Hope Mirrlees and Her Step-Nephew

Patrick here, with a confession: I like collecting old books.

Lud-In-The-Mist is an early 20th century fantasy published in 1925 by Hope Mirrlees, a British author of only three books of fiction and a handful of non-fiction and poetry. Lud is by far her most well-known, although even that book is not known nearly as well as it should be. It served as partial inspiration for such recent fantasies as Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, and Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Personally, I learned about it after becoming interested in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series that came out in the early 1970s, a series edited by Lin Carter, initiated due to the sudden and inevitable popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hope Mirrlees was friends with folks like Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein.

Anyhow, I’m always on the lookout for affordable old copies of these kind of books for my personal collection (I also keep an eye out for any by James Branch Cabell, Lord Dunsany, Margaret Irwin’s These Mortals, Ronald Fraser’s Flower Phantoms…etc). For some reason the first US edition of Lud is more expensive than the first British. Perhaps the production quality was in some way superior. Regardless, I liked the idea of finding a first British edition. Which I did, through the website ZVAB.com, a book website based in Germany.

Unbeknownst to myself, it was signed. See the photos below. What intrigued me almost more was the stamp on the front end paper, presumably from a previous owner. “Captain R.I.E. Mirrlees, R.A., Commandant British Embassy, Tokyo.” Who might this person be, presumably a relative to the author? might he be anyone interesting?

In a word, yes.

First I found Captain R.I.E. on thepeerage.com and assumed that was all I was gonna find. Still pretty interesting. He obviously had quite the life. But the next clue that gave me was the man’s full name: Robin Ian Evelyn Stuart de la Lanne-Mirrlees of Inchdrewer, and that name I found is often preceded by “Count”.

To the Google!

He’s got an entry on wikipedia!

He died in 2012 so there’s tons of obituaries! (…and terribly sorry to learn, but he lived a full life and I didn’t know he existed until a few days ago, so I can’t say I’m enormously aggrieved. Still, would’ve loved to meet him!) I like the obituary on telegraph.co.uk. Well, you basically just have to go there and read up on him. But trust me, the dude was interesting.

Robin de la Lanne Mirrlees

(Handsome fellow, isn’t he? You can see why Ian Fleming was inspired to base one of his characters on him! Read more at the obituary.)

But my search didn’t quite end there. Turns out he had a son with Princess Margarethe of Wurttemberg, and as they weren’t married, she went to California to give birth, and their son Patrick is now mayor of Delmenhorst in Lower Saxony, in Germany. Why is this interesting? Because the bookseller I bought Lud-In-The-Mist from is also located in Delmenhorst. Which means, in turn, that the book has stayed within the author’s family for almost 90 years until it came, finally and somewhat unexpectedly, to me.

I love this stuff, this detective work, discovering the history of a particular copy of a book.

Oh, and go find and read Lud-In-The-Mist! It’s a wonderful book. If nothing else, you should be able to find a copy at your local library.