Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Five Entries from the Luddish Lexicon

And the push to promote Hope-in-the-Mist: The Extraordinary Career & Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees continues! (Not that the book actually needs promotion, since it's coming out in an edition of 200.  But I want to make sure that those people who absolutely positively need a copy know it exists.)

As a small extra, Henry Wessells is including my "A Lexicon of Lud" in the book.  It's a slightly expanded version of an article of the same name that was originally published in The New York Review of Science Fiction.  The Lexicon covers obscure words and hidden implications that the reader of Lud-in-the-Mist might well enjoy knowing.

Here's a sampler:

labyrinth of dreams:  When the Crabapple Blossoms” dance to Portunus’s tune, they weave in and out of the labyrinth of dreams.  So, too, does Nathaniel Chanticleer as he moves through the novel follow a mazy trail of dreams.  He has recurrent dreams of the Note, his son Ranulph converses with otherworldly Powers in his dreams, and his wife has dreamy and languorous eyes, offset however by the mocking set of her mouth.  In the Elfin Marches he is recognized as “Chanticleer the dreamer.”

pleached alley: An alley or lane with tree branches or vines plashed or interwoven overhead.  Mirrlees portrayed pleached alleys as a still, quiet halfway state between the mundane world and Faerie.  A passage describing how Chanticleer seeks solace in the still quiet of his pleached alley rather sinisterly concludes, “If life in Lud-in-the-Mist could always be like that there would be no need to die.”

Sops in wine: Yet another name for the gillyflower, which see.   Also a variety of apple.  Joseph T. Shipley, from whose misnamed but delightful Dictionary of Early English (in fact, a collection of obsolete words) the entry on gillyflowers is chiefly derived, memorably wrote that “Burroughs in LOCUSTS AND WILD HONEY (1879) states that bees will suck themselves tipsy upon varieties like the sops-of-wine.  This is hard to believe of the workaday bee; but I have seen lazy cows apple-tipsy.”

Mother Tibbs:  A “half-crazy old washerwoman, who, in spite of her forty summers danced more lightly than any maiden.”  Which ability marks her as an acolyte of Duke Aubrey.   Tib is a shortened form of Isabel, and hence a typical name for a woman of the lower classes, as in “Tib and Tom,” used in the same sense as “Jack and Jill.”  Saint Tibb’s Eve is the evening of the last day, or the Day of Judgment.  There being no such saint in the calendar, an oath to do something by St. Tibb’s Eve is a promise it will never be done.

the Unicorn: Described as “a low little tavern down by the wharf, of a not very savoury reputation,” and “a foul noisy little den.”  There is a touch of anticipatory irony here in that when, decades later, Ballantine Books published Lud-in-the-Mist without bothering to obtain Mirrlees’s permission (under copyright law of the times, it had fallen into the American, though not British, public domain), it was published under “the Sign of the Unicorn,” the logo for their Adult Fantasy line.


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