Lud-in-the-Mist - Hope Mirlees

Lud-In-The-Mist - Hope Mirrlees

Lud-in-the-Mist is a recently "rediscovered" work of fantasy first published in 1926. The titular town, Lud-in-the-Mist, is a stolid, Shire-like merchant town at the confluence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. The Dawl flows down to the sea, and is the source of much of the town's wealth through its trade; the Dapple, on the other hand, flows out of Fairyland, the undiscovered country behind the Debatable Hills to the West from whose bourn no traveller returns. The novel sees the townsfolk, chief among them Lud's mayor Nathaniel Chanticleer, trying to deal with smugglers of fairy fruit down the Dapple; for Fairyland and everything associated with it is held in deep mistrust by Lud's merchants (much, in fact, as the hobbit's of Tolkien's Shire fear and mistrust the outsiders crossing their lands to the Sea).


It is (like Fairyland itself) very strange, and very difficult to describe. Tolkien's work, especially The Hobbit, feels like an accurate comparator in some respects, in that on the surface Lud-in-the-Mist is a simple and rustic little tale, but below its surface are currents of deep meaning, echoes of a magic that cannot be named.


It handles its atmosphere very well: its fairies are not, of course, the fairies of the Cottingley photographs, or Cicely Mary Barker's flower fairies, all romance and sugar; they are English fairies, the strange and wild fairies of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, or even Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies. For the most part it keeps its Fairyland intangible, present only as a rumour, as strange oaths and half-forgotten tunes; my least favourite part of the book is when we actually see a little of Fairyland, which cannot deliver on the half-hinted otherness built up through the novel. This is, fortunately, only a minor slip.


I did find it slightly heavy going - it uses that facetious, slightly self-aware tone that fairytale fantasy of the period tends to use (The Hobbit I've already mentioned; see also Narnia), and the diction is, yes, old-fashioned. But I think this is going to be a tale that grows on me: wide and deep and beautiful and utterly unlike anything I've read before.