Pre-Tolkien Fantasy discussion

March Read: The Worm Ouroboros

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message 1: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
This is the first monthly group read for the pre-Tolkien fantasy group and so, naturally, we've gone for the blindingly obvious and picked probably the most famous and influential work of fantasy this particular side of Tolkien.

It's been nearly 15 years since I read it myself so don't have much to say other than to point out that it was a crucial book in forming my own love of the genre after I'd grown up and realised that David Eddings wasn't actually for me... I first heard of it when the Fantasy Masterworks series started publishing - it was one of their initial choices - and thought it would be fun to try somethingthat influenced Tolkien, rather than the other way around. I fell in love with its aloofness, grandeur, intellignece and dreaminess. Eddison's prose was lovely to read and his adventure had a surreal quality that I found appealing. I've always quoted it as one of my favourite books, so hope it holds up as well for me now as it did when i was younger...

I hope everyone who reads, enjoys it ... I'm looking forward to heraing what people think!

message 2: by Simon (last edited Mar 02, 2012 05:58AM) (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 56 comments I've read this book twice before, once fairly recently so I'm not going to read it again now but I would like to participate in a discussion about it.

I would like to ask the following question:

In the brief introduction, the authors states "It is neither allegory nor fable but a story to be read for its own sake." But is there a deeper meaning underlying the surface story or should we take the author's word that there isn't and just enjoy it at face value?

message 3: by Terry (new)

Terry  (dulac3) | 38 comments I don't think I'll be re-reading this (I think it would be the fourth time for me) right now, but will also likely join in on discussion.

FYI if anyone prefers to tackle this as an audio book Librivox has a pretty well-done (and free) version here.

message 4: by DJ Bigalke (new)

DJ Bigalke | 4 comments Thank you for that link, Dulac. It's taking me a bit to get used to Eddison's writing, especially dialog. Maybe the audio version will help.

message 5: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
Except that librivox recordings are almost universally very poor....

message 6: by Terry (new)

Terry  (dulac3) | 38 comments True Alex, but this one is pretty good. I've listened to it myself and thought the narrator was quite good.

message 7: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) It's also available free from Project Gutenberg Australia here:

message 8: by Simon (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 56 comments Anyone reading this at the moment then? How are they getting on with it?

message 9: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
I am reading it but I'm only a couple of chapters in so far! I'm feeling a little exhausted from 1,000s of pages of Song of Fire and Ice so I'm taking it pretty slowly.

Safe to say I still think that Eddison is an incredible writer, his prose style is really beautiful and I find his descriptions suck me into the world and setup the story pretty wonderfully.

message 10: by DJ Bigalke (new)

DJ Bigalke | 4 comments I'm having a hard time getting into it. I'm really not used to the dialog and writing style, so I need to pay extra close attention to what is meant by everything, which is unfortunately detracting from my enjoyment of the book. I'm sorely out of practice having to think while reading.

message 11: by Simon (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 56 comments DJ wrote: "I'm having a hard time getting into it. I'm really not used to the dialog and writing style, so I need to pay extra close attention to what is meant by everything, which is unfortunately detracting..."

You might find that, if you persevere, it will become easier and you need to expend less effort on understanding it. That's what I found anyway. By the time they had begun the wrastling contest, I was hooked.

message 12: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
I think that the mistake is in thinking that having to pay attention a ltitle bit to the language is somehow distracting from the enjoyment of the book. Sure, it can be a slog at first when you encounter an unusual writing style but after awhile as you get used to it, you realise how rich it is and how that sets it apart from other books.

I agree completely with Simon that you should perservere because after a few chaptyers you get used to the style and it becomes easier to read as you develop a feel for it.

message 13: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Swensen (dgswensen) | 2 comments I'm about 10% of the way through. I like a lot of the imagery, but so far I'm finding it a tad bloated. Yes, the language is pretty and all, but not so much so that I can ignore how slowly the story moves. Going to keep on keeping on, though.

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Finished the first chapter. Very interesting. Can't wait to see the outcome of the wrastling match. I find that oddly hilarious.

message 15: by Simon (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 56 comments D_Davis wrote: "I find that oddly hilarious."

