Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al
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Book: The Worm Ouroboros

Author: ER Eddison

Details: (c) 1926 EP Dutton and Co. Inc.; Pub Ballantine Books 1976; ISBN 0-345-25475-9-195

Verdict: The Worm Ouroboros is one of the oddest books I've ever read.

Reasons for reading it / How it came into my hands: Present from rysmiel.

The Worm Ouroboros is something like standard fantasy, but from before the conventions of the genre were established, which makes it interesting in itself. It's written in surprisingly consistent seventeenth century English (as far as I can tell; it reads a lot better the expected vaguely ye olde forsoothly style). This already makes it slow reading, because the writing isn't immediately accessible, but on the plus side there are some really lovely obsolete words, and a kind of weird poetry to the very unfamiliar rhythms. By modern standards the sentences are unreasonably long; I veered between being intensely irritated and rather charmed by the eccentric way Eddison tends to stack up clauses. In the end I think it was the language that kept me reading. It creates an other-worldly atmosphere in a way that the actual details of world-building fall far short of achieving.

TWO is the sort of literature that daegaer would probably describe as manly. It manages the rare accomplishment of using phrases like deeds of derring-do completely unironically, and it relies on a construction of masculinity that seems utterly bizarre to a modern reader. In a way, the characterization is abominable, but I did manage to maintain sympathy for the characters even though they are absolutely nothing like any human being I've ever met. I could complain that the female characters aren't really characters, just symbols of sexuality, but then the male characters aren't really characters either, just personifications of a certain kind of heroism and chivalry.

There were times when I felt I was reading a story by a child, albeit a talented and well-read child. The plot rambles all over the place, and the descriptions pile hyperbole on hyperbole in a way that completely loses any effect. The fantasy land of the setting is pretty much our world with a load of made up place names. And the book is just full of little niggling inconsistencies (as rysmiel did warn me, it completely drops the framing story of the first couple of chapters, for example). But it does somehow manage to hang together as a whole; there are an awful lot of incidents that only further the plot when looked at with hindsight from the end of the book. I think it's probably more sophisticated than it appears on a first impression, though there are still major technical problems with it.

One interesting thing about tWO is the way it presents the point of view of the bad guys, and makes at least some of them sympathetic, while at the same time making it quite clear that the good guys have not only right but divine sanction on their side. Gro, particularly, is a much more three dimensional character than the heroic, brave, noble, beautiful heroes.(The religion in tWO is a sort of patchwork of mostly Classical mythology with bits from other sources and bits that I think are just made up.) The ending is extremely bizarre, though it does sort of deal with a problem that the victory conditions pose. It's also rather disturbing given the date it was written, in the middle of the interwar years.
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