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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Recommended: Come, Lady Death

Recommended: "Come, Lady Death" (Peter S. Beagle)

Peter S. Beagle is one of those authors who is somehow both well-known and almost unknown at the same time. He has a remarkably charming writing style, and his stories have the sincerity of children's books, but with a slightly disturbing, bittersweet flavor to them. A wonderful introduction to his work is the short story "Come, Lady Death," which you can find in the highly-recommended The Fantasy Worlds of Peter S. Beagle, among other places.

"Come, Lady Death" is the story of the jaded Lady Neville; her biggest and best party simply must be attended by Death himself. The other nobility don't seem to know where Death lives (though surely he has an estate at least as large as theirs?). In a moment of unusual inspiration and--some--empathy, the Lady Neville recalls her hairdresser mentioning his gravely ill child. The hairdresser is instructed to carry an invitation. And so Death comes to Lady Neville's ball.

The remaining stories in The Fantasy Worlds of Peter S. Beagle are longer, and perhaps more satisfying (but less charming; and therefore I mention them in passing). The Last Unicorn is the -- well, you get the picture. It's a muddled tale of an incompetent wizard, an evil king in an evil castle, and a prince madly in love with an unappreciative lady; all these things mushed together, and the lonely and lost Unicorn shines through it all. Lovely. A Fine and Private Place is odder still: Mr. Rebeck lives in a cemetery, a harmless old man who prefers the newly dead for company; but a raven is his only friend.

Even if your library doesn't carry The Fantasy Worlds of Peter S. Beagle, I think you'll find it easy to order it through an interlibrary loan. Online booksellers also carry some of his books, although this particular one is out of print.

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