Book: The Worm Ouroboros - Livre d'Or

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Book: The Worm Ouroboros
Tuesday, 15 November 2005 at 09:03 pm

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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.

Moooood: contentcontent
Tuuuuune: Débussy: La Mer
Discussion: 2 contributions | Contribute something

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rysmiel: wilde thing
Date:November 25th, 2005 03:33 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 11:33 am (rysmiel's time)
I think these are all entirely fair comments; I'm pretty sure I've been up front about being in love with the language, and IME most people either connect to that or bounce off it before it gets to Mercury and settles down.

Eddison has a really peculiar and complicated philosophy which sort of underpins Worm Ouroboros, but really provides the motivation for the existence of his later Zimiamvian trilogy [ Zimiamvia being the supposed land of the gods Our Heroes see from afar in the mountain-climbing episode ] which I have only read once, and is hard going even if you love the language; it does do more with Lessingham, and everyone in it is avatars of each other and go off on long digressions about the nature of the universe and have a fair bit of highly stylised romance and sex and there's not really much by way of a story, though perhaps it would have felt more so had he not died without leaving more than sketchy notes for much of the third volume.

You want to close an italics tag after "manly", btw.
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livredor: livre d'or
Date:November 26th, 2005 05:04 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 05:04 am (livredor's time)

_The Worm Ouroboros_

I'm pretty sure I've been up front about being in love with the language
I don't remember your mentioning that specifically; I think you just said the book was wonderful without saying why. I do find it endearing that you talk about not really being inclined to fall in love with people, but you're totally unembarrassed about being in love with styles of writing and other such abstract things. Good for you.

most people either connect to that or bounce off it
I think I more or less fell into both those camps. I can definitely see how the language could evoke strong feelings. I found it bounce-ish at the level that it did make it a struggle to get into the story, and I also found it drew me into continuing to read even though it was a struggle.

Eddison has a really peculiar and complicated philosophy
Somehow this doesn't surprise me. I really liked the comment about The Worm Ouroboros being just a story, not an allegory or whatever. But there are bits of weird philosophy creeping in all the same.

You want to close an italics tag
Thanks! For some reason I can't fathom, this computer wants to display my journal entirely in italics. I've tried changing the style, I've looked at all kinds of different views with different content, and it's still all in italics. This does make it rather hard to spot that kind of HTML error, so I appreciate your pointing it out.
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