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Thomas the Rhymer

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  3,410 ratings  ·  210 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
Paperback, 258 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Spectra (first published December 31st 1990)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  3,410 ratings  ·  210 reviews

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Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Most fantasy fans
Shelves: fantasy, books-i-own
This was a book I read sometime in the 90s (1995 is a rough guess), after getting it from the Science Fiction Book Club. It's a masterful re-telling of the Scottish folk legend of Thomas of Erceldoune, a 12th-century minstrel (who was apparently an actual person), who was said to have been abducted by the queen of Elfland to serve her for seven years, as the price of a kiss, and to have returned with the gift --or curse-- of never being able to say anything but the truth. The author's treatment ...more
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-shelf, fantasy
There's a lot to be said about a fantasy that is written WELL. In fact, one can argue that it is the only thing worth aiming for.

With tons of writers touching on this and that in the realm of the Fae, of wandering minstrels, of friendship, love, and loss, you'd think there would never be a way to STAND OUT from that crowd.

And then, this late in my career of hunting down all the best books on the Fae, I run across Thomas the Rhymer. There are no tricks in this telling.

It is, above all, a crisp,
Dec 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mythic, sirens-2010, 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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Althea Ann
May 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a quietly beautiful book. At a first glance, it's a small story - but it has such depth, such insight, it's so full of raw emotions and witty humour, it touches your heart and doesn't let go easily. If at all.
Jan 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
A sensually told tale of Thomas the Rhymer - pre, during and after his abduction by the Queen of Elfland, with whom he resides for seven years, returning with her 'gift' of a tongue that can tell no lies.

Fleshing out the myth and letting us get to know Thomas as he might have been before, with a tongue that flattered and lied easily, the first part of the book was the strongest for me. And while I enjoyed the plunge into Faerie, I found that Thomas's return and remaining life, as told by the gir
Lisa Jensen
May 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 26, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Para (wanderer)
Lovely but far too short, Thomas the Rhymer is a retelling of an old tale by the same name, which tells the story of a poet and harper who is by the Queen of Elfland to serve her for seven years and returns being unable to tell a lie.

What songs do you sing to them in Elfland? There, where all the songs are true, and all stories history...I have seen lovers walking in those glades, with gentle hands and shining faces, their feet light upon the grass, where little flowers shone in the shadows
Jun 17, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
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.
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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!
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Such lovely prose. I enjoyed the first two sections much more than the last two, but the ending, though bittersweet, was satisfying.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, read-2017
This is a light fantasy novel which retells the story of Thomas the Rhymer, who is taken under the hill to Elfland for seven years. On his return, he is unable to tell a lie.

I really enjoyed how lyrical the writing is. It's a story told in four parts:

(view spoiler)
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I picked this up some time ago after reading a review from one of my Goodreads friends (Werner) and finally got back to it. This is a masterfully told retelling of a Scottish legend/myth of a harper who spends time in Elfland as the price of a kiss (interpreted as perhaps something more) from the Queen of Elfland. The characters are right for the period and are very human, both with their emotions and failures. There seem to be no real "winners" in this book, though the four characters who each ...more
Dannica Zulestin
May 18, 2020 rated it liked it
I read Swordspoint last year, and now this is my second Kushner. It's not quite as good as Swordspoint, but I think it's also just essentially very different--it's honestly more a fairy tale than a fantasy, if that makes sense. Very classically a fairy tale: the harper taken by the Fair Folk, a love with the fairy queen, etc etc. It still has Kushner's strength of worldbuilding. Both fairyland and plain old England, which Thomas starts in and returns to, have their own distinct flavor and their ...more
Joy Pixley
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a gorgeous, multilayered literary fantasy disguised as a fun, engaging read: it works on any level. I fell in love with the characters and the setting, which were both painted so deeply and honestly that I was totally immersed. The legend of Thomas the Rhymer is mostly about his exciting trip to wondrous Elfland and the amazing prophecies Laird Thomas gives afterwards. Kushner includes all those elements, but her take focuses less on spectacle and more on Thomas' heart: his personal jour ...more
Izzy Corbo
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not my typical read (a romantic fantasy based on a Scottish ballad from the 13th century). I never read the ballad that the novel was inspired by, but I never felt cheated for being ignorant in the references. The plot was pretty simple: a bards man falls in love with a young farmer girl, but is seduced by a mystical being (the fairy queen) and is forced to live in her domain (Middle-Earth) for seven years, then Thomas is released back to Earth and has the power of all knowing knowledge and can ...more
Meg Pontecorvo
Dec 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This (otherwise) lovely little book should have ended with the penultimate ("Meg") section. The last ("Elspeth") section felt superfluous and inconclusive. But maybe a book that searches for a conclusion is appropriate for a story of Elflandish influence on mortalkind (given that Faerie is never changing and therefore inconclusive). As a mortal reader, however, I would have preferred a solid, satisfying conclusion.
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cover for the Russian edition, done by Yaroslava Kuznetsova, is the best one ever.
The book didn't live up to my expectations, but it was pretty good as I remember it. Actually, I don't even remember if there was something Celtic in it. Wales, maybe?
Mike Shirar
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a charming story.
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
Sometimes you take a chance on a random $1 paperback and it pays off. Thanks HPB <3 ...more
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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

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