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Thomas the Rhymer
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Thomas the Rhymer

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  3,224 ratings  ·  184 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 1990)
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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
Dec 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 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
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
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
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
wanderer (Para)
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 as
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
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 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!
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.
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)
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?
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
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
Sep 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
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 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-by-me
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
Mar 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: ellen-kushner
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
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Into the Forest: Thomas the Rhymer- No Spoilers 7 40 Oct 12, 2012 02:25PM  
Into the Forest: Thomas the Rhymer - Spoilers 2 18 Aug 14, 2012 11:38AM  
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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
“There's the road to heaven, and there's the road to hell, and there? That's the road to Faerie.” 17 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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