susan refers to "a blackish canary" ("canary" as in the sense of "a shade of yellow" rather than that of the bird of that name) as a way of commenting on Scott's refusal to grasp what is really going on and his dismissal thereof as really pretty unimportant anyway... Such a strange phrase, that, I've always wanted to see it in context and see where it came from.

Well, now I know. And its source is just as intriguing and maddening and wonderful and mind-bogglingly cool as I had hoped it would be.

Lud-in-the-Mist is one of those open secrets by which real fantasy fans of a certain wistful, thoughtful, poetic type know each other, I think. Originally published in 1926, it dates from the same era that gave us H.P. Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith, and shares some of the dreamlike qualities of the best of those writers' work, but has none of the menace and horror. At least not overtly, though, and I rejoice to say it, Mirlees' version of fairies and Fairyland is quite, quite uncanny.

At first the book reminded me more than a little of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast works, the first of which, Titus Groan, I am about halfway through reading but may not ever finish not so much out of dislike as exhaustion with Peake's "fantasy of manners" and its glacial slowness and hypnotic stolidity* and its near lack of action. But soon I realized that this was an altogether sprightlier work, for all its early chapter concerns with a politically and socially powerful father who regards his son as a mere adjunct or appendage of his own identity.

But then the book comes into its own just as Nathan Chanticleer's young son is suddenly revealed to him as a whole 'nother human being when he stumbles into confessing that he has broken the city of Lud-in-the-Mist's single greatest taboo: he has eaten fairy fruit. Fairy fruit being something between a narcotic and a food exported by the nation that borders Chanticleer's own, that being Fairyland. You know, where fairies are, and magic and stuff. Stuff that has been expunged as thoroughly as possible from memory and consciousness by the middle class of Lud-in-the-Mist as part of their socio-political coup that rid the city of its irrational hereditary aristocracy and its feudalistic ways.

Of course, in ridding the city of its old masters and replacing them with rational, vaguely meritocratic,profit-minded new ones, much was lost, and many did not give it up lightly. Thus a sort of cult in which the last Duke, Aubrey, is basically an avatar of the Green Man, still quietly flourishes in Lud-in-the-Mist and its environs, and lots of secret doings can be traced back to this cult and its adherents, witting and un-. Which is how, of course, the youngest Chanticleer winds up eating fairy fruit and in so doing turn everything possible on its head.

The rest of the plot winds up being almost a cozy mystery as Nathan tries to track down how this unspeakable thing has happened to his (belated) pride and joy. A cozy mystery with truly wonderful grace notes, including astonishingly lovely prose and wonderful insights into the nature of truth, the power of belief, and the limitations of reason. ""Reason, I know, is only a drug, and, as such, its effects are never permanent" says one city father to another. "But, like the juice of the poppy, it often gives a temporary relief."

A lot of Lud-in-the-Mist deals with just that kind of careful construction of reality in which each of us is constantly engaging in our heads, construction that involves careful choices about what to let in, what to ignore, and what to abhor as impossible or otherwise unreal. The nature of the Law comes in for special scrutiny; as the most unusual and interesting variety of consensual delusion, it is the perfect foil for the delusions and unrealities of (pardon me for using such coarse language, but sometimes one must, to get one's point across) Fairyland.

If at times Lud-in-the-Mist feels a tad too allegorical, the effect is of short duration. One is quickly distracted from this jaundiced view of the book by the characters and their surroundings, that glow with vibrant color and come to such vivid life one might think one has been slipped some fairy fruit onself. Or wish to have been.

*If anyone ever tries to make a feature film of these books (I understand there was a BBC miniseries early this century), I insist Werner Herzog get first crack at it, and that he hypnotize his cast every shooting day like he did for Heart of Glass and has them perform so entranced. But we don't need that to happen, really, because we have Heart of Glass. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
The story holds a pervasive charm even as it treats of somber and malefic aspects of life. Mirrlees simply opts to take it all as evidence of the world's Goodness, I think, and is no Pollyanna. In place of the horror of the young, then, the acceptance of those who have endured as well as enjoyed.

The book does read like Cabell (the notion of the Note, the prose of the story, the dialogue of characters), though for all that hers is a different voice, a different sensibility, if sympathetic. Mirrlees also has a great vocabulary, with a penchant for archaic and rare words like Cabell and Leiber and other fantasists. A stroke of genius to always hint at the fey, at least through the first third, and in this respect not only by talking of them rather than featuring them as characters, but also that the Ludites and Dorimarites themselves generally speak of the fey as though the latter were permanently offstage. There are ready sayings and common gestures and traditions, a folklore of the Silent People, but nothing in current society. Even for the characters in the novel, then, the fey are once removed. It is a ready analogue of our world, as different this world she builds might first appear.

