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The Worm Ouroboros

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  3,145 Ratings  ·  296 Reviews
This is the book that shaped the landscape of contemporary science fiction and fantasy. When The Lord of the Rings first appeared, the critics inevitably compared it to this 1922 landmark work. Tolkien himself frankly acknowledged its influence, with warm praise for its imaginative appeal. The story of a remote planet’s great war between two kingdoms, it ranks as the Iliad ...more
Paperback, 446 pages
Published April 28th 2006 by Dover Publications (first published 1922)
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Kerry Maria I read to my son almost every night until he was about 9. This was the last book we read together and he was fascinated by it- often asking why we…moreI read to my son almost every night until he was about 9. This was the last book we read together and he was fascinated by it- often asking why we stopped reading it midway- circumstances and his age I guess. Anyway - he loved it!(less)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis CarrollThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank BaumDracula by Bram StokerPeter Pan by J.M. BarrieThe King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany
Pre-Tolkien Fantasy
236 books — 213 voters
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. MartinJ.R.R. Tolkien 4-Book Boxed Set by J.R.R. TolkienThe Name of the Wind by Patrick RothfussThe Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. LewisThe Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
The Best Epic Fantasy
2,707 books — 19,615 voters

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Community Reviews

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Bill  Kerwin
Feb 24, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy

This is an odd book. It begins with a frame story the author abandons after a score of pages, and features a host of characters whose names sound like the imaginary friends of a clever six year old (Fax Fay Faz, Goldry Bluszco, Lord Brandoch Daha, etc.) and a meandering narrative often slowed by page upon page of magnificent but hardly essential description. Its style is an Elizabethan pastiche of leisurely--and often difficult--sentences crammed with "hard words" and crowded with allusive phras
mark monday
Apr 30, 2012 mark monday rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Worm Ouroboros! It goes around and around and around... and back around again!

This is the story of the Lords of Demonland, their arch-foes the Lords of Witchland, various others (Lords of Goblinland and Impland and Pixyland et al), and their endless conflicts and political maneuverings and deeds of derring-do and black-hearted villainy and mystical quests into the heights of dark mountains and women so awesomely beautiful that it means instant infatuation and fearsome magic that swoops down
Sep 03, 2016 Evgeny rated it did not like it
Shelves: fantasy
DNF at 55%.

The author uses archaic words as if they are going out of style… oops, they did go out of style. This is probably the first book ever where I liked the overly wordy descriptions of everything over dialogs for the simple reason that unlike dialogs the descriptions sometimes contain words still in use in modern English. I strongly suspect it was an oversight. I complain about dialog, but please do not start me on poetry and songs. While dialogs use words which were considered archaic ev
J.G. Keely
Though now largely forgotten, Eddison's early works of Fantasy inspired both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who never surpassed him in imagination, verbal beauty, or philosophy. In terms of morality, both later authors painted their worlds in broad strokes of black and white, excepting a traitor here or a redemption there. Like in the nationalistic epic 'Song of Roland', evil and good are tangible effects, borne in the blood.

Though similar on the surface, Eddison's is much more subtle. Though he depict
Mar 28, 2016 Markus rated it liked it
So strong in properties of ill is this serpent which the ancient Enemy that dwelleth in darkness hath placed upon this earth, to be a bane unto the children of men, but an instrument of might in the hand of enchanters and sorcerers.

A messenger arrives at Krothering Castle with a demand to the gathered lords of Demonland from the king of Witchland. They are to come to his court at Carcë and swear him fealty as his loyal subjects, or he will enforce his demands by force of arms. Thus begins a gr
Another 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 it, 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 book to appreciate it and a third to decide that I thought it was geniu
Christopher Paolini
The Worm Ouroboros is incredibly dense and it’s written in faux Jacobean English. It took me three tries to get through this book, so take that for what it’s worth.

The great thing about it is that it's written from a different perspective than Narnia or Lord of the Rings in that both of those stories are explicitly or implicitly Christian. E.R. Eddison took a very different approach, a pagan one—“pagan” in the sense of the old Vikings or similar–and it gives the story a very different flavor.


The fantasy genre has become unfortunately muddled in recent history. For every Tolkien work you have a Shannara novel, for every Narnia you end up with an Eragon. Now I'm not an elitist type of reader. I don't disqualify a novel from being entertaining simply because it may be poorly written or a 'clone' of other better fantasy novels. However, that said, the staying power of a fantasy novel diminished when that novel is punctured through with unimaginative cliché or a derivative story.

