Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrless

What would the fantasy genre have become with out the breakout popularity of a certain hobbit? Would everything have to come in installments of three? Would there still be such as thing as epic fantasy? Would it still be the big money maker that it is for the publishing industry?

Lud-in-the-Mist offers readers a glimpse of fantasy literature before Lord of the Rings defined the genre in so many people's minds. By no means is it the origins of fantasy literature, but it is a look at the genre before it birthed voices of dissent that only popularity affords (like mine), spawned a multitude of sub-genres, and twelve volume series that continue long after the authors untimely passing.

The story is simple, and that single element is the most refreshing part of the reading experience. It is sorely lacking in the plot convolution, character over analyzation, and page-turning-frenzy that marks so many of today's works of genre fiction. It could be said, and I for one would agree, that the book starts slow. And not the slow of too-much-exposition-not-enough-action of todays novels, but the unhurried pace of a true nineteenth-century novel though it was written in 1926. Upon completion of the book, what is more apparent than the 'slow' pace is the author's comfort with the speed that events happen. Never is their an effort to hurry things up or make events read faster, rather she is in complete control of the story's presentation and very aware of the fact. It is not so much a matter of forcing the reader to be patient, but there is a definite stylistic difference in Lud-in-the-Mist in comparison to a recently written novel of any genre.

Many of today's novels move at the pace of a prime time TV drama (and default to as little character development as well) as that is a viable story-telling medium that we are all exposed too. If you are able to 'unplug' and take things as they are given, without skimming to find the action you will find much to enjoy in Lud-in-the-Mist unhurried presentation.

There is an overwhelming sense of familiarity with this book. Perhaps, because of that feeling there is almost no real gravity in any given situation; even those concerning life and death. The familiarity is due to the works influence on so many of today's modern British fantasy writers: Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, and John Connolly to mention a few. While the origins of those writers works don't lie solely in Lud-in-the-Mist its influence can't be denied. From one source or another, we, as readers, are familiar with the material in Lud-in-the-Mist.

We somehow know not the trust "The Green Man" and of course the boundary of our world and Fairieland is not to be crossed (even if the 'why' intrigues us) just as we know it is wrong to partake of things from Fairieland. But think of the delight and wonder that readers at the time felt when reading this work. What we now accept as folklore was at some point in time, an original concept. This book is refined comfort food and a bit of a guilty pleasure all in one: homemade chicken soup on a cold, rainy day with chocolate cake and a glass of milk to follow.

It is this sense of comfort--almost as if you are re-reading a work that has been a long time favorite--that gives Lud-in-the-Mist such a satisfying feeling of intimacy. There is no plot twist when the hero is wronged, or the murder trial goes according to plan. What we would today call simple and straightforward was perhaps shocking in it's own time.

I wouldn't say this was the kind of book I wish I had read as a child, because--truth be told--I'm not sure I would have gotten through the slow pace of the beginning (much like I struggled with Lord of the Rings at an older age.) But having read Lud-in-the-Mist I am sorely tempted to go back and read those opening pages again, now understanding their quality and pertinence.

To think that the world doesn't have to be at risk, and the fate of humanity isn't at stake--in a fantasy novel, no less--and that a story can still have significance may shock some, but trust me, it works. Oddly enough, while this book doesn't focus on plot machinations, it is not a character study either. While we do meet very interesting individuals it's charm lies in it simplicity. There is so much room for a readers personal imagination to 'fill in the gaps' where a modern author may have spelled everything out.

Quite simply, this book is the reason I read fiction: it's fun. Much as I loved it, I can't recommend it to everyone in good faith. It is not for the modern reader, nor the timid that can't handle nineteenth-century style prose and exposition. But to any lover of fantasy that is well read in the genre and seeking something truly different that in one way or another you have read before, there is no other book that I can give a higher recommendation. It is a beautiful, non-epic, of the most trivial sort--and I say all of those with the kindest of meaning. While the construction of the book may be terrible, I'm glad someone is still printing it as I feel it would be a shame for this volume to be hard to find. As it is widely available if you up for something different, in a mundane sort of way, then go grab a copy.


Terry Weyna said...

Thanks for this review. I've had this book on my shelves for years; now I'm actually going to read it!

Chad Hull said...

Glad you liked the review.

I don't care for the standard format where plot, characters, and writing are analyzed, and then rarely nothing else is mentioned. However, I do sometimes default to that.

I feel if the book is really good (or bad), thenn there has to be something else worth saying than simply giving a plot summary. At least that is what I try for. I'm not sure that what I do always works--or makes sense--but if it works every now and then, I'll be happy.

Hope you like that book.