Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Mirrlees, Hope

(1887-1978) UK author whose single fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist (1926) is a minor classic. The people of the town of Lud have severed their links with a nearby Faerie land redolent of unpredictability, arbitrary use of power and danger. In reaction there is an illegal traffic in fairy fruit, a matter so unspeakable that Lud's law courts hide it in elaborate euphemisms about contraband silk. This theme both echoes and argues with "Goblin Market" (1862) by Christina Rossetti, with the fruit's attraction generalized from a symbol of sexual craving into a broader yearning after unattainables – which Sehnsucht HM implies is the wellspring of all creativity.

The perceived Wrongness of the fruit and of Faerie is gradually dispelled by a detective subplot that transfers the taint to the principal fruit-smugglers, guilty of a long-ago murder. Meanwhile various children of Lud have been lured across the borders of Faerie, generally believed indistinguishable from death. Chanticleer, Mayor of Lud – having spent much of the book being comically bamboozled by smugglers – rises to the occasion by crossing the border, rescuing others' children from webs of illusion, and pursuing his own son via a terrifying leap into darkness. In due course there comes a renewal, with the borders opened and the ancient trade in magical fruit made legal: the final chapter notes in passing that "art was creeping back" to the mundane land. Nevertheless, for Chanticleer there is no end to those indefinable longings this side of death.

HM's writing, usually underrated, moves between gently crazy humour, poetic snatches, real menace and real poignancy. [DRL]

other works: The Book of the Bear: Being Twenty-One Tales Newly Translated from the Russian (anth 1926), Fairytales, trans with HM's partner Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928), author of Themis (1912) and speculative anthropological studies.

see also: Anthropology; Borderlands; Carnival; Commedia dell'Arte; Crosshatch; Et in Arcadia Ego; Instauration Fantasy; Night Journey; Reality; Story; Time; Trompe-L'oeil.

Helen Hope Mirrlees


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.