That's the thing. It is very humourous. And it occurred to me over half way through my first reading that I had been missing some of the humour, that is subtle and easily lost in the rich language if you're not at ease with it.

message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm actually finding a lot of the book to be humorous. Not LOL funny, but whimsical. The tone actually reminds me of Japanese genre stuff, especially manga and anime.

message 17: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Swensen (dgswensen) | 2 comments I giggled at "In the holde of Carce Lordinge it royally."

message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

The Worm Ouroboros is interesting so far. I like parts of, and I don't like parts of it. However, I'm sticking with it because I've never really read anything quite like it. I guess you could say I'm sticking with it out of respect for how damn influential it has been, and continues to be. I can tell that it was a huge inspiration to Tolkien, Vance, and Gygax, the three pillars of what we today consider fantastic fiction. The Worm Ouroboros is the bedrock of the genre, and should probably be seen as the point at which things transitioned from myth and fairy-tales into a genre that more resembles fantasy as we think of it today. It's even quite different than Lord Dunsany's work, although I do prefer Dunsany's prose.

message 19: by Simon (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 56 comments What is it you don't like about it Daniel?

message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Too much expository dialog. So far, a lot of the book as been nothing but characters talking to each other, telling me the story, rather than showing me the story through drama/action/reaction.

It's more like reading a play than a novel.

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Also - what's with the framing of the story in the first chapter? Very weird. What happened to that guy?

message 22: by Simon (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 56 comments D_Davis wrote: "Also - what's with the framing of the story in the first chapter? Very weird. What happened to that guy?"

That's what I thought when I read it. I don't think it's spoiling anything to say that you never hear about Lessingham again. It seems that it was nothing more than an introductory device.

message 23: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
It's interesting, that framing device. It's not entirely successful as it's quite detailed and then just...disappears, but to my mind it's there to establish to the reader that this is a story set on a fictional fantasy world and to create a link between the classical/medieval styles of literature that are very fantastical and Eddison's own work which just happens to be set on Mars, rather than in a medieval fantasy setting. Really, Worm Ouroboros could be an Arthurian fantasy or something, it's ultimately very similar in feel.

message 24: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
I'm about 60-70 pages in (yeah yeah, not been reading much....) and I don't agree about your "showing not telling" thoughts at all - but then, I rarely agree with you when you use that criticism. I personally find there to be an excellent balance between description, action and expository dialogue. I do, however, tend to enjoy scenes of dialogue and characters interacting with one another ... I don't feel that to be "telling".

message 25: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 13, 2012 10:24AM) (new)

I'm not getting the sense that the characters aren't actually interacting with one another. I love scenes of dialog with characters interacting with each other - Lansdale does this a lot. However, with this it feels like the characters are just talking to the reader to tell about what is happening. They're taking turns having monologues.

I like a lot of the dialog, I just wish it wasn't so expository. But then again, I think that has to do with the affected style.

There is a lot of description, but it is mostly describing architecture and setting, and not so much the the narrative. But then again, this seems like a book that is most concerned with atmosphere, it it creates one hell of an atmosphere.

I'm not disliking it at all. :)

message 26: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
I didn't mean to imply that I thought you were disliking it or being unreasonable. I enjoy that you can disagree and say that aspects of the text don't work for you etc. My views about this book may be blinkered, also, because I have a particular fondness for it... so I may be a little uncritical in my approach to it.

I agree, what you state as "expository" I see as part of the pseudo-medievalism of the text. The book isn't trying to be modern in its sensibilities ... it's emphatically and self-consciously the opposite, so I giess it's deliberately ignoring a lot of the "rules" of modern literature (as it were). I don't mind when books break rules deliberately, they're usually the better for it... I think that "show don't tell" is a good rule of thumb for someone new to writing novels, but I'm not sure it's something that needs to be applied rigorously. I'd say that for me the language is colourful and I find the dialogue exchanges charming and intriguing... I understand if you don't, that's fine!

