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15 thoughts on “Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the Mist as Fantastic History”

They come back as decrepit labourers who can only speak in riddles, or as visions of the dead Duke Aubrey brought on by fairy fruit.

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And there are other kinds of Silent People too. Houses, for instance, which hide and yield so many family secrets.

Lud-in-the-Mist : Hope Mirrlees (author) : : Blackwell's

The working classes, who maintain an imaginative bond with the fairies long after the bourgeoisie have severed all ties with them, but whose insights into fairy business are never heard in official circles. Children, too, who must be seen and not heard, and who are therefore Silent People, at least in theory. Yet children keep bursting out with obscene or nonsensical exclamations throughout the novel; and they also keep bursting out of the bonds by which Luddite society seeks to restrain them.

Young Ranulph Chanticleer evades the attentions of the chaperone set to guard him during a convalescent sojourn in the countryside, where the boy has been sent to recover from the effects of his own consumption of fairy fruit. He too runs away to Fairyland and death. But if children can be ignored, the countryside cannot, and neither can those little patches of countryside the Luddites tend within the city limits, their formal gardens.

Both are filled with Silent People in the form of vegetation, whose seasonal cycles provide, with the changing moon, the favourite subject-matter of the vanished fairy artificers whose products survive throughout Dorimare in attics and forgotten corners. His wish to escape from these things by going to Fairyland, however, seems misguided; its people may be silent but they dedicate themselves to making things happen in the present and exposing the happenings of the past.

The proof is in the Fairy Fruit, whose consumption is what made him aware of the seasonal mutability that surrounds him.

Nathaniel suffers, in fact, from what fantasy is often accused of over-indulging in its readers: continuous nostalgia, against which he braces himself by frequent visits to the cemetery, where he reads about the lives of dead citizens who have succeeded in evading catastrophe if their epitaphs are to be believed and now rest in peace.

His nostalgia is in fact an acute form of realism, a consciousness that catastrophes have happened — the famine that killed the family of the labourer Diggory Carp, for instance, and drove him to suicide, or the murder of Farmer Gibberty — and may happen again. Instead he chases after the boy into Fairyland, another Orpheus chasing his Eurydice into the land of the dead.

Lud-In-The-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

When he gets there, he is confronted by two alternative visions of death. There have been few more convincing depictions in English fiction of a heroic resistance to fantasy, a refusal to immerse oneself in the narcotic dream to which the bourgeoisie have collectively capitulated. The historical Luddites attacked the new mechanized looms that threatened their livelihoods, and it seems harsh to accuse them of conservatism. And the humiliation of the bourgeoisie that this recognition entails opens the way for open dialogue between themselves and the Silent People they have tried to ignore: intermarriage with vagrants and workers, exchange of cultural artefacts such as songs, the legalization of narcotics, embracing the dead.

Open dialogue of this kind seems a radical concept even now, so many decades after Mirrlees was writing. We cannot repress our tragedies, our desires, our bouts of lunacy without doing ourselves serious harm — so Freud assures us.

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This Cretan paradox sweeps away the land of Dorimare in an instant, returning us to the moment when the book was written, less than ten years after the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Flu. No middle-class urban idyll, no matter how charming, could bury those historical maelstroms in genteel silence, or restore the world that followed it to pastoral stability. Lud-in-the-Mist is startling because of the directness with which it discloses these discomfiting facts to its reluctant readers, while seducing them with passages of unparalleled loveliness and subjecting them to occasional peals of derisory laughter.

Thanks Ariel! And sorry it took me so long to respond. All the comments on the blog were identified as Spam….

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Youve got an awful lot of text for onlky having 1 or 2 pictures. Maube you could space it out better? All these themes, Mirrlees weaves together with incredible deftness and tact in the space of a page novel, while developing engaging characters who play out a plot that is both heartwarming and heartwrenching — the reader, with Nathaniel Chanticleer, is asked to consider whether or not he is truly satisfied; what that means, and whence this small thorn of ache? But after he had heard the Note a more stay-at-home and steady young man could not have been found in Lud-in-the-Mist.

Lud-in-the-Mist: Unconventional and terribly lovely

For it had generated in him what one can only call a wistful yearning after the prosaic things he already possessed. It was as if he thought he had already lost what was actually holding in his hands. This passage in particular ably captures the care and thought with which Mirrlees writes. What is here is lost, out of reach, and true home is forgotten, distant, a vague inkling of memory glimpsed once a long time ago…. Lud is not an epic.

It is pastoral, it is provincial.


Not for nothing does Mirrlees choose an errant Duke over a deposed King. Her themes are intimate, and the threat is discomfiting because it is felt acutely in the heart of the reader as something infinitely less archetypal and more relate-able than an army of orcs — no sword is lifted in this story, no grand armies marshaled — only secrets kept, friendships riven, lies told, and trust exploited. Pick it up, read it slowly.

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