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"A Beleaguered City (World's Classics) Paperback – 1 Jun 1988

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Too little known, but perhaps a niche book. 10 Mar. 2014
By David Lenander - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful 19th Century fantasy story with religious overtones, or at least, one that raises questions about life after death, as do most of Oliphant's "Stories of the Seen and Unseen." This is the longest and most interesting of these, playing with different voices in the narrative, and never really explaining the events, leaving room for wonder. It's probably more akin to George Macdonald than most of the other major 19th C. fantasists, such as William Morris or Lewis Carroll or Mrs. Molesworth, but there are certainly some comparable works, such as George Eliot's "The Lifted Veil." Most of Oliphant's many books were realistic novels, but as with Eliot and Dickens (mainly in his Christmas stories) she occasionally wrote these very thoughtful and mythopoeic fantasy stories. I think this one is powerful, but some contemporary readers with whom I've tried to share this bounced off the 19th C. style and perhaps the meditative approach to this story, where there really isn't a clear resolution and the "plot" is kind of wandering. But, taking it on its own terms, this is brilliant and almost unique, especially as an early exemplar of the kind of fantasy that C.S. Lewis would write at times, or Charles Williams. It raises questions and doesn't answer them, but refuses to allow these to be easily explained away, focusing on the wonder of it all. Oliphant's work can be found online these days in the Gutenberg Project, of course, but this nice little volume collects the other stories as well, and provices a nice scholarly introduction, too.
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