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

OK - so that battle at Carce is amazing. The boisterous language really adds a lot to the epic feeling and chaotic energy. Juss and Brandoch Daha were totally bad-ass.

message 28: by Terry (last edited Mar 13, 2012 06:52PM) (new)

Terry  (dulac3) | 38 comments It's funny that you should mention it being like a play since I think that one of Eddison's major influences were Jacobean revenge tragedies. The characters certainly declaim in a very oratorical style, but it's that kind of "high style" that Eddison was in love with. It really is something other than a modern novel. Eddison's primary concerns seem to revolve around the almost excessive descriptions of the elaborate setting (as you noted), the mannered dialogue that denotes a sheer love of the language, and an admiration for a long dead ethos where 'virtue' is a very manly and Roman one, not at all the virtue of Christianity.

I don't mind the bizarre intro, but agree it's jarring. I just try to keep in mind that this was a very early 'true' fantasy work and many of the things we take for granted (like an unexplained secondary world) weren't things readers were trained to expect. They would, however, be much more ready to accept a dream narrative framing device that had been current since at least the middle ages.

Also Lessingham does figure centrally in Eddison's Zimiamvan trilogy which has a really faint connection to the Worm.

message 29: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 14, 2012 02:29PM) (new)

I'm struggling with this. I read this last night, this morning, and at lunch today, but then I realized that I hadn't really understood anything that's going on. I'm finding the paragraphs of monologues and dialog to be very tedious. There are parts that I love, but I'm finding them less and less...

The thing is, it's not that the plot or themes are complex. I love challenging fiction when it comes to plot and theme. I love experimental fiction like The Great Lover, or JG Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition. These books are hard to read and decipher, but I get joy out of figuring them out.

I'm just not getting a lot of joy out of The Worm Ouroboros. In many ways, it feels like I'm reading Shakespeare. I know Shakespeare is a good writer, and his love for the language is apparent. The same can be said about Eddison. Unfortunately, I simply do not share this love for the language.

It's weird though, because on the other hand I love Lord Dunsany's style and the language he uses.

Maybe I just don't like the Jacobean style.

message 30: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
Lots of strikeouts on this book.

*ducks for cover*

message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

No need to duck! I'm glad I'm at least struggling through it. It feels like it is something I should at least try, even if I don't love it.

message 32: by Simon (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 56 comments If you don't come to love the dialogue, you probably won't love the book. That's what I think anyway. The dialogue is an integral part of what makes this a great story. I loved the banter and rhetorical speeches. But it's not for everybody, that's for sure.

message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

I wish I was one of the people that loved this.

message 34: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
I agree with Simon. I truly love the language of the book and I'm not lying when I say that I've gotten a kick out of something on nearly every page ... I think it's just so beautifully written and descriptive. Absolutely the dialogue and the exchanges between characters is something that draws me into the world rather than pushing me away.

message 35: by Terry (last edited Mar 15, 2012 04:37AM) (new)

Terry  (dulac3) | 38 comments Definitely agree. Eddison's prose is the backbone of the Worm and loving it is what allows you to love the book, having issues with it makes the book a bigger obstacle. If it makes you feel any better it took me a few reads to appeciate Eddison. My first read I didn't finish the book, my second read I did and appreciated it much more, my third read I loved it and considered it a classic.

message 36: by DJ Bigalke (new)

DJ Bigalke | 4 comments So after half a month I've only been able to make it through 100 pages. Every time I try to read this, I manage to nod off. This might have a lot to do with my hectic schedule as well as the writing style. I'm going to have to give this another go and a different time.

Oddly enough, whenever I would start to nod off from Worm Ouroborous, I would switch to Albert Camus' The Stranger. I book I first read in high school and couldn't stand. I'm really digging it now, though. I guess there's a time and place for everything.

message 37: by Alex (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
Well, I finished and wrote a sort of review to try and capture how I felt about it. It's not the kind of book that one can sum up in a couple of hundred words... It's a terrific book

To try and have a stab at Simon's question. I don't think one should take what an author writes about his/her work at face value necessarily. I think that Eddison, on this occasion, was probably wary that people would approach his work in a particular way due to the nature of it being a "fantasy" novel and therefore a little peculiar, so he wanted to say, "look, just enjoy this as a story". Also, like LOTR I don't think that there's necessarily a direct allegory or meaning to the work and I think he was probably trying to discourage people from thinking that it was an Animal Farm style allegory, wherevy the Juss represented x and Gorice represented Y etc.

i.e I don't think that the story is without meaning or that he's trying to say that it's a meaningless story and "just for fun" (though it is fun)

message 38: by Simon (last edited Mar 29, 2012 01:24AM) (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 56 comments I think that one thing we can take from this story is that the journey is more important than the destination. It is not the having but the striving for that gives our lives meaning.

