Lud-in-the-Mist Critical Essays

Hope Mirrlees


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Little is known about Hope Mirrlees, a minor novelist of the 1920’s, whose other books The Counterplot (1924) and Madeleine (1919) are seldom reprinted or discussed. Lud-in-the Mist was retrieved from obscurity by Lin Carter, who republished the fantasy novel in the 1970’s.

Mirrlees contrasts the “pastoral sobriety” of Dorimare with the “distinctly exotic” country to the West. The citizens of Lud-in-the-Mist have successfully eliminated variability in and unpredictability from their lives. In doing so, however, they have traded the lively “magic” that lies in art, music, dancing, and singing for the stolid and static world of commerce and law.

The illegal smuggling of fairy fruit threatens Lud’s security. For Nathaniel Chanticleer, the insanity that results from eating fairy fruit resembles the lifelong struggle he has had in maintaining a veneer of sanity and respect. The Note he initially hears from his lute represents this struggle, and it also signifies his capacity to accept and comprehend the danger to his son and daughter and to the community at large. His response to Ranulph and Prunella’s actions is not one of censure, but one of love. His devotion to the rule of law uncovers the duplicitous actions of Clementina Gibberty and Endymion Leer and preserves the sanity and structure of Lud’s government; however, it is his “insane” devotion to his family and his willingness to make a hopeless journey to Fairyland to save his children that prove decisive in the survival of Lud-in-the-Mist.

Allowing fairy fruit back into Lud signifies the necessary balance that must exist between fairy and fact, poetry and prose, stability and change. Even the dead from Fairyland (such as Duke Aubrey, one of the “Silent Ones”) call out, asking not only to be remembered but also that their memory not be tarnished by lack of use. The dead represent a stimulus for healthy growth and creative change.