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Jacket of First Edition of the Worm Ouroboros [1922]


by E. R. Eddison


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The Worm Ourorobos is second only to the Lord of the Rings in the pantheon of 20th century English fantasy. E.R. Eddison, who moved in the same literary circles as Tolkien, was praised by Tolkien as "The greatest and most convincing writer of 'invented worlds' that I have read".*

The Worm Ourorbos was originally published in a very limited and now very rare edition in 1922 (a used first edition recently listed for $3,750). Eddison wrote three sequels set in roughly the same universe, but none of them have the sustained pacing and invention of Ouroboros.

Before diving in, there are a few things to be aware of. The rich language Eddison uses is based on Tudor and Jacobean English, with some modern anachronisms; it may take some getting used to, and occasionally a trip to the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. The narrator, one Lessingham, who appears in a very brief framing sequence, disappears a few dozen pages in. The book is set on Mercury; however, keep in mind this is not science fiction, so this is not literally the planet Mercury. Eddison on several occasions in the body of the book calls the world 'Middle Earth', and the setting is recognizably the Midgard of the Norse myths and sagas, although for some unexplained reason the denizens worship the Greek pantheon. The cast of characters, like Tolkien, are principally masculine, albeit with a couple of standout female leads. And lastly the various nationalities (Demons, Witches, Pixies, Imps, etc.) are not really separate species as in Tolkien; they are all essentially humans.

Once you get past these details, The Worm Ouroboros is a thoroughly enjoyable book which will satisfy anyone who has finished the Lord of the Rings and wants a new immersive universe. The only thing one could wish for would be some maps. . . .

--J. B. Hare

* Letters of Tokien, p. 258. To be accurate, Tolkien also pointed out that his work was not derivative from Eddison, had some pointed criticism of the ad-hoc nature of the the languages and geography of the Worm Ouroboros, and disliked most of the characters except for Lord Gro.

Title Page
Thomas the Rhymer
The Induction
I. The Castle of Lord Juss
II. The Wrastling for Demonland
III. The Red Foliot
IV. Conjuring in the Iron Tower
V. King Gorice's Sending
VI. The Claws of Witchland
VII. Guests of the King in Carcë
VIII. The First Expedition to Impland
IX. Salapanta Hills
X. The Marchlands of the Moruna
XI. The Burg of Eshgrar Ogo
XII. Koshtra Pivrarcha
XIII. Koshtra Belorn
XIV. The Lake of Ravary
XV. Queen Prezmyra
XVI. The Lady Sriva's Embassage
XVII. The King Flies His Haggard
XVIII. The Murther of Gallandus by Corsus
XIX. Thremnir's Heugh
XX. King Corinius
XXI. The Parley Before Krothering
XXII. Aurwath and the Switchwater
XXIII. The Weird Begun of Ishnain Nemartra
XXIV. A King in Krothering
XXV. Lord Gro and the Lady Mevrian
XXVI. The Battle of Krothering Side
XXVII. The Second Expedition to Impland
XXVIII. Zora Rach Nam Psarrion
XXIX. The Fleet at Muelva
XXX. Tidings of Melikaphkhaz
XXXI. The Demons Before Carcë
XXXII. The Latter End of All the Lords of Witchland
XXXIII. Queen Sophonisba in Galing
Argument: with Dates
Bibliographical Note on the Verses