A spoiler follows:
(view spoiler)

message 39: by Alex (last edited Mar 29, 2012 01:34AM) (new)

Alex  | 51 comments Mod
Well, the jounrey is more important for the characters. The heroism and being regarded as heroes by others is more important for the characters too... there's a wonderful line where Juss brags so much about how many amazing deeds he's performed it's blatantly absurd and for a small moment the reader - surely - thinks "do I really like these guys???"

Yeah, I agree... reading literature is about going on a journey and when we finish the novel, if it's good, we're a little bit sad and kind of want to start again, or start the next one right away.

message 40: by mark (new)

mark monday (majestic-plural) | 17 comments got a late start on this one. a few chapters in and i am completely loving it. just everything about it. very happy that i bought the Zimiamvian Trilogy as a lad and that they are now waiting on standby.

will have to check in later on this thread and any linked reviews once i get further along in the novel.

message 41: by Terry (new)

Terry  (dulac3) | 38 comments Awesome! I look forward to the review.

message 42: by mark (new)

mark monday (majestic-plural) | 17 comments thanks, probably will work on the review tomorrow.

overall, i thought this was a really enjoyable novel. the elaborate, artificial prose was both the selling point for me... and also the reason why i often fell asleep with this book in hand.

i appreciated the almost exquisitely artificial language, but my favorite thing about the novel was actually its sense of humor. not laugh out loud funny (although that may have happened a couple times), but just droll. the way these guys carp at each other and egg each other on, the various sly or open barbs the two camps use when describing their enemies, amusing displays of haughtiness, etc.

although few characters were genuinely three-dimensional, i did like how each major character was differentiated from each other. i really got a sense of how Brandoch was different from Spitfire who was different from Juss, etc. or how Corinius was different from Corund who was different from Corbus.

i did think that Gro and Corund were three-dimensional. Gro in particular. what a fascinating character. and Corinius was a very amusing villain. Eddison really nailed Corinius and Corbus and how they were both so despicable, but in such different ways.

i did not appreciate that sad death for the little Imp!

a great deal of homoeroticsim in how the male characters are described. that was... interesting. and surprising.

the two women outside of the immortal Queen were enjoyable characterizations. so strong! and of course, so dazzlingly beautiful that the slightest glance their way meant insta-love.

i thought the ending was perfect for the novel (revive those villains so we can all play at war again)... and also perfectly abominable. it really dashed away any human or tragic or real connection to death, war, suffering, etc. it made me understand why Tolkein enjoyed the book but loathed the message.

message 43: by Terry (new)

Terry  (dulac3) | 38 comments I think I agree with everything in this post Mark. I also found it interesting how the characters could rarely be considered three-dimensional, and yet they were each unique and interesting. Given the larger than life actions they undertake and the philosophy underpinning this book it's not surprising that the characters are more like archetypes than psychologically realistic people...that being said they certainly never fall into the realm of mere allegory and almost seem to blend together in such a way as to make the entirety of the cast of characters work like some kind of macro-level character study.

Sriva and Prezmyra are great female characters, don't you think? In many ways they fall into what could be considered feminine archetypes, and yet they are no less strong for that. Just wait until you meet Fiorinda in the Zimiamvian trilogy if you start it. :)

message 44: by mark (new)

mark monday (majestic-plural) | 17 comments i actually had forgotten about Sriva when i wrote this - i was thinking of Prezmyra and the Demonland Lady who Gro later falls in love with at Krothering.

but Sriva was great too. little minx!

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