Warning: This post may contain spoilers for E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros
My reading list is currently over a hundred books long (you can see it if you join me on GoodReads, or in the site’s sidebar), so just because I add a book to the list doesn’t mean that I read it immediately. However, this book was particularly intriguing to me because of its purported nature as one of the earliest works of fantasy that inspired such authors as Tolkien and CS Lewis, and so when I needed a book to read after finishing the masterpiece that was Rhythm of War, I decided to turn from one of the newest fantasy books to what could be called one of the oldest: The Worn Ouroboros. Or, the reply I got accompanied by a raised eyebrow whenever I told someone what I was reading: The Aurora Borealis?
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into this read, as I make something of a point not to read too many reviews before I start a new book so as to not bias myself one way or another from what other people thought. Whatever it was I expected, I found something very different. After I finished it, I did see a review that aligned this book with something like The Iliad, which I think might be the most apt comparison of which I can think. This has a very mythical feel: all of the characters are larger-than-life, both they and their enemies are exaggerated in their powers and personalities, and character arcs are largely absent.
That does not mean that the characters are not complex, however – this just don’t change very much over the course of the book. Once I got into it, I found that the story kept pulling me along, and while some of the story should have been predictable, it was an oddly refreshing experience. As I was reading, I kept picking up hints and pieces that have survived and been recycles thousands of times to make their way from this book to the newest works in the genre.
We do need to talk about the language. If you’ve been following the site for awhile, you know that I have something of a love affair with the English language. E.R. Eddison makes that relationship look like a mere passing acquaintance. The entire book is written in florid prose that takes some time and effort to unravel. The sentences don’t flow in the same way that we are accustomed to our sentences flowing, and some of the vocabulary is a bit obscure (although I only had to look up a word or two, so I wouldn’t call it intimidating or archaic, as many have). Sometimes, that made it hard to get into, but oddly enough, once I got into it, that style actually helped pull me along and keep my interested in the book. Reading could be slow-going, though, because each time I picked up the book again it took me ten minutes to set my brain to the proper rhythm for reading Eddison’s style of prose, and then something would come along and jar me out of it again, and I’d have to start all over.
One of the oddest things about the book, at least the version that I have, is that Eddison includes a brief summary of the events of each new chapter at the beginning, right beneath the chapter title. It reminded me of the epigraphs or poems or other inserts that some authors like to include at the beginnings of their chapters, but I’m not sure what these summaries accomplished, other than to tempt the more impatient readers to just skip from chapter to chapter by reading the summaries.
I have to say that I liked this book. I enjoyed picking out those traits that I could see evolving into modern fantasy, I appreciated how the linguistic style forced me to slow down and really dig deeply into the writing, and the story, for all its relative simplicity compared to the often intricate plots and sub-plots and twists and turns of more modern literature, was oddly compelling. Despite that, I’m not sure that I can recommend this book, at least not unilaterally. It was a very different experience from almost anything else that I’ve read. So I suppose if you’re in the mood for something a little eccentric, a) you’ve come to the right place, here at IGC Publishing, and b) you should consider trying The Worm Ouroboros.