The Worm Ouroboros: First of the Supernatural Romances

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[page 12] SAGAS AND REVIEWS: <Handwritten.> the worm Ouroboros <End handwriting.> FIRST OF THE SUPERNATURAL ROMANCES <Handwritten.> Paul Zimmer <End handwriting.> {Image: A decorative pattern of interconnected veriticle swirls runs down the left margin of the text. AS FAR AS I CAN FIND, _The Worm Ouroboros_ (by Eric Rucker Eddison) was the first of all supernatural romances. Previously there had been certain works which had to some extent pointed out the direction that the supernatural romance was to take. For example, Rider Haggard with his semi-historical fantasy _The World's Desire_, which undoubtedly influenced many writers of the supernatural romance. This story, however, takes place within historical times, and upon our own planet. Eddison was the first writer to produce the true Supernatural romance. His _Worm Ouroboros_ takes place on the planet Mercury, and concerns itself with a war between the two greatest nations of that world, Witchland and Demonland. We are introduced to this world by Edward Lessingham (one of the central figures of Eddison's later Zimianvian trilogy) who is carried there on the back of a hippogriff. He remains, however, an invisible spectator throughout the story, making comments for the benefit of the reader, but unable to affect the actions of the people of Mercury, thus setting a precedent for future writers of the supernatural romance. The story tells how King Gorice XIII of Witchland, a great nigromancer, uses his sorcery to carry off the Lord Goldry Bluzco of Demonland. Goldry's brother, Lord Juse, is bidden in a dream to inquire in Koshtra Belorn, a mountain that lies beyond the haunted plateau o£ the Moruna. Journeying there with the Lord Brandoch Daha, he meets the immortal Queen Sophonisba, from whom he learns that he can go to the side of his brother only upon the back of a hippogriff. Meanwhile, Gorice sends his forces to conquer demonland. We witness a great deal of intrigue between the hobles, Corsus, Corinius and Corund for the command of the expedition. The treacherous Corsus receives it, and so mismanages the campaign that his soldiers mutiny. He is recalled and replaced by Corinius, who defeats the forces of Demonland, but instead of following up his victory, assaults the castle of Krothring in an attempt to capture Mevrian, the sister of the Lord Brandoch Daha. While he is still at Krothring, Lord Juss and Brandoch Daha return and lead the forces of Demonland to an overwhelming victory. Lord Brandoch Daha dives to the bottom of a lake for the eggs of a hippogriff, which is hatched and ridden by the lord Juss to the haunted mountain, Zor[unreadable]ach Nan Psarion, and rescues Goldry Bluzco. The Demons then attack [page 13] FIRST OF THE SUPERNATURAL ROMANCES: The Worm Ouroboros-Paul Zimmer The demons mourn for the fall of Witchland, foreseeing their own downfall --"For now seamanship and all high arts of war must perish...and we must become shepherds and herdsmen." The Gods answer their prayers, and time itself is turned back so that the war may be eternal. The first writer to follow Eddison's lead was Robert A. Howard, whose _Conan_ and _King Kull_ stories show the unmistakable influence of Eddison. This is to be seen most clearly in _The Phoenix on the Sword_ and _The Hour of the Dragon._ (Conan the Conqueror). It is seen less clearly in _Beyond the Black River_, _the Treasure of Tranicos,_ _The Shadow Kingdom_, and _Black Colossus_. Traces are to be found in virtually all Howard's work. Through Howard, Eddison also indirectly influenced a host of other writers, of whom Poul Anderson and Fritz Leiber are today the most prominent. Eddison's direct influence is also noticeable in Fletcher Pratt's _Well of the Unicorn._ {Image: A stippling drawin of a castle on a ridge appears to the left of the previous paragraph. As the castle is built into the cliff-face, it has multiple levels. Three turrets rise from the walls.} While there is no evidence that J.R.R. Tolkien --greatest of the Supernatural Romancers --ever read _The Worm Ouroboros_, it is not impossible that he may have done so; for Eddison was, as Tolkien is, a scholar of some note, translator of _Egil's Saga_, and a linguist. Thus it is not improbable that Tolkien may have read _The Worm Ouroboros_ before beginning his massive trilogy --yet, if so, received little from it save the idea of creating a new world. Tolkien, however, drew his world from the same elements out of which Eddison fashioned his; the ancient Norse myths and medieval legends. _The Worm Ouroboros_ is important because it was the prototype of an entire new subdivision of fantasy, the Supernatural Romance. Before Eddison, no writer had ever created a new world as a setting for the creatures of myth and legend. The field of Fantasy would be far poorer without Eddison's Mercury and Zimianvia, Howard's prehistorica world of the Hyborian Age, Pratt's world of the Well, Tolkien's Middle Earth, and the other worlds of the Supernatural Romance. The story is written in language of a richness seldom encountered in writers of the twentieth century; Eddison wrote in a quasi-Elizabethan style which is sometimes rather circumlocutious but often poetic. The dialogue reads like Shakespeare. Eddison's major fault is one stolen from Spenser; he continually mis-spells words to make them seem more archaic.* _The Worm Ouroboros_ is truly a book to inspire the imagination; filled with such characters as the philosophical traitor Gro, who always deserts the winning side for the losing; or the magnificent and sinister King Gorice, whose signet and seal is the worm Ouroboros, symbol of eternity. _Paul Zimmer_ {Divider: A line made of hyphens separates the text above from the note below.} * This needs a bit of elaboration. Spenser, writing before Shakespeare in the 16th century, wrote in a day when the spelling of the English language was still fluid & lettered men so few that each man spelled as he saw fit. Those who wish to imitate medieval writers tend to imitate this quality, and take their spelling from Spenser, rather than Shakespeare whose spelling outlived him to become modern.

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