The poin
On this ‘re-read’ of Eddison’s fantasy classic I listened to the audio version produced by Librivox. Now normally Librivox recordings, given that they are free, can be pretty hit-or-miss. This, I am happy to say, is a case where they stumbled upon an excellent reader. Jason Mills tackles Eddison’s delicious, albeit often difficult and certainly archaic, prose with panache and style. For me his accent didn’t hurt either and leant the reading a somewhat exotic flair (for those of us across the pon ...more
Teresa Edgerton
Dec 14, 2011 Teresa Edgerton rated it it was amazing

Rambling, obscure, written after the style of the seventeenth century, filled with characters it is difficult to even like, much less love, and the story is supposed to take place on Mercury, though it is not science fiction and there is no particular reason why the author should have hit on that planet more than any place else — this hardly sounds like a recommendation, I know, yet the book is, deservedly, considered a classic.

The story begins when King Gorice XI of Witchland
Feb 23, 2009 Terence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: Atlas of Fantasy (J.B. Post)
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Why read The Worm Ouroboros?

Two reasons, chiefly. The first is that it’s fun; the second is that it’s a pleasure to read something whose author is so obviously in love with the English language, reveling in its intricacies.

To the first reason, if you’re looking for strong, character-driven plots or philosophical ruminations on Man’s condition, look elsewhere. Ouroboros is a celebration of the most pagan warrior virtues of the Western tradition. The basic story is the epic war between Demonland (
Dec 10, 2014 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book on my Kindle, primarily on planes and in airports.

This was incorrect.

I should have been sitting in a high-backed leather chair, preferably in a tall-ceilinged octagonal library paneled in dark wood, lit by a gas lamp when the rays of the setting sun coming across the moorlands of my estate no longer provided sufficient light. Instead of a tiny plastic cup full of ice and Diet Coke I should've had, oh, let's say, a vintage port or cognac poured from a crystal decanter.

I would, of
Aug 10, 2010 Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This classic is an epic fantasy masterpiece. A perfect example that proves that works of this kind need not be sprawling volumes in sprawling series. Beautifully told (in an albeit antiquated prose style) and lusciously described it features everything that one might want including perilous journeys, great characters, court intrigue, dangerous sorcery and epic battles.

The characters are great heroes and villains of old, paragons of virtue, loyalty, determination or treachery. They deliver speech
Oct 23, 2014 Jim rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2fiction, fantasy, 1paper
This is a 'classic'. A lot of high-powered writers liked it. I tried several times to make it through it before I managed it. The language is almost constructed - it doesn't flow for me as much as writhe around before I finally pin it down. It's in an odd style (Elizabethan?) with a story that reminds me of the Iliad or the Odyssey. Great story, sucky style. Why he writes such long, convoluted sentences with archaic words in such a stilted style is beyond me. All the critics like it, but I doubt ...more
Mar 28, 2012 Alex rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cheryl Terrel
Aug 05, 2008 Cheryl Terrel rated it it was ok
I never knew what bloated meant until I read this book. At least 50% of this book described flowers and clothing. The other 50% was ridiculous. Since it was written following the First World War, I can imagine it being a commentary on the absurdity of the British cultural position toward warfare, but it would have been nice for at least ONE character to be sort of likable/reasonable/intelligent/NORMAL.

The story in a nutshell: one of three brothers is kidnapped, the remaining brothers and their f
Jun 11, 2015 Celise marked it as to-read
The books that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien? Sure I'll read them.
Alex Klimkewicz
Nov 27, 2011 Alex Klimkewicz rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
Epic high fantasy! Compared to Lord of the Rings! Rich and majestic!

Well, I guess all of those are true to certain degrees. E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros is a challenging read because it is written in Jacobean prose, about 200 years after it went out of style. Here is a fantasy story of epic supermen battling equally powerful and very evil enemies on the fields and in the mountains and on the seas of Mercury. Yes, that Mercury. The planet. They are the lords of Demonland, four epic heroes ag
Tom Meade
Jan 16, 2011 Tom Meade rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, weird
A very strange book, frequently beautiful, ofttimes prolix, and with a thematic structure that left me scratching my head. I don't know enough about Eddison so as to say that he wholly endorsed the view put forward by the Demons - namely, that "fun", or "beauty" is the whole goal of life, and that, should access to this be disbarred, it may be necessary to engage the Gods themselves in assuring the perpetuation of an indefinite cycle of meaningless violence - but given the presence of characters ...more
Mike (the Paladin)
Well...this is a beautifully written book. It has flowing prose, a touch of poetry and you can see the influence of a good early twentieth century education in the story telling.

