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Thomas the Rhymer

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,763 Ratings  ·  138 Reviews
Award-winning author and radio personality Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.

A minstrel lives by

Mass Market Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 15th 1991 by Tor Books (first published 1990)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 21, 2009 Minli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sirens-2010, mythic, adult
Thomas the Rhymer is a worthy and beautiful novelization of the ballad, elegantly told from the perspective of four people--Gavin and Meg, the elderly couple who takes on Thomas as a surrogate son, bookend Thomas's own experience in Elfland, and the fourth by Thomas's mortal love, Elspeth, after he returns to the human world with his 'gift' of soothsaying. Kushner's language is so subtle, lyrical and magical, some passages near left me in tears. She has such a flair for words (and this book is a ...more
Susan Barchard
May 01, 2011 Susan Barchard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my all time favorite book about Faerie. I've been reading about and studying Faerie since I was a small child. And I am an AVID reader. Ellen Kushner has done more to bring the world of the Fae alive than anything else I've ever read.

Critics of this book need to understand that Thomas the Rhymer or Tam Lin is a legend. It is what it is. For Kushner to have made him pleasing to all would have been to stray from the legend. For the book to have had a more climactic ending would have been
Kyle Muntz
Nov 03, 2015 Kyle Muntz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really intetesting, extremely unusual novel. Its sort of an example of what fantasy might have been like if Tolkien had never existed, with a deeply character driven storyline and a setting very rooted in old England and its mythology, sort of like Spencer or something. its largely a down to earth, almost realist novel, interrupted by 100 pages of the strangest, most surreal storytelling I've seen in a while. (A friend of mine compared this section to the wizard knight by Gene Wolfe, and, for ...more
Aug 12, 2015 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream.
Mar 19, 2011 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
It took me a while to get into this version of Thomas the Rhymer. The story is told in four voices: the voice of an old man who takes Thomas in almost as his own son, Gavin; the voice of Thomas himself; the voice of Gavin's wife, Meg; and the voice of the mortal woman who loves Thomas, Elspeth. The part in Gavin's voice didn't grip me so much, but when I came to Thomas's part, I could barely put the book down. It's not full of action, and Elspeth doesn't play a part in Thomas coming back from Fa ...more
Lisa Jensen
May 18, 2013 Lisa Jensen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Ellen Kushner takes a traditional Scottish ballad and weaves it into something magical and beguiling in this lovely, haunting tale. The ballad sings of a minstrel lad abducted to Elfland for seven year's to serve as the Elf Queen's lover, then returned to the mortal world. A footloose and carefree young minstrel, Thomas gives himself up to the quicksilver Elf Queen and the succulent delights of her bower. Yet, he is tormented by her small, careless cruelties, by the elves' constant game-playing, ...more
Olivia Fowler
Sep 28, 2015 Olivia Fowler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Broke me up in little pieces, a prickly mess on the floor. In good conscience, today I had to tell proselytizers that I didn't believe certain books were as true as they think they are, and then I finished this book realized I think it's more true than most of the capital T True books people believe in, though clearly nothing in this book is likely to have actually happened. I suppose. How's that for a no spoilers review? HA!
Althea Ann
May 23, 2011 Althea Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love novels like this; that flesh out a traditional tale while remaining true and faithful to the source material. (Like Robin McKinley's 'Beauty', Donna Jo Napoli's 'Zel', etc). This book retells the legend of Thomas the Rhymer, a minstrel taken under the hill for seven years of service to the faerie queen, who returns with the 'gift' of being unable to tell a lie. It brings to life Thomas and those who know and love him, letting a reader feel not that what they'd heard previously of the tale ...more
This is an elegant and romantic retelling of the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, a harper who was taken by the Elven queen to spend seven years in Elfland and came out with the gift of telling only the truth. I was somewhat unsatisfied with the events of the novel, and with the character of Thomas himself, who was sufficiently self-centered that I had a hard time sympathizing with him, but the language was beautiful, as Kushner's always is, and it was overall a good read.
Nov 26, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such lovely prose. I enjoyed the first two sections much more than the last two, but the ending, though bittersweet, was satisfying.
Nov 24, 2013 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
More than enough has been written about bards and elves (although not as much back when this book was written). The two have always gone together. But this one does stand out. It's an odd book—there's very little in the way of actual plot. It's told in four parts, from four different perspectives. A bard befriends an old couple and falls in love, gets swept away to Elfland for seven years, comes home, and eventually grows old and dies. That's about it. There are no grand quests or major battles, ...more
May 11, 2010 Alice rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was such a disappointing book.

