The Worm Ouroboros Hardcover – Jan 2005
|New from||Used from|
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
About the Author
Eric Rucker Eddison, (1882 –1945) was an English civil servant and author, writing under the name E. R. Eddison. Biography: Born in Adel, Leeds, Eddison's early education came from a series of private tutors, whom he shared with the young Arthur Ransome. Ransome recalls Eddison's daring and machiavellian methods of getting rid of unpopular teachers in his autobiography. Afterwards Eddison was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Oxford and joined the Board of Trade in 1906, retiring in 1938 to work full-time on his fiction. He was also a member of the Viking Society for Northern Research. During a distinguished career he was appointed a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1924 and a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1929 for public service with the Board of Trade. He and his wife had one child, a daughter. Their son-in-law, Kenneth Hesketh Higson, a Royal Air Force pilot, died in an air fight over Italy in the Second World War. Writing: Eddison is best known for the early romance The Worm Ouroboros (1922) and for three volumes set in the imaginary world Zimiamvia, known as the Zimiamvian Trilogy: Mistress of Mistresses (1935), A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941), and The Mezentian Gate (1958). These early works of high fantasy drew strong praise from J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, (alongside whom he was considered an occasional member of the Inklings) and later, Ursula K. Le Guin. Tolkien generally approved Eddison's literary style, but found the underlying philosophy rebarbative; while Eddison in turn thought Tolkien's views "soft". Other admirers of Eddison's work included James Stephens, who wrote the introduction to the 1922 edition; James Branch Cabell, who provided a foreword for the 1926 American edition; Robert Silverberg, who described The Worm Ouroboros as "the greatest high fan-tasy of them all"; and Clive Barker. Eddison's books are written in a meticulously recreated Jacobean prose style, seeded throughout with fragments, Shakespeare and Webster,Norse sagas and French medieval lyric poems. Critic Andy Sawyer has noted that such fragments seem to arise naturally from the "barbarically sophisticated" worlds Eddison has created. The books exhibit a thoroughly aristocratic sensibility; heroes and villains alike maintain an Olympian indifference to convention. Fellow fantasy author Michael Moorcock wrote that Eddison's characters, particularly his villains, are more vivid than Tolkien's..
Showing 1-8 of 8 reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
His prose is beautiful, as everyone remarks. If you don't have the patience for sentences of more than two clauses, or if you have a prim horror of archaic language, you should skip this book. (Or maybe you should re-examine the rewards of patience: but that's another matter). But if you have the capacity to appreciate beautiful English prose, if you can read Sir Thomas Browne or the King James Bible with pleasure, then you have a treat in store. Read this book: there aren't many like it.
There's a serious philosophy in this book. Eddison believes in greatness. It's no accident that his literary antecedents are in classical Greece and Iceland: Alkibiades and Grettir would have understood his devotion to the heroic, to the ferocious, doomed attempt to set one's indelible mark on the stream of time. For Eddison the reckless, whole-hearted, passionate life is the only life worth living, and the only life worth writing about.
It's not a philosophy I agree with. It lives too close to fascism and machismo for me: it insists upon and glorifies a sense of Self that I think is ultimately nonsense. But it's a philosophy that produced much of the most beautiful literature of the last century: Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats often wrote from just this standpoint. It may be wrong, but it's not childish. It situates Beauty at the heart of the world: greatness, to Eddison, is beautiful action, and all beautiful things demand worship. And reward it. "What I have promised," says Eddison's Aphrodite, "I will perform."
Read this book. Read Mistress of Mistresses too. They're dazzling, magnificent books.
That said, "The Worm Oroborous" is heroic fantasy at its best, and it's told in language befitting the subject matter. The heros are truly heroic, and the villains are truly villainous, but worthy adversaries. And it does as good a job as I've seen of presenting the classical warrior ethic. It's a somewhat difficult book, but well worth the effort.
On the down side, the names of the characters and the places tend to be silly and to detract from the overall presentation. It also probably wouldn't be a bad idea to start at chapter 2.
This is perhaps the most unique book I have ever read. In his brief but eloquent tribute to Eddison, his friend C.S. Lewis described his work as representing 'a new literary species, a new rhetoric, a new climate of the imagination', and those approaching his magnum opus, The Worm Ouroboros (1922) for the first time, may find themselves agreeing wholeheartedly. The worm ouroborous itself, the snake which eats its own tail, has its origins in ancient Egypt and Greece, as well as many parallels in European, Chinese and Indian cultures, but for Eddison, its function is almost entirely symbolic. It represents, for him, and the characters in his wonderful novel, an endless cycle of recurrence and repetition; in short, history constantly playing itself back-and-over again.
