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The World of E. R. Eddison

Eric Rücker Eddison, (1882 – 1945) an English civil servant and author, wrote epic fantasy under the name E. R. Eddison, most notably The Worm Ouroboros (1922) and the Zimiamvian Trilogy (1935-1958) (not conceived as a trilogy but as part of a larger work which was left incomplete at Eddison's death). Eddison was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Oxford. He joined the Board of Trade in 1906 but retired in 1938 to work full-time on his fiction. The Worm Ouroboros and the Zimiamvian Trilogy (Mistress of Mistresses 1935, A Fish Dinner in Memison 1941, and The Mezentian Gate 1958) were admired by J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock and Ursula K. Le Guin. However, Eddison thought Tolkien's views were ‘soft’ while Tolkien thought Eddison’s underlying philosophy objectionable. Eddison uses a Jacobean prose style, with quotes from Shakespeare, the Norse sagas and French medieval lyric poems amongst others. C. S. Lewis called Eddison's works ‘first and foremost, of art.’

Some memorable quotes from his works follow:

'I sware unto you my furtherance if I prevailed. But now is mine army passed away as wax wasteth before the fire, and I wait the dark ferryman who tarrieth for no man. Yet, since never have I wrote mine obligations in sandy but in marble memories, and since victory is mine, receive these gifts: and first thou, O Brandoch Daha, my sword, since before thou wast of years eighteen thou wast accounted the mightiest among men-at-arms. Mightily may it avail thee, as me in time gone by. And unto thee, O Spitfire, I give this cloak. Old it is, yet may it stand thee in good stead, since this virtue it hath that he who weareth it shall not fall alive into the hand of his enemies. Wear it for my sake. But unto thee, O Juss, give I no gift, for rich thou art of all good gifts: only my good will give I unto thee, ere earth gape for me.'

‘Let worthy minds ne'er stagger in distrust

To suffer death or shame for what is just'

'For many years, Lord, or ever I came to Carce, I fared up and down the world, and I am acquainted with objects of terror as a child with his toys.’

'The harvest of this world is to the resolute, and he that is infirm of purpose is ground betwixt the upper and the nether millstone'

'Ultimate truths are to be attained, if at all, in some immediate way: by vision rather than by ratiocination.'

'A thin ungracious drink is the well-spring, a drink for queasy-stomached skipjacks: for sand-levericks, not for men. And like it is the dayspring: an ungrateful sapless hour, an hour for stab-i'-the-backs and cold-blooded betrayers. Ah, give me wine, and noon-day vices, and brazen-browed iniquities.'

'Art thou so deeply read in nature and her large philosophy, and I am yet to teach thee that deadliest hellebore or the vomit of a toad are qualified poison to the malice of a woman?'

'with cunning colubrine and malice viperine and sleights serpentine'

'Tenderly he drew on his lambswool gloves, and shivered a little; for the breath of that desert blew snell and frore and there seemed a shadow in the air southward, for all it was bright and gentle weather below whence they were come. Yet albeit his frail body quailed, even so were his spirits within him raised with high and noble imaginings as he stood on the lip of that rocky cliff. The cloudless vault of heaven; the unnumbered laughter of the sea; that quiet cove beneath, and those ships of war and that army camping by the ships; the emptiness of the blasted wolds to southward, where every rock seemed like a dead man’s skull and every rank tuft of grass hag-ridden; the bearing of those lords of Demonland who stood beside him, as if nought should be of commoner course to them pursuing their resolve than to turn their backs on living land and enter those regions of the dead; these things with a power as of a mighty music made Gro’s breath catch in his throat and the tear spring in his eye.'

'But because day at her dawning hours hath so bewitched me, must I yet love her when glutted with triumph she settles to garish noon? . . . Who dares call me turncoat, who do but follow now as I have followed this rare wisdom all my days: to love the sunrise and the sundown and the morning and the evening star.'

'Surely... the great mountains of the world are a present remedy if men did but know it against our modern discontent and ambitions. In the hills is wisdom's fount. They are deep in time. They know the ways of the sun and the wind, the lightning's fiery feet, the frost that shattereth, the rain that shroudeth, the snow that putteth about their nakedness a softer coverlet than fine lawn: which if their large philosophy question not if it be a bridal sheet or a shroud, hath not this unpolicied calm his justification ever in the returning year, and is it not an instance to laugh our carefulness out of fashion? Of us, little children of the dust, children of a day, who with so many burdens do burden us with taking thought and with fears and desires and devious schemings of the mind, so that we wax old before our time and fall weary ere the brief day be spent and one reaping-hook gather us home at last for all our pains.'

'This last best luck of all: that earth should gape for me when my great deeds were ended.'

'In which star of the unclimbed sky wilt though begin our search? Or in which of the secret streams of the ocean where the last green rays are quenched in oozy darkness?'

'Thunder and blood and night must usurp our parts, to complete and make up the catastrophe of this great piece.'

'Where were all heroical parts but in Helteranius? and a man might make a garment for the moon sooner than fit the o'erleaping actions of great Jalcanaius, who now leaveth but his body to bedung that earth that was lately shaken at his terror. I have waded in red blood to the knee; and in this hour, in my old years, the world is become for me a vision only and a mock-show.'

'Are ye ta'en with the swindle or the turn-sickness? Or are ye out of your wits?'

'Abase thee and serve me, worm of the pit. Else will I by and by summon out of ancient night intelligences and dominations mightier far than thou, and they shall serve my ends, and thee shall they chain with chains of quenchless fire and drag thee from torment to torment through the deep.'

'These things hath Fate brought to pass, and we be but Fate's whipping-tops bandied what way she will.'

'Forth into the quiet evening, where above the smooth downs the wind was lulled to sleep in the vast silent spaces of the sky.'

'But Gro smiled a sad smile and said, 'Why should we by words of ill omen strike yet another blow where the tree tottereth?'

'With that, the horror shut down upon Juss's soul like madness.'

'The sun stooped to the western waves, entering his bath of blood-red fire. He sank, and all the ways were darkened.'

'Surely time past is gone by like a shadow.'

'He that feareth is a slave, were he never so rich, were he never so powerful. But he that is without fear is king of all the world. Though hast my sword. Strike. Death shall be a sweet rest to me. Thraldom, not death, should terrify me.’

'But to tell even a tenth part of the marvels rich and beautiful that were in the house of Krothering: its cool courts and colonnades rich with gems and fragrant with costly spices and strange blooms: its bed-chambers where, caught like Aphrodite in her golden net, the spirit of sleep seemed ever to shake slumber from its plumes, and none might be waking long in those chambers but sweet sleep overcame their eyelids: the Chamber of the Sun and the Chamber of the Moon, and the great middle hall with its high gallery and ivory stair: to tell of all these were but to cloy imagination with picturing in one while of over-much glory and splendour.'


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