I am still mulling over my thoughts on Of Human Bondage (because, obviously, I know that my public is desperately hanging on my every word) but meanwhile I have embarked on the The Worm Ouroboros. My initial reaction is ‘Blimey, Eddison was a nutter.’ The book starts with Lessingham going to sleep in the Lotus Room of the House, from where a martlet (a what? a heraldic device representing a bird without feet or beak, according to my dictionary) whisks him away to the planet Mercury. Said planet is inhabited by the Witches (sans pointy hats and broomsticks) and the Demons (horned, but otherwise human in appearance), who are on the brink of warfare because the Witches are claiming dominion over the Demons. The Demons will swear fealty to no Witch, I can tell you.
The book is utterly, utterly mad and about as extreme a contrast with the cool prose of Maugham as one could hope for. I’m not very far in and I don’t know what to make of it, except that I must be prepared for anything. It’s much like being doused with a bucket of cold water, in that Eddison’s originality is a sudden shock and a wake up call to the fact that Ouroboros must be taken on its own terms entirely. Here’s a taster (the Ambassador from Witchland has just arrived to speak to the Demon lords):
“I like not the dirty face of the Ambassador,” said Lord Zigg. “His nose sitteth flat on the face of him as it were a dab of clay, and I can see pat up his nostrils a summer’s day journey into his head. If’s upper lip bespeak him not a rare spouter of rank fustian, perdition catch me…”
So, in sum, we’ve got a fantasy novel, written in the 1920s, in pseudo-medieval speak…
Yet fain wouldst I returneth unto those pages, captured in thrall by those selfsame princes and lordlings.