N is for Nathaniel Chanticleer

O.K., I’ll fess up: this isn’t one of my favorite AlphaBooks illustrations. It’s based on a sketch I did on Thursday night that I’d normally have just pitched and considered a first attempt, but I was out of town this past weekend and had to go with what I had. It’s not a bad drawing, but I do tend to “default” to this egg-shaped body/trotting gesture a lot and I’d have liked to stretch myself a bit more if I’d had time. But, anyhoo:

N is for Nathaniel Chanticleer — From Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Despite being championed by folks like Neil Gaiman–who called it “one of the finest [fantasy novels] in the English language”–a lot of readers of modern fantasy aren’t really aware of this amazing book by enigmatic author Hope Mirlees. Sadly, it seems to have been out of print in the U.S. since the 1970s. (I’ve seen a few newer versions, but they’ve all had an air of dodginess about them and I’m not sure if  they’re legit releases or not.) The novel does, though, clearly have a cult following and its influence runs through books like Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norell and John Crowley’s Little, Big (not coincidentally, two of my other two favorite fantasy novels).

Lud-in-the-Mist was written in 1926, eleven years before Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and it often gets compared to that work. Aside from generally falling into the genre of High Fantasy and the importance of both books’ pastoral settings, though, I don’t see a lot of similarity there (although, I do love both books). I couldn’t for the life of me Google up the original quote, but I recall a review that nailed the differences pretty well–along the lines of, “If The Hobbit is a story told by your stodgy intellectual grandfather, Lud-in-the-Mist is one told by your slightly loony great aunt.”

The novel centers on the character I’ve selected here, Nathaniel Chanticleer, who governs the proudly sensible town of Lud-in-the-Mist but who’s forced to deal with the repercussions of his son’s having eaten some forbidden “fairy fruit.” As you can probably guess, the book deals with the conflict between chaos and order, fantasy and reality, etc.

There’s not much description of Chanticleer in the novel beyond this:

Master Nathaniel Chanticleer, the actual head of the family, was a typical Dorimarite in appearance; rotund, rubicund, red-haired, with hazel eyes in which the jokes, before he uttered them, twinkled like trout in a burn.

Overall, the town of Lud-in-the-Mist has a vaguely Medieval or Renaissance feel to it, so I dressed him accordingly. The adult Nathaniel Chanticleer is haunted by a bizarre “fairy note” he heard played on an instrument as a lad and as a result he has a sort of vaguely troubled nature about him–hence, his expression here.

Lud-in-the-Mist is either currently or will soon be out of print and I’d ruminated a while back about seeing if I could get some publisher interested in a graphic novel adaptation of the book. Having though, now seen this great Charles Vess Lud-in-the-Mist drawing that’s included in the Hope Mirrlees biography, Hope-in-the-Mist, I think it’s safe to say, he’s the man for the job:

Drawn in colored pencil and graphite, inked in Digital Manga Studio, colored in Photoshop.

Next week: “O”…

You can find all the AlphaBooks entries to-date at the AlphaBooks tumblr: http://alphabooks.tumblr.com. You can also follow many of the entries as they’re posted in real-time by following the #AlphaBooks hashtag on Twitter on Mondays.


  1. Isaac says:

    I have just ordered a used copy on the strength of your comparison to Tolkien alone. Of course I will never have time to read it, will I?

  2. Ben says:

    @Isaac – It’s quite different than Tolkien tone-wise. I hope I haven’t lead you astray. Honestly, the book’s more similar to maybe something like Lord Dunsany’s stuff than Tolkien. But, regardless, I’m curious to know what you think of it (assuming you do find some time to read it).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>