Hope Mirrlees (1887–1978) was an English writer and scholar. She was a friend of Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot, part of the Bloomsbury literary circle (Mirrlees's poem Paris has been called by some critics an undiscovered treasure of modernism), and a close friend and collaborator of the great classical scholar Jane Ellen Harrison. She and Harrison divided their time between England and France. She became fluent in French and Russian, and later studied Spanish. Lud-in-the-Mist is her best-known work of fantasy.
Lud-in-the-Mist's unconventional elements, responsible for its appeal to the fantasy readership, are understood better if they are analyzed in the context of Hope Mirrlees' whole oeuvre.
- Alan Rodgers Books
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- 5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.81(d)
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I don't think I'm well-read enough to review this book -- as is the case with many British writers of that period, Mirrlees is far better classically educated than I am, and I'm sure I missed quite a few of her references. However, I now firmly agree with Neil Gaiman that this is "the single most beautiful, solid, unearthly, and unjustifiably forgotten novel of the twentieth century" so I felt I should attempt to review it here in the hopes that I get a few more people to seek it out. This is most distinctly not the sort of fantasy novel that would be able to get published today. Tolkien's Shire feels strongly influenced by Mirrlees' Lud, but it's not the Shire that so many fantasy writers and publishers have taken as their model, it's all that pesky questing and evil-battling. There are no epic quests in this novel, and there is definitely nothing as comforting as a black-and-white delineation of good and bad. Instead, Lud-in-the-Mist is somehow at the confluence of high fantasy rooted strongly rooted in folktale and a political thriller. It is written in a surprisingly straightforward, earthy style that nonetheless has plenty of room for some of the most beguiling and delightful descriptive passages I've ever read. It uses broad comedy side by side with the melancholy and the bittersweet. It can be read as a parable of class struggle, or as an endorsement of mind-altering drugs (keep in mind that it was published in 1926, so I highly doubt that this was what Mirrlees intended). It is most certainly about balancing the mundane and the miraculous (paraphrasing Gaiman's introduction), which perhaps explains how it came to be all these things at once. There are quite a few elements that turned people off (judging from the reviews I've seen online) but every single one of them worked for me: yes, the first third or so was highly episodic; yes, Nathaniel Chanticleer seems a bit of a bumbling fool at first, and isn't exactly likable; yes, it is very British, and quite old, so everyone reads white (though the women come off quite a bit better than in most of the fantasy written by men at the time) and as I mentioned above there are plenty of classical references. If your reading diet is entirely post-Tolkien fantasy, this novel will come as a bit of a shock to the senses. But if you actually enjoyed some of those classics they forced on you in school (things like Gulliver's Travels, for instance, whether you read the satire or not) and want some fantasy with both a brain and a heart, this is absolutely the book for you.
This is one of those really rare, beautiful book. Written an eye to irony and an ear for dry humor, it more on the order of a fable than a 'story'. Nonetheless, it is well-paced, with vibrant characters, and tight plot. Imagine 'The Hobbit' as if written by Kurt Vonnegut, and you'll have some idea of the magical quality of this book. Given the time that it was written, and the small amount that is known about the author, it has the aura of mystery and enigma about it. When combined with the fact that this workd is seldom in print, and goes all-to-quickly out of print, I'd consider the hardback.