These Mortals Critical Essays

Margaret Irwin


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although the country to which Melusine is taken by her magical boat resembles the kind of quasi-medieval kingdom featured in most traditional fairy tales, it is updated in numerous ways. The crucial aspect of this updating is to be found not in such quirky anachronisms as the fact that Pharamond plays golf but in the moral environment of the court. This is an arena in which human relationships themselves have been reduced to a kind of game, a series of deceptive alliances and halfhearted flirtations in which nothing is committed honestly. The attitudes of the courtiers to matters of honor and the heart are those that seemed to many observers to have become the fashionable norm of the 1920’s.

Margaret Irwin was by no means the only writer of her day to find the lightness of such modishly casual attitudes repulsive, but she was unusual in finding almost as much to deplore in the overbearing kind of commitment represented by the conventional romantic heroes of the day, here represented by King Garth.

To some extent, the plot of These Mortals echoes the standard plot of genre romantic fiction in pitting an unsophisticated innocent against a more glamorous and less scrupulous rival in a contest for the hero’s affections, but this is a fantasy of a more extreme—and hence, perhaps, more honest—kind. Irwin finds little to celebrate in the ultimate victory of her heroine, and it is not at all clear that Garth has learned enough from...

(The entire section is 596 words.)