Perhaps Mirrlees's most striking invention (if not the Note already mentioned) is her idea that Law is the obverse of fairy fruit, and consequently, the World-in-Law the counter to Faerie.
"But you remember what my father said [Nathaniel to his friend Ambrose] about the Law being man's substitute for fairy fruit? Fairy things are all of them supposed to be shadowy cheats -- delusion. But man can't live without delusion, so he creates for himself another delusion, the world-in-law, subject to no other law than the will of man, where man juggles with facts to his heart's content, and says, 'If I choose I shall make a man old enough to be my father my son, and if I choose I shall turn fruit into silk and black into white, for this is the world I have made myself, and here I am master.' And he creates a monster to inhabit it -- the man-in-law, who is like a mechanical toy and always behaves exactly as he is expected to behave, and is no more like you and me than are the faeries." [162-63]

This is a powerful idea, it embraces both modern economic game theory and the Law of Thelema, and my guess is that Mirrlees attended to more of its nuance and implications than she states explicitly, to her enduring credit.

Mirrlees offers, above or perhaps behind her very engaging tale, a sad critique of Reason, and civilisation. Not in a nihilist sense, but a Romantic sense of hopelessness or disappointment. It is this theme and its relation to the World-in-Law which will reward a rereading, I think.

//

From Lin Carter's preface or foreword to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy imprint:
The novel really begins when Master Nathaniel Chanticleer, one of the most respected burghers of Dorimare, of a fine old family, learns that his young son has been tempted to eat of fairy fruit. The emotional crisis that follows, and Chanticleer's painful re-examination of all the tenets by which he has lived so long, is the heart and crux of Miss Mirrlees' brilliant and deeply moving novel, which culminates in the desperate quest of Master Nathaniel after his wandering exiled son to the very borders of Faerie ... and beyond. [x]

//

A candidate from the novel for the Library of Imaginary Books: Traces of Fairy in the Inhabitant's Customs, Arts, Vegetation and Language of Dorimare [14] ( )
3 vote elenchus | Nov 30, 2015 |
I don't usually put too much credence into book blurbs by famous authors, but for some reason Gaiman's blurb got my attention and I'm glad it did. This really is amazing stuff. It feels very British and definitely old school. This isn't anything like modern fantasy, it's very subtle and very character based. The wonder is still there even though there's not magic flying around and there are no epic battles (or actually any battles of any type). The world is simple and needs little description, it's so classic you just kind of find yourself in it without having to read the first six books of the series.

It reminded me of [book:The Gormenghast Novels|39058] from Meryvn Peake but more fun; each character was so colorful, they were so absurd in their words and actions that I couldn't help but fall in love with them. The language is archaic and beautiful and that only adds to the feeling of being in a fairy tale you missed while growing up.

Would love to see a BBC adaptation of this. ( )
1 vote ragwaine | Sep 19, 2015 |
Nathaniel Chanticleer is the mayor of the titular town, a mercantile and prosaic place whose social order is threatened by the illicit importation of fairy fruit from neighbouring Fairyland. The threat turns personal when the mayor's own son is found to have tasted the forbidden fruit, and Nathaniel - a middle-aged man who by preference devotes his time to committee meetings and formal dinners - is cast on a journey that will transform both himself and his town.

A reflection on the interplay between reason and imagination, the apparent message is that we need a middle way between the excesses of each, between Lud's deadening conventionality and Fairyland's chaos. The story as such is perhaps not the most compelling, but it's beautifully written. From the point of view of the retrospective genre assignment as high fantasy, there isn't much action, but a lot of attention to characters, their relationships and foibles.

I came across this because of the LT user recommendation saying it was written as a response to Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter (which I read last year). There's a certain mirror symmetry between them - in Dunsany's book the fields we know and the lands of fairy become entangled due to initiative from our side, and the results are disastrous; in Mirrlees' the initiative comes from the other side, and the consequences overall for the better. Anyone who likes the one is likely to like the other.
1 vote AndreasJ | Mar 9, 2015 |
A book that affected me deeply. Read it twice ... the first time slowly, making notes, flipping back and forth between pages to tie bits and pieces of the story together ... the second time straight through for pure enjoyment.
I agree with Neil Gaiman who says in the Foreword:
"The writing is elegant, supple, effective and haunting: the author demands a great deal from her readers, which she repays many times over." pg. 8

From a speech by the mysterious Dr. Leer:
"' ... there are two races - trees and man; and for each there is a different dispensation. Trees are silent, motionless, serene. They live and die, but do not know the taste of either life or death; to them a secret has been entrusted but not revealed.
"'But the other tribe - the passionate, tragic, rootless tree - man? Alas! he is a creature whose highest privileges are a curse. In his mouth is ever the bitter-sweet taste of life and death, unknown to the trees. Without respite he is dragged by the two wild horses, memory and hope; and he is tormented by a secret that he can never tell. For every man worthy of the name is an initiate; but each one into different Mysteries. And some walk among their fellows with the pitying, slightly scornful smile, of an adept among catechumens. And some are confiding and garrulous, and would so willingly communicate their own unique secret - in vain! For though they shout it in the market-place, or whisper it in music and poetry, what they say is never the same as what they know, and they are like ghosts charged with a message of tremendous import who can only trail their chains and gibber....'" pp. 207-8
1 vote Mary_Overton | Feb 14, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
The psychologist C. J. Jung maintained that the true purpose of middle age was the integration of all the varying, and sometimes unacknowledged, aspects of our personalities. Perhaps this accounts for the unusual protagonist of Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist (1925), one of the most admired fantasy novels of the 20th century — and one that is clearly intended for adults. Mirrlees’s book explores the need to embrace what we fear, to come to terms with what Jung called the shadow, those sweet and dark impulses that our public selves ignore or repress. There are no elven blades or cursed rings here; no epic battles either, and the novel’s hero resembles the aged Bilbo Baggins more than the charismatic, sword-wielding Aragorn.
 