The novel begins conventionally enough, with a genial English gentleman called Lessingham spending a night apart from his lovely wife, but he is soon whisked off to the planet Mercury by a wingéd chariot, either in his dreams or in reality, to witness the events of a great war between the inhabitants of Demonland and Witchland. Lessingham however soon disappears, never to return (except as a central character in Eddison's other major work, the Zimiamvian trilogy), having fulfilled his rather obvious role as a plot-device. In Mercury, we see the Lords of Demonland, the brothers Lord Juss, Spitfire, Goldry Bluszco and their kinsman, Brandoch Daha, receiving in their court an emissary from Witchland, who, on behalf of his sovereign, Gorice XI, makes a territorial claim upon Demonland. They spurn his claims and elect to settle the dispute on the chance of a wrestling match between Goldry and Gorice, to be held in the neutral Foliot Isles. Goldry wins the match, which ends with the death of Gorice, but in order to avenge his predecessor, and with the help of a resourceful Goblin named Gro, the new King of Witchland (Gorice XII) unleashes from the Pit an awesome Satanic force, which falls upon the Demons as they return by ship to their home.
Although all the Demons are shaken, only Goldry is spirited away, and the remainder of the novel deals with their quest to find him again, and to defeat Witchland in all-out war. After many adventures, they succeed in rescuing Goldry, and in a final battle vanquish their enemies. With one last throw of the dice, Gorice XII again attempts to release a sending, but this time without the help of Gro, who has defected to the Demons. He fails in this, and the black spirit consumes him and all his works. The Demons themselves, however, find victory not entirely to their taste, as their agonistic mentality demands constant strife. So, with the help of the Gods, they are returned to the events which began the novel, and thus Eddison completes the circle suggested by his title.
Admittedly, the novel has many grave, even risible, faults. For example, the inhabitants of Mercury are given to quoting songs and passages largely from the work of Scottish and English writers such as Dunbar, True Thomas, Carew and Donne, hardly a proposal realistic enough for any modern reader to take seriously. Moreover, the Demons, Witches, Goblins, Imps and Pixies bear little or no resemblance to the types suggested to us by their generic names. But even so, suspension of disbelief is a surprisingly easy task with the work of Eddison, and this is because he is a powerful and supremely confident storyteller. Much, perhaps overmuch, has been made of the difficulty of Eddison's mellifluous Jacobean prose, but not without reason, for his word-hoard is enormous and his command of 17th century English idiom absolute, to say nothing of the range of his medieval and classical allusions. But readers familiar with Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson will soon find themselves warming to the lusciousness of the style, perhaps even before the intriguing and compelling plot, with its echoes of Homer and the Norse sagas, draws them in irrevocably.
There are many striking scenes: King Gorice's conjuration, the Demon soldier Arnod's off-screen account of the conduct of Brandoch Daha at the Battle of Krothering Side, Juss's fight with the mantichore (a beast like a lion but with the face of a man and a poisonous tail), the first hatching of the hippogriff or wingéd horse, the demise of Mivarsh Faz in the jaws of a crocodile in accordance with an old prophecy, the suicide of the Lady Prezmyra, Gro's encounter with the little folk, and so on. The character and placenames alone are a veritable feast: Jalcanaius Fostus, Gaslark, Corund, Corinius, Corsus, La Fireez, Carcë, Salapanta Hills, Moruna, Eshgrar Ogo, Koshtra Pivrarcha and Belorn, Ravary, Ishnain Nemartra, Krothering and Zora Rach Nam Psarrion, although one such name at least, (Fax Fay Faz), is decidedly corny.
Here, fully 15 years before Tolkien's The Hobbit and more than 30 before The Lord of the Rings, we encounter Eddison taking a fully-fledged, eagle's flight into high fantasy. But apart from the odd phrase or oath which draws upon the Christian mythos, there is nothing even implicitly Christian about Eddison's vision, no definitive sense of redemption such as we find in Tolkien, and he exhibits a dark, unhallowed, almost hallucinatory power in many of his scenes, which can still shock modern readers. Indeed, it was these qualities which led Lewis to state that he found Eddison's world 'alien and even sinister'.'Once there was a man called Eddison dwelt in an old low house in Marlborough ...'
Let's hear from all those Eddison fans out there!