Alex 's Reviews > The Worm Ouroboros

The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison
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's review
Dec 17, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy
Read from March 04 to 28, 2012 , read count: 2

** spoiler alert ** This book has the best ending ever. Well, one of my favourites, at least.

It's only when one gets to the end of The Worm Ouroboros that one learns what the story is really all about and can glean some kind of understand thing that there are some thoughtful underpinnings to Eddison's otherwise brashly heroic tale, that's brashly modelled on a range of sources with it's overtly ornate mock-Jacobean prose, snippets of classic poetry and larger than life but strangely one-dimensional heroes and villains.

The clue is in the title, but there's a wonderful red-herring, since Eddison leads the reader to believe that the Ouroboros - the one that will be continually reborn - is King Gorice and that his evil will perhaps never be thwarted. That's partially true, but Eddison's smarter conceit is that the heroes wish for him to be reborn and that they want the fight to continue forever since without they are lost. It's only when we understand this is it possible to appreciate how the book links in with storytelling and traditional narrative and even why the Lessingham framing device is important. As readers of fantasy stories we are all wannabee heroes, like Juss, Brandoch and Goldry, desiring to read about and take part in heroic exploits over and over to the extent that, once the story is over, we wish it reborn. If what happens in the real-world is finite, what happens in stories and the imagination is potentially infinite.

There's also, of course, a less romantic reading of the ending that gives it a harsher, more cynical edge that speaks to humanities insatiable appetite for war and sees these heroes as encompassing both the best and worst aspects of our humanity. If one puts this idea alongside the other, then it muddies the concept of reading heroic narrative in a quite brilliant way.

On another level, this book is just awesome because it has fantastic prose, great scenarios, characters and battles. It's nonstop excitement that doesn't really falter from page one, with the action taken to levels beyond most - later - fantasy works through the power of Eddison's amazingly colourful descriptions that I simply never tire of reading. The book is at its height when Juss and Brandoch head out to Koshtra Pivrarcha and Koshtra Belorn to rescue Juss's brother Goldry, the narrative taking on a dreamlike, magical quality (almost hallucinogenic at one point) whioch really recalled the Arthurian quest for the holy grail to my mind. If nothing else in the story could top this, the continual descriptions of battles or in-court feuding or general sense of wonder, regardless, never ceases.

This is often described as a flawed masterpiece. That may be true, but I love it regardless and it remains one of my favourite books after re-reading it for the first time in 10+ years. The Worm Ouroboros is one of the first modern day ambitious fantasy epics - even though it has an old-school heart - and, beyond being highly influential, it's still one of the most readable and one of the best.
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Reading Progress

03/18/2012 page 100
22.0% "Sometimes when a book is this good you wonder why you aren't reading more... Eddison has the ability to make everything feel fantastic and wondrous. This is fantasy as it should be."
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Terry Great review. I too love this one, though it's definitely an acquired taste.

Alex Thank you :D

Well, it didn't really occur to me before that it was an acquired taste because I find Eddison's storytelling quite intuitive and entertaining, but apparently lots of people don't enjoy it. I tend to find that about a lot of literature, though....

mark monday this is a fantastic review! your insights on that ending really have me re-thinking my own thoughts on it.

Jonathan Alex wrote: "Thank you :D

Well, it didn't really occur to me before that it was an acquired taste because I find Eddison's storytelling quite intuitive and entertaining, but apparently lots of people don't enj..."

I didn't think it would be acquired taste either. You provided excellent thoughts on that ending by the way!

Alex Why thanks!!

It's the best ending ever ...

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