After witnessing the horrors of the trenches of the Great War, 18-year-old Alex White faces a different kind of terror in the countryside of Northern England: faeries.
It's the wee people living deep in the forest, not the Boche with their bullets and bayonets, who threaten the young American. Protecting him is an unlikely ally, Magda, a witch old enough to be his mother.
Then there's the lithe Ruthana, with her cream-colored skin and golden hair, only 3 feet tall but big enough to kiss Alex's lips and steal his heart. Too bad that her brother Gilly has despised human beings ever since a hunter shot and killed his shape-shifting father. And Magda, it turns out, has a dark side herself.
Author Richard Matheson makes it all seem believable as well as compelling, at least enough so that readers of his new novel, "Other Kingdoms," can identify with Alex's fears, hopes and regrets.
The fantastical has long been Matheson's kingdom. He has found his widest audience with memorable teleplays for television's "The Twilight Zone" and with movies adapted from his novels "I Am Legend," "What Dreams May Come" and "Somewhere in Time." In this new tale, he wraps the fantastic around themes that recur in his work: the joy of love, the pain of loss and the longing for a chance to make things right.
"Other Kingdoms" is written from the perspective of a writer - a typical Matheson protagonist - looking back on events that he still doesn't quite understand. At 82, roughly Matheson's own age, the elderly Alex is an annoying storyteller at times (too many asides), but so wonderfully eccentric that it's difficult to want to tell him to stop.
Faerie lore suggests that different types have different abilities - human beings would call them tricks. Matheson himself is a literary faerie of sorts, his trick being his ability to coax us off a story's familiar pathway to take us deep and deeper into his world until we accept what we instinctively reject. Those open to imagining such things couldn't ask for a better guide.
Douglass K. Daniel is the author of "Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News" (University of Texas Press).