But I freely admit I wonder why a writer writing in 1922 (or shortly before) chose to relate his tale in 16th century English. I know some love it and I also freely admit it is great for "portentous" storytelling:

And it came to pass that the King of Demon Land did challenge the monarch of Witch Land to wrestle (Wrastle)
May 01, 2014 Mario rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
La literatura épica y la fantástica, principalmente estos géneros, están representadas por la serpiente Uróboros que se come su propia cola, símbolo de la eternidad, "cuyo final siempre está en el principio, y cuyo principio siempre está en el final por siempre jamás".

Es raro encontrar que un autor contemporáneo de estos géneros nos presente una historia fresca, innovadora, que nos atrape desde un inicio y que, además, tenga un valor excepcional dentro del movimiento. Hemos visto incontables esc
Aug 18, 2008 Steve rated it it was amazing
I already commented on someone else's review of this book. Anyway, the best fantasy novel I've ever read (and the best read I've had this year). Not an easy read, but take it slow and let the beautiful language establish its own pace. Gorgeous prose that reads like poetry.
Jan 16, 2012 Aaron rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Had to put it down after 150 pages. I was thrilled in the beginning with the langorous prose style and similarities to the Icelandic Sagas. That thrill wore off as Eddison spent more and more time describing physical locations and the characters took on an odd similarity to each other. There was only one engaging character and he was seen only sporadically after the first 50 pages, totally unlike the one Icelandic Saga I read (Egil's Saga) which was stuffed with unique and vibrant personalities. ...more
Justin Conder
Sep 10, 2016 Justin Conder rated it it was ok
"Mercurial Tolkien"

Every once in a while you run into a book that completely defies your expectations from the initial chapter. E. R. Eddison's early 20th Century fantasy classic The Worm Ouroboros does this *after* the first two chapters. . . by completely discarding the framing device used to begin the story. No, really. The story begins on Earth, and seems to be taking an Earthling protagonist, Lord Lessingham, on an ethereal night journey to a fantasy version of Mercury. Riding on a chariot
Murray Ewing
Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros is one of those primal works of 20th-century fantasy that, though undeniably at the roots of modern fantasy (admired by Tolkien, for instance), influenced later writers more by way of inspiring them to follow their own imaginations than through any attempt at imitation. Read nowadays, in the context of the modern fantasy genre, aspects of The Worm can seem like flaws — such as the fact that the POV character from our world, Lessingham, is forgotten a few chapters in, ...more
Josh Hyland
Jun 07, 2014 Josh Hyland rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For the lover of language, of the beautiful for its own sake; for the lover of books and of old books: a meditation on the noble and its cost.

My original thoughts, written right after I closed the last page:


I had to READ this book; it did not pull me along (at times; at others, I would go through 50-100 pages without realizing it; the last 200 pages went by much more quickly than those preceding). This is due in part to the book's high level of English, including the use
D.J. Edwardson
Apr 22, 2015 D.J. Edwardson rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Readers of Mythology
This book is brilliant, a literary feast that makes modern works seem wanting in their command of the english language. It is written in Jacobian english and is highly stylized, requiring modern readers to have a dictionary handy to be able to follow Eddison's wide-ranging and archaic vocabulary. But those who make the effort will uncover a story rich in heroism, epic characters and events.

I did find the ending somewhat disappointing, but it is true to the kind of fatal heroic world view of the
Edward Butler
Aug 30, 2009 Edward Butler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Visionary, if demanding, fantasy classic. Most importantly, the reader must be prepared for the novel's Elizabethan language. If you've read a lot of Shakespeare, you'll probably be sufficiently prepared, but it's a good idea to have a dictionary handy just in case.

It would also help for the reader to be quite familiar with gemstones, since every surface in this novel seems to be either carved from one or inlaid with one or more, and if you can't readily match pictures to names for a lot of the
Jun 25, 2007 Elf rated it did not like it
I read this at the reccomendation of a teacher I worked with. I swear I've never had to force myself to keep reading a book quite like this one. I had to plow through each sentence and still came away utterly unsatisfied at the end. It was more a feeling of relief that it was finally over.
Apr 17, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
(My old review, reposted from blog at

Lately I’ve been trying to read as much ‘classic’ fantasy as I can. My main criteria for counting a work as a classic has been (1) the work or author is prominent in Gygax’s Appendix N [ or (2) it was written before the resurgence of epic fantasy in the early 1980s (which I, rightly or wrongly, attribute largely to the success of D&D and the renewed interest in the Lord of t
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Eric Rücker Eddison was an English civil servant and author, writing under the name "E.R. Eddison."
More about E.R. Eddison...

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