I really liked the premise, of combining myths and folklore and songs. But Kushner seems to have forgotten to tie that in with a character I wouldn't loathe. Thomas was self-centered, vain, selfish, dishonest, and unable to think about anything other than his penis for longer than an hour. He says at one point that he was enchanted to follow the "Elf Queen" (hated that "elf" and "fae" were interchangeable) to her domain, but I really didn't see him putting up a
I'm maybe half-way through Thomas' interminable time with the Queen of the Elves, and I just can't force myself to read any further. I really can only echo others who say that the first section, Gavin's, was entrancing. The character himself was charming (if a bit of a female fantasy of what a good husband should be), his descriptions of the other characters make them come alive, and the action moves at just the right pace. Thomas, on the other hand is, as others have said, arrogant, smug, shall ...more
Rosamund Hodge
A faithful retelling whose style actually catches some of the flavor of a traditional ballad--and has a few other ballads melded in, which was an unexpected delight. I enjoyed it a great deal. Though I don't think I reacted to the ending the way the book meant me to. (view spoiler) ...more
Oct 10, 2012 Katya rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another take on the legend of Thomas Learmounth. Beautiful language, absence of violence - these are the book's pluses. However, that is about it. The story itself lacks something very important - the point. I do not mean the point of the legend of True Thomas, but the point of this very book. Thomas lives here and then he lives there... so what? What was the point of his stay with the Elves? What did the riddle he had resolved while living among the Elves have in common with the rest of his lif ...more
Oct 30, 2014 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kushner's book was beautiful. It was rendered in a lovely way. The language is poetic and subtle. The ending was one of the most beautiful things I've read in a long time.

So why not five stars? I want just a little bit more immediacy from Kushner. I feel like the whole book could have touched me as the final section did if only we'd been more intimate with the section's titular characters from the start. The distance made me feel at a disadvantage with the text - I simply wanted a little further
Sep 07, 2011 Christine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a relatively short novel - about 260 pages. The last ~40 pages of the book are really just excerpts from Ms. Kushner's other works. The novel might have benefited greatly from those additional 40 pages, as the characterization leaves much to be desired. Thomas & company are ciphers - they have names, and some of them have some kind of motivation, sometimes, but mostly they are just pale shadows of what they could be.

I didn't really care much about what happened to any of the charact
Jun 17, 2013 Furio rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I sincerely envy Ms Kushner's writing skills: she is a wondrous writer, she handles her language with a subtlety unheard of and still she manages to avoid any overwriting or mannerism.

This story, though, is far from great. Some reviewers say it is true to the legend: should it be really so, part of the problem might lie in the original plot and yet the author could have done something to amend that.
Be it as it may, her characters are exceptionally dull -except for the elderly couple- and Elfland
I confess I rushed through this book the first time I read it; I wanted it to be another Swordspoint, and was disappointed when it wasn't. Older and wiser now, I've just finished rereading, and can now appreciate this gem on its own merits. Certainly there are characters and scenes very reminiscent of the Swordspoint verse: Thomas, newly returned from Elfland, has much of Alec Campion's restlessness; Elspeth, at her husband's deathbed, is very much a sister to Sophia. But these reflections add, ...more
Doug Tattershall
A well-written fantasy that depends too much on the reader having interest in vaguely- and repeatedly-described sex between elf and human. I knew there was a problem with this book when a minor character, the knight-turned-dove, had a better story to tell than the author. By the time I got toward the end of Meg's chapter, I had stopped caring about what would happen to the relationship between Thomas and his earthly love, Elspeth. This is a book with wonderful moments but without the thread of a ...more
Feb 26, 2011 phaedosia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy-sci-fi
I wanted to love this. Romance based on an old English ballad of True Thomas. But, it was just okay. The author has a beautiful way with words and I was definitely swept up in the story. But Thomas was kind of a thoughtless jerk who could only think about one thing (ahem) and Elspeth really got the short end of the stick over and over again. I had heard that this was a love story and maybe it was between the Queen of the Fairies and Thomas, but poor Elspeth sure didn't rate much consideration.
I spent the first half struggling. I couldn't work out why I was finding the style so tough when all the reviews I had seen was saying how easy to read it was. Suddenly it struck me. It was still written as a verse romance. Therefore I had to totally change the way I was reading it and start again, then it was a very quick rhythmic and interesting story.
But...once it was done it felt forgettable. It just seem to be a retelling of the legend without adding anything new.
Edward Rathke
Jul 11, 2015 Edward Rathke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very interesting fantasy novel since its conflict is interpersonal and mythic rather than external. What I mean by that is that this is all about characters. It may as well be a realist novel but for the fantastic elements that dominate portions of the novel. It becomes very surreal at these moments too. As surreal as The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe, and this actually reminds me a lot of those books, though this was published over a decade before they came out.

