Lud-in-the-Mist is a 1926 fantasy novel by Hope Mirrlees. It can be read online here. I find this delightful, easy to read, and interesting throughout. How I never read it 'til now is a mystery.
from the back of the book:
Lud-in-the-Mist, the capital city of the small country Dorimare, is a port at the confluence of two rivers, the Dapple and the Dawl. The Dapple has its origins beyond the Debatable Hills to the west of Lud-in-the-Mist, in Fairyland. In the days of Duke Aubrey, some centuries earlier, fairy things had been looked upon with reverence, and fairy fruit was brought down the Dapple and enjoyed by the people of Dorimare. But after Duke Aubrey had been expelled from Dorimare by the burghers, the eating of fairy fruit came to be regarded as a crime, and anything related to Fairyland was unspeakable. Now, when his son Ranulph is believed to have eaten fairy fruit, Nathaniel Chanticleer, the mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist, finds himself looking into old mysteries in order to save his son and the people of his city.favorite quotes:
You should regard each meeting with a friend as a sitting he is unwillingly giving you for a portrait -a portrait that, probably, when you or he die, will still be unfinished. And, though this is an absorbing pursuit, the painters are apt to end pessimists. For however handsome and merry may be the face, however rich may be the background, in the first rough sketch of each portrait, yet with every added stroke of the brush, with every tiny readjustment of the "values," with every modification of the chiaroscuro, the eyes looking out at you grow more disquieting. And, finally, it is your own face that you are staring at in terror, as in a mirror by candle-light, when all the house is still.
as summer is ending:
Then the trees, after their long silence, began to talk again, in yellow and red. And the days began to shrink undr one's own eyes. And Master Nathaniel's pleached alley was growing yellower and yellower, and on the days when a thick white mist came rolling up from the Dapple it would be the only object in his garden that was not blurred and dimmed, and would look like a pair of giant golden compasses with which a demiurge is measuring chaos.
when asked if she is "quite happy:
"Well, and even if I'm not," retorted Hempie, "where's the good of crying, and retching, and belching, all day long, like your lady downstairs? Life has its sad side, and we must take the rough with the smooth. Why, maids have died on their marriage eve, or, what's worse, bringing their first baby into the world, and the world's wagged on just the same. Life's sad enough, in all conscience, but there's nothing to be frightened about in it or to turn one's stomach. I was country-bred, and as my old granny used to say, "There's no clock like the sun and no calendar like the stars." And why? Because it gets one used to the look of Time. There's no bogey from over the hills that scares one like Time. But when one's been used all one's life to seeing him naked as it were, instead of shut up in a clock, like he is in Lud, one learns that he is as quiet and peaceful as an old ox dragging the plough. And to watch Time teaches one to sing...."
... the highest spiritual destinies are not always reserved for the strongest men, nor for the most virtuous ones.
SF Site calls it "exquisitely written" and closes with this:
If the recommendations of authors like Neil Gaiman, Mary Gentle, Elizabeth Hand, Johanna Russ, and Tim Powers mean nothing to you, and the description of the Chanticleer's garden on the second page of the book doesn't impress you as some of the most evocative descriptive writing in fantasy, then by all means leave Lud-in-the-Mist to a chosen few and sink yourself in the mire of the latest doorstop that passes itself off as fantasy.Infinity Plus has a review and also an article by Michael Swanwick called, "The Lady Who Wrote Lud-in-the-Mist". That article is a history of both book and author and describes the book as "simultaneously one of the least known and most influential of modern fantasies."