Laxus and those sons of Corund walked on an afternoon in Krothering home mead. The sky above them was hot and coloured of lead, presaging thunder. No wind stirred in the trees that were livid-green against that leaden pall. The noise of mattock and crow-bar came without intermission from the castle. Where gardens had been and arbours of shade and sweetness, was now but wreck: broken columns and smashed porphyry vases of rare workmanship, mounds of earth and rotting vegetation. And those great cedars, emblems of their lord’s estate and pride, lay prostrate now with their roots exposed, a tangle of sere foliage and branches broken, withered and lifeless.
The above passage is actually less florid than many that appear in a real curio of a novel, The Worm Ouroboros. I am posting about it to share my reactions, but moreso to hear what RBC readers think of this remarkable book.
I searched the Internet some time ago and found two lists of the “Greatest 100 English-language novels” (which I can now no longer find and link to, sorry). One list was based on the votes of literary critics and the other was based on the votes of Internet users. Both lists contained some great books (e.g., “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”) some overrated ones (e.g., “A Separate Peace”) and in what I assume was an error, some novels not written in English (e.g., “Absalom, Absalom”). But what caught my eye was that the Internet readers gave a very high rating to a book called “The Worm Ouroborus”. It wasn’t on the critics’ list and I hadn’t heard of the book or the author (An English civil servant named E.R. Eddison), which was precisely what made me curious enough to give it a read.
The novel is a high-concept fantasy written in frequently over-the-top Jacobean/Norse Mythology/Faerie Queene prose (I know that’s a mouthful, but if you’ve read it you know what I mean). The quirks of the book are many. It starts with a narrator and it appears the entire work will be framed through his eyes, but he disappears without explanation about two percent of the way into the book. The awesome superhero Lord Goldry Bluszco likewise disappears not long after, spending hundreds of pages in a dream-like state before he returns toward the end. Long stretches of narrative go by that are not uninteresting, but don’t advance the sprawling plot one inch. And the ending of the book, which I will not ruin for you in case you haven’t read it, is a bit bizarre.
And yet, it was hard to put down. Every time my patience wore thin from the lackadaisical pace, there would be a fabulous, thrilling scene, such as the fight with the fearsome manticore on the cliffside. The scheming and backstabbing among Corsus, Corinius and the other leaders of Witchland was as involving as the best of political thrillers. The writing went overboard in places but at other times was genuinely beautiful.
I can’t say I agree with those who voted it among the 100 best English-language novels, but I see what grabbed them about this book, and would be curious to hear from those RBCers who resonated to this unusual novel.