Away with the fairies

gr-lud-in-the-mistThis month’s Different Skies book was Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees. It’s a pre-Tolkien British-folk-fairytale mystery, with some absolutely beautiful language.

Within and out, in and out, round as a ball,
With hither and thither, as straight as a line,
With lily, germander, and sops in wine.
With sweet-brier
And bon-fire
And strawberry-wine
And columbine

Dorimare is a prosperous little nation of contended folk, with Lud, its capital city, sitting at the confluence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. The majestic Dawl connects the city to many trade routes, and has helped it grow rich. Being modern, sensible folk, the people of Lud try not to think about the fact that the much smaller Dapple has its source in the Debatable Lands to the West, a place of fairies and elves.

But an old maxim of Dorimare bade one never forget that The Dapple flows into the Dawl. It had come to be employed when one wanted to show the inadvisability of despising the services of humble agents, but, possibly, it had had originally another application.

When a plague of the much-taboo “fairy fruit” from beyond the Elfin Marches floods the streets of Lud, claiming people from high and low society alike, it’s up to disgraced mayor, Nathaniel Chanticleer to get to the bottom of things.

Lud-in-the-Mist deals with our attitudes to tradition and our perceptions of the world, and about what we choose to believe, and what we choose to ignore. The rigid framework of the law is held up against the delusions and unrealities of the past, embodied by the neighbouring Fairyland.

I really enjoyed this book, from start to finish. It reminded me a lot of The Hobbit, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrellthe latter of which seems to owe Mirrless a huge creative debt. The plot was a little slow to get going in places, but don’t think of that as a negative thing; the pace matched the setting and the characterisation, and with short chapters and some beautiful, elegant writing, it was never a chore.

Any lass for a Duke, a Duke who wears green,
In lands where the sun and the moon do not shine,
With lily, germander, and sops in wine.
With sweet-brier
And bon-fire
And strawberry-wine
And columbine

Recommended for anyone who enjoys eating of forbidden fruit,  fine cheeses and foreign wines, who can appreciate the cold night air after a warm autumn day, and who wishes to dance with fairies to long forgotten tunes.

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