Neil Gaiman once said in conversation that Lud-in-the-Mist "deals with the central matter of fantasy -- the reconciliation of the fantastic and the mundane." Which, perhaps, comes as close to the heart of the question as anybody's going to get.

To learn more, you'll simply have to read the book.
 
The book is a curio, meandering between broad comedy, suspense, murder mystery and adventure, veering from moments of slapstick to moving scenes of pathos. Like all good magic tricks, the charm of the book lies in the craft of its glamour and sleight of hand. While it has its fair share of lo! and behold!, the simplicity of the writing conceals exquisite turns of phrase and an underlying intensity that can burst unexpectedly upon the reader. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny the book's weaknesses. Mirrlees' plotting is episodic, and the overwhelming feeling at the end is deflation that the long-promised fireworks of the final confrontation in Faerie should take place offstage. But by this point, it's clear that Lud-in-the-Mist is not all it seems: what at first appears to be a hotchpotch novel reveals itself as a carefully-considered - if not executed - allegory about the nature of 'fantasy'.
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hope Mirrleesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gallardo, GervasioCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herring, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The Sirens stand, as it would seem, to the ancient and the modern, for the impulses in life as yet immoralised, impervious longings, ecstasies, whether of love or art, or philosophy, magical voices calling to a man from his "Land of Heart's Desire," and to which if he hearken it may be that he will return no more--voices, too, which, whether a man sail by or stay to hearken, still sing on.

-- Jane Harrison
Dedication
To the Memory of My Father
First words
The free state of Dorimare was a very small country, but, seeing that it was bounded on the south by the sea and on the north and east by mountains, while its centre consisted of a rich plain, watered by two rivers, a considerable variety of scenery and vegetation was to be found within its borders.
Quotations
Lud-in-the-Mist had all the things that make an old town pleasant. It had an ancient Guild Hall, built of mellow golden bricks and covered with ivy and, when the sun shone on it, it looked like a rotten apricot; it had a harbour in which rode vessels with white and red and tawny sails; it had flat brick houses - not the mere carapace of human beings, but ancient living creatures, renewing and modifying themselves with each generation under their changeless antique roofs.
[I]ndeed, it is never saf to classify the souls of one's neighbours; one is apt, in the long run, to be proved a fool. You should regard each meeting with a friend as a sitting he is unwittingly giving you for a portrait -- a portrait that, probably, when you or he die, will still be unfinished. [3]
There were whole chests, too, filled with pieces of silk, embroidered or painted with curious scenes. Who has not wondered in what mysterious forests our ancestors discovered the models for the beasts and birds upon their tapestries; and on what planet were enacted the scenes they have portrayed? It in in vain that the dead fingers have stitched beneath them -- and we can picture the mocking smile with which these crafty cozeners of posterity accompanied the action -- the words February, or Hawking, or Harvest, having us believe that they are but illustrations for the activities proper to the different months. We know better. These are not the normal activities of mortal men. What kind of beings peopled the earth four or five centuries ago, what strange lore they had acquired, and what were their sinister doings, we shall never know. Our ancestors keep their secret well. [4]
[A] very ingenious and learned jurist, had drawn in one of his treatises a curious parallel between fairy things and the law. The men of the revolution, he said, had substituted law for fairy fruit. But whereas only the reigning Duke and his priests had been allowed to partake of the fruit [in the pagan days], the law was given freely to rich and poor alike. Again, fairy was delusion, so was the law. At any rate, it was a sort of magic, moulding reality into any shape it chose. But, whereas fairy magic and delusion were for the cozening and robbing of man, the magic of the law was to his intention and for his welfare. [13]
Reason I know, is only a drug, and, as such, its effects are never permanent. But, like the juice of the poppy, it often gives a temporary relief. [Endymion Leer, 49]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345258487, Mass Market Paperback)

Helen Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978) was a British translator, poet and novelist. She is best known for the 1926 Lud-in-the-Mist, a fantasy novel and influential classic.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:46 -0400)

This is the story of the mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist, Master Nathaniel Chanticleer, a respectable burgher who learns that his young son has eaten forbidden fairy fruit. Some centuries earlier, fairy things had been looked upon with reverence, and fairy fruit was enjoyed by the people of Dorimare. but since the burghers had taken over, fairy things have become unspeakable and there are problems in the trafficking of illegal fairy fruit.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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