The Conqueror Worm
Apparently people are still reading E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros! At least per this interview with John Darnielle on Electric Lit.
We know it was inspirational to a generation or more of English authors, Tolkien among them. But let’s not lie — the prose is high-flown, mock-Elizabethan, and the pacing variable. Fans of the chiseled abs of modern commercial fiction may lose patience quickly.
I haven’t read it in decades, myself. But there are passages in it so piercingly evocative that I come back to them again and again. Here are two, the first being the book’s opening:
THERE was a man named Lessingham dwelt in an old low house in Wastdale, set in a gray old garden where yew-trees flourished that had seen Vikings in Copeland in their seedling time. Lily and rose and larkspur bloomed in the borders, and begonias with blossoms big as saucers, red and white and pink and lemon-colour, in the beds before the porch. Climbing roses, honeysuckle, clematis, and the scarlet flame-flower scrambled up the walls. Thick woods were on every side without the garden, with a gap north-eastward opening on the desolate lake and the great fells beyond it: Gable rearing his crag-bound head against the sky from behind the straight clean outline of the Screes.
And from a bit later:
In due time the stars revolved to midnight, and the Red Foliot came secretly with his guards to the Witches’ booths. The lords of Witchland took their weapons and the men-at-arms bare the goods, and the King went in the midst on his bier of spearshafts. So went they picking their way in the moonless night round the palace and down the winding path that led to the bed of the combe, and so by the stream westward toward the sea. Here they deemed it safe to light a torch to show them the way. Desolate and bleak showed the sides of the combe in the wind-blown flare; and the flare was thrown back from the jewels of the royal crown of Witchland, and from the armoured buskins on the King’s feet showing stark with toes pointing upward from below his bear-skin mantle, and from the armour and the weapons of them that bare him and walked beside him, and from the black cold surface of the little river hurrying for ever over its bed of boulders to the sea. The path was rugged and stony, and they fared slowly, lest they should stumble and drop the King.
If you’re a devotee of modern fantasy and have some time and patience, give it a look.