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You Must Read This: Catherine Prasifka on Lud-in-the-Mist, a fantasy about how we see reality

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Catherine Prasifka, author of None of This is Serious. Photo by Joanna O'Malley

Catherine Prasifka, author of None of This is Serious. Photo by Joanna O'Malley

Catherine Prasifka, author of None of This is Serious. Photo by Joanna O'Malley

Reading Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees for the first time is a little uncanny, especially as a fantasy fan. Published in 1926, it is an early example of tropes that would go on to become mainstream in the genre. It is both a fairytale, something marvellous that defies explanation, yet it is also curiously rooted in the mundane and the personal. It is at once a travelogue and history, a pastoral, a comedy, a ghost story and a murder mystery.

Our story takes place in the titular Lud-in-the-Mist, a town in the country of Dorimare. It is situated between two rivers, the Dawl and the Dapple. The Dawl is responsible for the prosperity and thriving middle class of the market town. The Dapple, however, flows over the Debatable Hills from Fairyland. The conflict between the two opposing forces drives the narrative.

Lud-in-the-Mist banished all things fairy along with the degenerate Duke Aubrey 200 years before the start of the novel. It is a strangely non-fantastical setting for a fantasy novel: a legalistic place where the mere mention of ‘fairy’ is banned. Yet there are remnants of the past in plain sight.

Although, strictly speaking, the inhabitants of Lud-in-the-Mist would never talk of such things, it is common knowledge that anyone who wants fairy fruit can always find it there. The fruit is addictive and other-worldly, associated with fits of mania and strange visions. Curiously, it is also associated with the particular spark of that brings poetry and art, which have also been exiled from the land.

What I love about this novel is that it portrays these two competing versions of reality as equally fictitious. It shows us the lengths people will go to conform to society’s rules, and what happens when it seems like those rules are crumbling.

The strict world of law created in Lud-in-the-Mist is not as stable as it seems. Parts of Fairyland seem to be invading it, and changing it. Young women are disappearing, spirited away over the hills. The mayor, Nathaniel Chanticleer, must face up to reality as it really is, not the fiction he believes in, and do something about it.

This is a book about how we perceive reality, and how those perceptions can limit our experience of life. It is about a fractured society that would rather ignore the truth of its existence than reconcile itself to something it finds detestable. It is about healing a divide that seems unbridgeable. Because of this, it is utterly timeless and timely.

‘None of this is Serious’ by Catherine Prasifka is out now from Canongate

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