The Worm Ouroboros

Ballantine Books

First Printing, April 1967

Paperback; 520 pp.

Introductions by Orville Prescott and James Stephens

Cover art by Barbara Remington; illustrated by Keith Henderson

One of the first great heroic fantasies ever written; first published in Great Britain in 1926.

 

Mistress of Mistresses

Ballantine Books

First Printing, August 1967

Paperback; 403 pp.

Cover art by Barbara Remington; illustrated by Keith Henderson

2nd novel in Eddison's loosely connected epic romantic fantasy; first published in Great Britain in 1935

 

A Fish Dinner in Memison

Ballantine Books

First Printing, February 1968

Paperback; 319 pp.

Introduction by James Stephens

Cover art by Barbara Remington

3rd novel in Eddison's loosely connected epic romantic fantasy; first published in Great Britain in 1941

 

The Menzentian Gate

Ballantine Books

First Printing, April 1969

Paperback; 275 pp.

Cover art by Barbara Remington; illustrated by Keith Henderson

Unfinished 4th novel in Eddison's loosely connected epic romantic fantasy; first published in Great Britain in 1958

 

The Worm Ouroboros

Replica Books (Baker & Taylor)

First Printing, July 1999

Hardcover; 446 pp.

Illustrated by Keith Henderson

One of the first great heroic fantasies ever written; first published in Great Britain in 1926
Tales of Zimiamvia
As I documented on the Library page, my most intense period of literary discovery coincided with a resurgence of speculative fiction literature in the marketplace. In large part, this took the form of reprints of classic, often long forgotten titles and authors by Ballantine Books. Ballantine's efforts culminated in their now famous Adult Fantasy series, but before the first titles appeared under the sign of the unicorn, they published new editions of works by masters like Mervyn Peake, David Lindsay, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Eric Rucker Eddison.

Eddison wrote a number of books in his lifetime, but is known primarily for his Zimiamvian tetralogy. It was these four novels (shown at left), the fourth one unfinished at his death, that Ballantine printed in the late 1960s. I knew nothing of Eddison when I bought them, but I had read Tolkien and his name appeared on the covers, so they seemed to be a good bet (the attractive cover art didn't hurt either). I read the Worm first, and discovered something completely new and truly amazing. It remains my favorite of Eddison's works to this day.

The Story of The Worm
This book is not easy reading. Eddison affected a flowery, baroque prose style for all of the Zimiamvian novels, and I found it cumbersome at first. In fact, I am embarrassed to say that I had a few false starts before I finally got into it for good. Once I did, I could not put it down.

The story takes place on the planet Mercury, but Eddison's Mercury represents a dream-like alternate reality. It is an earth-like world of great continents and islands separated by vast seas. It is peopled by larger than life human-like warriors races, including Demons, Witches, and Goblins, plus a plethora of fearsome mythological creatures like the hipogriff, cockatrice, and the terrifying mantichore. The Demons, ruled by the heroic Lord Juss and his brothers Spitfire and Goldry Bluzco, along with their cousin Brandoch Daha (think "Four Musketeers") are the heroes of the story. Their historic enemies are the Witches, ruled by the evil sorcerer-king Gorice. The novel, which chronicles a great war between Demonland and Witchland, was the first great heroic fantasy of the modern era, and inspired or influenced virtually everything that came after, including Tolkien's great trilogy.

The novel does not begin on this world, but in Victorian England instead! The reason Eddison did this, and any related symbolism, have been discussed and debated by others at length over the years since the novel's original publication. But whatever his reasons or intent, Eddison soon moves the setting to Mercury, by way of an awkward literary device, where it remains until the end.

And so the story opens in an English country house occupied by a man named Edward Lessingham and his wife Mary. While spending the night in a certain room of the house known as the Lotus Room, Lessingham is visited by a small black bird that speaks to him. Accompanying the bird is a golden chariot borne by a hipogriff, which soons carries him away to Mercury, although whether this occurs in a dream or trance, or in reality is not clear. Once there, Lessingham observes the action unseen for a short time, after which he fades from the story and is not mentioned again!

What follows is a story full of action so heroic, vistas so huge, and imagery so vibrant and grandiose that few, if any other writers have ever matched it. Eddison's prose style surely enhances the story, but it is his imagination that raises it to the extraordinary level it attains. Don't miss it.
- Doc, February 2006