The Worm Ouroboros Critical Essays

E. R. Eddison


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros is a link between the late nineteenth century fantasy novels of William Morris and the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. Published shortly after the end of World War I, Eddison’s work is an obvious rejection of the reality of the carnage of modern war as experienced in the trenches of No Man’s Land and illustrated by its ten million dead. Eddison’s paradigm was an idealized medieval world, which his imagination relocated to a faraway planet. The story ostensibly is set on Mercury but reflects Eddison’s romanticized view of the European Middle Ages, during which the ruling class—the forerunners of Juss and Brandoch Daha— found their highest obligation and reward in the act and art of war.

The language Eddison uses to create his fantasy is also of a fictionalized medieval era. The style is archaic, or neo-archaic, and the choice of words and even the spelling strike the reader as coming from the seventeenth century or before. In particular, the author weaves a captivating, almost hypnotic spell in his descriptions, not only of landscapes but also of the appearance of his heroes, their garb, and the decor of their castles.

Most of the figures are archetypes: Juss, the questing leader; Brandoch Daha, the impulsive warrior; and Gorice XII, the villainous necromancer. The characters are not complex, and their actions fall within the predictable parameters of the heroic fantasy genre. The same is true of...

(The entire section is 434 words.)