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Thomas the Rhymer (1990)

by Ellen Kushner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3352110,593 (3.94)55
A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence - and captivity - he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen's parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie. Award-winning author Ellen Kushner's inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.… (more)
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» See also 55 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
I had a bit of a struggle getting into this book due to the slightly antiquated narrative style (which I used to read a lot of, but less so lately), but I'm glad that I stuck with it. Kushner's re-telling of this classic legend, of the harper who disappears into Faerieland for seven years, is one which is very traditional in its keeping with the original events, but is made accessible to modern audiences through its characterization. The story is told in four parts, each of which is told from the point of view of one of the four protagonists. Instead of choosing a single omniscient narrator, as would have mimiced the bardic tellings of the tale, Kushner gives us more insight into the story, and especially into the emotional quandries of Thomas the Rhymer. Instead of being just another pawn for the Faerie Queen (even though he is), weare given the chance to explore the growth of a reckless young man into a very grown-up harper-seer. Kushner makes it very clear by doing this that Thomas' time in Faerieland was as much a trial by fire as an adventure - which rings very true in the larger scheme of the fairytale genre, which warns children to be wary of their dealings with the Fey. ( )
  JaimieRiella | Feb 25, 2021 |
I loved this book so much! the characters are all great. I loved Meg a lot and Thomas, of course. I even liked the fairy queen with her strange fae-ness.

Ellen Kushner writes like a dream. I love the Riverside series and I had been meaning to read this book for a long time. Likely, it was in the library. I am so happy I picked it up because it really was so beautiful. A tale from old songs come to life, beautifully.

Really do read it. It's a wonderful tale. And it very much is a tale. It's not one of those intense universe books, but it's still something great. ( )
  Isana | Jul 7, 2020 |
There's a lot to be said about a fantasy that is written WELL. In fact, one can argue that it is the only thing worth aiming for.

With tons of writers touching on this and that in the realm of the Fae, of wandering minstrels, of friendship, love, and loss, you'd think there would never be a way to STAND OUT from that crowd.

And then, this late in my career of hunting down all the best books on the Fae, I run across Thomas the Rhymer. There are no tricks in this telling.

It is, above all, a crisp, clear story about a minstrel who gets spirited away to the land of the Sidhe to live and love for the Queen, only to find the world changed when he returns.

I've read really great books about the fae, before, of course, but most of them are rich with side stories or buried within much bigger tellings. This book is ONLY about this one thing. And Kushner dives deep into these clear waters, only to bring back up one of the most beautiful, clear pearls of a story.


If I had to recommend just one perfect example of a man getting kidnapped by fairies, then this would have to be it. It's as shiny and beautiful as a crystal goblet. Or the plucking of a genius upon her harp. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Recommended by Michelle A. (library sub)
  JennyArch | Dec 27, 2017 |
How did I miss this book, and then leave it unread on my shelf for so long? I absolutely loved it. If I had read the Acknowledgements right away, I would have been on it in a flash for I have loved everything Terri Windling has written and edited. And, yes, I know the ballad this is based on.
The first section of the book is written from the point of view of one of the elder couple who take Thomas in. I thought that would make a curious approach to a story--seeing a life through a minor character's eyes--but Gavin & Meg were such great characters: grumpy and wise, and their bedtime talk made me grin.
Turns out, Thomas gets his own section to tell the continuing story, as does Elspeth, and we get a full view of the consequences of one's actions. ( )
  juniperSun | Aug 30, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ellen Kushnerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Canty, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Craft, Kinuko Y.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siitonen, MeriCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vainikainen-Uusitalo… JohannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Belongs to Publisher Series

Fantasy Masterworks (New design)
Folio SF (116)

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To the ones who have gone before: Sir Walter Scott, Belle and Hyman Lupeson, Rose and Boris Kushner, Joy Chute, and the Jews of York, C.E. 1190.
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I'm not a teller of tales, not like the Rhymer.
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A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence - and captivity - he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen's parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie. Award-winning author Ellen Kushner's inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.

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