The Worm Ouroboros: Larger than life adventure in exquisite prose

e.r. eddison the worm ouroborosThe Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison fantasy book reviewsThe Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

The Worm Ouroboros is a love-it-or-hate-it book. Mannered in its language, weird in so many ways, and chock-full of larger than life characters acting in ways that most people just don’t get. If you have a problem with something written in an archaic style, then you probably won’t get much out of The Worm Ouroboros, but if you like that kind of thing I think the book repays reading and is definitely worth it.

First off a caveat: it took me two reads of The Worm Ouroboros to appreciate it and a third to decide that I thought it was genius.

The Worm Ouroboros is definitely unlike almost anything else out there and is a throw-back to much older works. The first sign, as mentioned above, is the prose itself. E.R. Eddison uses a faux-Elizabethan style that is certainly foreign to most people’s preference for Hemingway-esque ‘transparent prose’. Don’t worry overmuch about this though, for Eddison knew what he was doing and he is one of, if not the, only writers post-Renaissance who actually can get away with this style. He knows what he’s doing, as opposed to the myriad other fantasy authors who try to add ‘realism’ to their stories by sprinkling it with ‘thee’s’ and ‘thous’ without knowing how to properly use the language. This was a man who intimately understood the archaic form of the English language and used it to perfection… he was a stylist and thus anyone who hates stylistic prose will not likely be drawn to him, but anyone who appreciates the craftsmanship of language (think William Morris and Lord Dunsany) has to at least appreciate if not love E.R. Eddison. Reading The Worm Ouroboros is analogous to partaking of a sumptuous feast, so long as you enjoy devouring words.

The characters are not perhaps as ‘psychologically realistic’ as what is generally expected these days, but I’d definitely say they are more than just names. Think of them as archetypal ‘supermen’ striding across the pages performing great deeds for their own sake. They don’t really want to save the world, just experience it to the full, so they may not be particularly sympathetic according to your world view. I always found that they generally had very distinctive characteristics, but they did each generally represent one dominant trait or way of looking at the world.

If you want a larger than life adventure in exquisite prose then I think The Worm Ouroboros is great. If you want something else, you should perhaps skip it.

The Worm Ouroboros — (1922) Publisher: This is the book that shaped the landscape of contemporary science fiction. J. R. R. Tolkien acclaimed its author as “the greatest and most convincing writer of ‘invented worlds’ that I have read.” Written in the best traditions of Homeric epics, Norse sagas, and Arthurian myths, it recounts compelling tales of warriors and witches. And the Lord Goldry spake: “We, the lords of Demon-land, do utterly scorn thee, Gorice XI., for the greatest of dastards, in that thou basely fleddest and forsookest us, thy sworn confederates, in the sea battle against the Ghouls. Our swords, which in that battle ended so great a curse and peril to all this world, are not bent nor broken. They shall be sheathed in the bowels of thee and thy minions, Corsus to wit, and Corund, and then: sons, and Corinius, and what other evildoers harbour in waterish Witchland, sooner than one little sea-pink growing on the cliffs of Demonland shall do thee obeisance.

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TERRY LAGO, one of our regular guest reviewers, is a Torontonian who, like all arts students, now works in the IT field. He has been a fan of fantasy ever since being introduced to Tolkien by his older brother when he was only a wee lad, though he has since branched out to enjoy all spectrums of the Fantasy genre and quite a few of the science fiction one as well. Literary prose linked with well-drawn characters are the things he most looks for in a book.

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2 comments

  1. Haven’t read this since I was a teen, but I absolutely fell into the “love” camp then, reading it several times over a few years. I seem to recall reading it twice in quick succession upon my first read then once a year or so for a few years. I’ve always wanted to pick it up again and see how I’d respond. I remember trying one or two of the others eventually and not caring for them as much, though whether that was a case of the books themselves or changing readerly taste I have no idea.

  2. Terry Lago (guest) /

    It’s a great book, but certainly one that’s not meant for everyone.

    I actually quite like the Zimiamvian Trilogy quite a bit too. It’s a lot denser than the Worm though as it’s chock full of Eddison’s pseudo-Spinozan philosophy, so it’s even more likely to ddrive readers away!

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