Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thomas The Rhymer by Ellen Kushner-- Review

Thomas the Rhymer By Ellen Kushner is a novelization of the ballad Thomas The Rhymer. It is also a Mythopoeic award winner. The story begins when a wandering harper named Thomas stays with a shepherd family Gavin and Meg. Thomas spins tales with the old lady Meg. It is there he meets his first love Elspeth, who he sends favors to while he is travelling to the courts and fairs to harp.

In the second part of the novel, he is wandering through the hills near Gavin's home when he meets the Queen of Elfland. The Queen challenges him to kiss her and he takes up the challenge. In return for the kiss, the Queen of Elfland demands seven years of service and carries "True Thomas" to fairyland. In the book Meg sends the dogs to find him, but can find neither hide nor hair of him.

The novel describes elfland with beautiful flowery unreal descriptions. There is nothing earthly in elfland. It is a land of gardens of lilies and roses, bright green fields, and magical beauty. Still much is left to the imagination. The Queen of Elfland is more beautiful than any mortal woman. She demands that for seven years he may only speak to her, but he can sing to any of the elfen court who ask him to sing. He is also the Queens mortal lover.

During the sojourn there he saves the lost soul of a human woman by harping the answer to a riddle. At the end of his sojourn Thomas is given a boon for both answering the riddle and serving the queen. He is given the gift of truth-- the inability to lie and the ability to act as a seer or prophet.

He returns to the human world in a daze. Thomas's mind and body are mended by Meg and Gavin. He ends up marrying Elspeth. He prophecizes and sings his way to fame, ending his days in Ersylton tower.

There are poem versions of ballads like Tam Lin and the Lady of the lake throughout the book. They are short and sweet and easy to read. In addition there are riddle games in spots as well. Most of these are fairly simple. What is whiter than the milk and softer than the silk? Snow and down.

This novel is the story of a life, albeit, a magical one focused on poetry, music, and sensuality. There is a decent amount of sex and romance in the book, but none of it is pruriently described. If you want a fantasy story with music and poetry in it, this novel is for you.

This novel is not in the least bit violent and it has a lot of thought put into it with the descriptions of everyday life in the middle ages. It is a very much romanticized version of country life with fields, flowers, sheep, and meadows in the hills of Scotland. There is also a small bit of court life thrown in as well, mainly singing and feasting for the minor courts of Scotland.


It was hard knocking out a review today, but I did it. Today was quite a busy day.

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