Give the novel some time.
I didn't expect the matter of this book -- a bard captured by Fairyland -- to be my cup of tea. I read enough about Fairyland in high school to last the rest of my life, and I tend to think of bardic protagonists as the fantasy genre's version of writer protagonists in literary fiction -- the exception to my rule of enjoying whenever someone writes a story about their own job.

However, perhaps because Ellen Kushner is a sort of bard herself, as well as a writer, I did like reading about the prota
May 26, 2014 Mjf10025 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thomas reminds me of Goldmund (Hermann Hesse/Narcissus and Goldmund), whose pursuit of pleasures proves unfulfilling in the absence of love and purpose. Thomas the Rhymer counterposes two couples; in one, each partner is blessed by a harmony of heart and mind; in the other, each partner’s heart is pulling in a direction opposed by mind. Anna Karenina works similarly, but unlike Tolstoy’s story, which uses the contrast judgmentally, to argue a moral point, Thomas the Rhymer is more forgiving; the ...more
An unexpectedly fun book. I thought I would be bored, and instead fell into an adventure told by four wonderful characters. Lovely!

My full review is hiding behind this link
i started reading this book, only to slowly realize that it was all too familiar. Turns out I read it a while ago, only it hadn't been remarkable enough to recall.

Romantic story, but a bit stilted. Enjoyable enough, but not a book that made me stay up all night to finish.
Oct 22, 2014 bkwurm rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Prose re-telling of the tale of Thomas the Rhymer, a minstrel who was taken to Elfland by the Queen of the Elves and who stayed there for 7 years, returning with the gift of a tongue that never lied and became renowned as a prophet.

Engrossing enough but the game between the Queen and the Hunter which Thomas either provoked or was a pawn was very confusing. Yes, there was a need to show just how otherworldly and removed from humanity the concerns of the elves were but surely the author ought to h
Jan 14, 2016 Leticia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
A magical book filled with emotions and incredible writing. There's not much more to say, besides wondering aloud how could I possibly follow this read.
Jun 26, 2014 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterful tale told in four parts by the four main characters, the farmer Gavin, who relates his mistrust of the callow minstrel, then by Thomas himself of his time Under-the-Hill with the Faery Queen and his adversary, the Hunter. Then by Goodwife Meg upon Thomas' return and his struggle to restore his forgotten life and lastly by Elspeth, the girl he loved and finally wins. The story was vague, an English king with a French queen ruling a medieval land. Kushner weaves a tale worthy of Keith ...more
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Into the Forest: Thomas the Rhymer- No Spoilers 7 37 Oct 12, 2012 02:25PM  
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Ellen Kushner weaves together multiple careers as a writer, radio host, teacher, performer and public speaker.

A graduate of Barnard College, she also attended Bryn Mawr College, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She began her career in publishing as a fiction editor in New York City, but left to write her first novel Swordspoint, which has become a cult classic, hailed as the progenitor of the “mann
More about Ellen Kushner...

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“There's the road to heaven, and there's the road to hell, and there? That's the road to Faerie.” 15 likes
“It was strange to see that no matter what color the clothing first appeared—and they were all hues, from earthy copper and garnet to the blue of sky and shadow—in different light all turned to some shade of green, as if there were a third plane to the cloth’s weaving beyond the warp and weft.” 1 likes
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