The oddness of this story can be detected just by checking out the main character. Most fantasy heroes are not round, stodgy, middle-aged men who are respected pillars of the community.
But Hope Mirrlees' enchanting fantasy "Lud-in-the-Mist" defies many such fantasy cliches, written as if "The Hobbit" had been spun up by Lord Dunsany. It's a sweet pastoral story that slowly blossoms out into a very unique story -- there's a little murder mystery, an amusing village of hobbity people, and a quicksilver dream of beautiful fairyland and otherworldly danger.
Fairy is forbidden in the town of Lud -- not just fairy creatures and their exquisite fruit, but mentions of them, the dead who walk with them, and the Duke Aubrey who left with them.
But all his life, the steadfastly dull Mayor Nathaniel Chanticleer has a lingering longing/fear for a strangely magical musical note. Despite all this, life remains boring and rather pleasant -- until Chanticleer's son Ranulph begins acting strangely, claiming that he's eaten fairy fruit.
After Chanticleer sends his son off to a farm for a vacation, the teenage girls at Miss Primrose's Crabapple Academy suddenly seem to go pleasantly nuts, and then race off into the hills. Life seems to seep out of the old town,and Nathaniel must connect the present crises to a past conspiracy, all of which hinges on Fairyland, fairy fruit, and the sinister doctor Endymion Leer. The journey to discover the truth will take him out of the everyday world -- and change him forever.
Haunting music, mad dancing, and ethereal meadows filled with fairy people and strange flowers. All through "Lud-in-the-Mist," there's the underlying feeling that there's a frightening, exquisite world that is barely separated from ours. Rather than cliche elves with pointy ears, it relies on a dreamlike atmosphere and faraway lands that are only glimpsed in passing.
Originally written in 1926, Hope Mirrlees' third book is an utterly unique experience -- it takes place in a pleasantly ordinary British town and charming pastoral towns, with fairy magic seeping into the cracks. And it's something of a love ode to "fairy" -- even though the inhabitants of Lud cherish their prosperous, staid existance, the the strange and exquisite blooms over the course of the book.
And Mirrlees' writing is capable of bringing that to life -- she intertwines a fantasy, a murder mystery and a personal journey into one. The first part of the book is written in a pleasantly cozy, mellow style that focuses on the colourful, staid town of Lud. But as the story blossoms into a tangle of crises and mysteries, Mirrlees' writing becomes more lush, exquisite and haunting.
Chanticleer is very reminiscent of Bilbo Baggins -- he's pleasant, boring, stodgy but has a brave, eccentric interior that helps him become a very unusual hero. And the other inhabitants of Lud are similarly engaging and just a little bit quirky -- fairy-struck teenagers, snippy old ladies, the haughty farmer's wife, the quietly malevolent Endymion Leer, and the happily mad people.
"Lud-in-the-Mist" emerged before the mold was made for fantasy novels, and its exquisitely funny writing shows why it's an enduring classic.