The whispers and references to assumed knowledge that brought me to Lud-in-the-Mist in the first place were these:
- Jo Walton, on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell:
Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is clearly written from an alternate universe where the great fantasy-defining genre-starting book of the twentieth century, after Dunsany, was not Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings but Hope Mirlees Lud-in-the-Mist. It’s not a great deal like Lud-in-the-Mist, but it’s much closer to it than it is to anything else, or than Lud-in-the-Mist is to anything else.
- John Clute, also on Jonathan Strange (temporary archive, do not bookmark):
What Gaiman was pretty clearly not quite getting around to saying in clear was that, in his opinion, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was the finest English novel of the fantastic since Hope Mirrlees’s great Lud-in-the-Mist (1926), which is almost certainly the finest English fantasy about the relationship between England and the fantastic yet published (a personal communication from Gaiman has confirmed this sense that Mirrlees was very much on his mind).
Also very useful, though encountered later:
- If I’d seen Elizabeth Hand’s review of Jonathan Strange, it would have increased the urgency of my search for a copy of Lud:
However, the book to which Jonathan Strange owes its most obvious debt is Hope Mirrlees’s sui generis (not anymore, I guess) Lud-in-the-Mist, one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written. I suspect Gaiman’s canny use of “seventy years” rather than a hundred serves to ringfence Lud, a novel he much admires and which was first published in 1926. Mirrlees’s novel suffuses Clarke’s like a blush: the melancholic tone; the notion of antiquarian Mysteries coming to light and changing the nature of the world; the echoes of sad airs played upon antique instruments; the mournful conception of Faerie and its inhabitants. Clarke’s gentleman with the thistle-down hair seems a direct descendent of Mirrlees’s Duke Aubrey, just as the characterization of Lud‘s protagonist, Master Nathaniel Chanticleer, appears to have influenced Messers Norrell and Strange.
- Catherynne Valente’s review of Lud, which touches on most of the things I love best about the book:
If Lord of the Rings is the big, bombastic Grandfather of modern fantasy, Lud is obviously the quiet, unassuming Grandma who showed everyone how to grow wild mint out back and jitterbug in the kitchen. In fact, given that Mirrlees published in 1926, some time before Dr. T’s opus, I would not be at all surprised if the Shire was full of Granny Hope’s patented mint. Look carefully at any work of fantasy in which urban worldbuilding, provincial farmlife, idyllic villages, or fanciful names figure largely, and you’ll see Mirrlees’ ghost peeping through the pages. She could even be called the mother of interstitial literature, since Lud combines the fantasy genre with horror and of all things, procedural crime drama and political philosophy.
- Michael Dirda’s superb essay on Lud for the Barnes & Noble Review:
Like so many fantasies, Mirrlees’s book is at heart an exploration of humankind’s pervasive sense of rift, the unshakeable feeling that Things Aren’t as They Should Be. The world, our manner of life, or even the fundamental nature of the universe is somehow…wrong. Using both whimsy and mystery, Lud-in-the-Mist looks hard at the human condition and suggests how a sick society might be healed, how our divided selves gradually be made whole.
And here’s the first chapter. Have a taste.