But there are rumours, of fiddlers and tricksters wooing young women, of the dead crossing over to the other side and of Duke Aubrey being alive even centuries later in Fairyland. Our story starts when Nathaniel Chanticleer, the mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist, finds out that his son Ranulph may have eaten fairy fruit. Enraged that the nasty fruit was smuggled into Dorimare, worried about his son, and secretly fearing his own doubts about the realness of reality, Master Nathaniel finds himself entangled in old horrific mysteries.
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
Summary: The story is set partly in Lud-in-the-Mist, the capital city of the country of Dorimare and a port at the conﬂuence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. The Dapple has its origin in Fairyland, which lies out of sight from Dorimare, across the Debatable Hills. In the olden days, when Dorimare was filled with noblemen and ruled by Duke Aubrey, fairies were revered, and fairy fruit was enjoyed by the people of Dorimare.
But then the rift between the dukes and the poor began to close, there arose a middle class, who rebelled and expelled Duke Aubrey from Dorimare and the noblemen were no longer the authority. The chaotic beauty of all that was Fairy was driven out and the Law was created, eating fairy fruit became a crime and anything related to Fairyland was unspeakable. So much, in fact, that the worst thing you could call someone was “Son of a Fairy!”
My thoughts: This is my fifth read for Once Upon a Time VIII. Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees is not so much a fantasy, as it is an exploration of slippery truths and the jagged borders of reality, of death, music, and psychedelic dreamery; all packaged as an intriguing murder mystery. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Believe me, it is. I highly recommend this book; so does Neil Gaiman, whose recommendations have always been entirely worth my time – as this will be worth yours. Read it!
The setting of Lud-in-the-Mist reminded me alternately of Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. But it isn’t entirely like either of the books. For one, the story is a lot more engaging than the two, it is much faster paced than the former and much shorter than the latter – one thing they share is the very gaslamp-fantasy-like Englishness.
The descritpions are vivid, mesmerizing and the frequent pearly drops of wisdom come as a pleasant surprise. This is what I’m talking about:
Reason 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.
We have the misfortune of living in a country that marches with the unknown; and that is apt to make the fancy sick. Though we laugh at old songs and old yarns, nevertheless, they are the yarn with which we weave our picture of the world.
But, for once, let us look things straight in the face, and call them by their proper names. Fairyland, for instance… no one has been there within the memory of man. For generations it has been a forbidden land. In consequence, curiosity, ignorance, and unbridled fancy have put their heads together and concocted a country of golden trees hanging with pearls and rubies, the inhabitants of which are immortal and terrible through unearthly gifts – and so on. But – and in this I am in no way subscribing to a certain antiquary of ill odour – there is not a single homely thing that, looked at from a certain angle, does not become fairy. Think of the Dapple, or the Dawl, when they roll the sunset towards the east. Think of an autumn wood, or a hawthorn in May. A hawthorn in May – there’s a miracle for you! Who would ever have dreamed that that gnarled stumpy old tree had the power to do that? Well, all these things are familiar sights, but what should we think if never having seen them we read a description of them, or saw them for the first time? A golden river! Flaming trees! Trees that suddenly break into flower! For all we know, it may be Dorimare that is Fairyland to the people across the Debatable Hills.
The character names are a nightmare, though. While I suppose all fantasy has its cute and quirky nomenclature, especially these small country stories, the likes of Nathaniel Chanticleer, Endymion Leer, Moonlove Honeysuckle, Primrose Crabapple and Polydore Vigil send my head spinning. But if you think about it, it’s not the worst ‘bad’ a book can have, is it? Like I said, read the book.