Kushner’s novel is a reinterpretation of the ballad “Thomas the Rhymer,” which I described in an earlier post. The original ballad tells the story of Thomas, a man who kisses the faerie queen and is then compelled to serve her in Elfland for seven years.
Kushner’s version fleshes out the story to give individual characters more depth and background. The story is told through four different point-of-view characters, opening when a farmer named Gavin hears a knock at his door on a stormy night. At the door was a traveling bard. Gavin and his wife Meg develop a quasi-familial relationship with Thomas, and observe his courtship of the neighbor girl Elspeth. Thomas’ major character flaw is that he can’t keep his pants on. He won’t commit to Elspeth because he enjoys sleeping with the various women that he encounters in his travels. One day Thomas encounters the Queen of Elfland, and does more than just kiss her. In return, she takes him to Elfland to serve her for seven years. There, nothing is as it seems, and Thomas must learn again how to understand his world.
The ballads that Thomas writes and plays are a key motif to the story, and lend it a unique voice. At one point in the novel, Thomas begins to use multiple points of view to tell a character’s story to it’s logical conclusion. Kushner’s structure of the story echoed this idea.
Even though much of the plot revolves around Thomas’ sex life, the author doesn’t use any graphic descriptions, but merely states what occurs or alludes to it. If written otherwise, it would have ruined the entire tone of the story that had been built by the ballads and riddles.
This book was considerably shorter and lighter than what I’ve been reading as of late, and was a nice change before returning to epic fantasy. Kushner’s descriptions of Elfland and it’s riddles intrigued me, and I loved watching Thomas’ interactions with a certain white dove unfold. Overall, I was pleased with the book, even though it was a bit slower-paced than I would have liked during some scenes.