Volume 72, Issue 3, Summer 2020
Lud-in-the-Mist as Memento Mori
Existential Anxiety and the Consolations of an Aesthetic Theology in Hope Mirrlees’s Fantasy Novel
This essay of practical literary criticism explores how Hope Mirrlees’s fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist draws upon biblical and medieval narrative traditions to develop a fantasy tale whose Christian theology is smuggled in as sweetly and subtly as the novel’s fairy fruit. Through my analysis, I argue that Mirrlees uses symbolism and allegory to develop an aesthetic theology aimed at addressing her own and her protagonist’s existential anxiety about death. In the course of that theological tale, she represents faith as an antidote to existential fear and sacramental ritual as a means of reconciling the spiritual and material, the divine and the human, both of which have become estranged at the novel’s start. In that regard, her story about the return of Catholic sacramentalism to the bourgeois town of Lud-in-the-Mist adumbrates her own turn to Catholicism in the years after the novel’s publication, suggesting for Mirrlees’s enigmatic biography an earlier and more gradual turn to religious conversion than has hitherto been described in scholarly accounts of her evolution as a religious thinker.