August 29, 2010

Looking at the Gnostics from an era of wizardry

I’ve been reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Gnostic Gospels, by J. Michael Matkin. I admire some things about the Gnostics, such as their poetic take on interpreting scripture and their DIY attitude towards mythology. Their view of creation as a mistake, though… not so much. But rejection of the world might have been an easier sell to people with harder lives than mine. I have it pretty good, compared not only to many of my contemporaries, but to most people (including the rich) throughout human history. Certainly I take for granted gadgets that would have been the most astonishing magic anytime before the last few centuries. Just the ability to conjure up music anytime I want puts me miles ahead of Hermes Trismegistus.


February 15, 2009

Some Thoughts on The Worm Ouroboros

The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison; introductory material by Paul Edmund Thomas

Coleridge, and others after him, have written of the “willing suspension of disbelief” involved in reading imaginative literature, but I’ve seen nothing on the “willing suspension of disapproval.” Just as we must accept the physical world of the story – whether it includes dragons, shadow governments, or people who talk in aphorisms – we also must accept the moral world of the story.

For The Worm Ouroboros, this means accepting the glorification of war, which is implicit throughout. The virtues the characters admire are warrior virtues. It has this in common with the Icelandic sagas and Homeric epics that, according to Paul Edmund Thomas’s introduction, were major influences on Eddison.

I don’t read Icelandic or Greek, so I can’t say how much of Eddison’s prose style was based on his sources. Ouroboros is written in a pseudo-archaic dialect of Eddison’s own invention. This is part of the world the reader must accept. However, after a few chapters, I found the style mostly unobtrusive, sometimes delightful, and only rarely painful. As Tolkien and others have noted, the names of the characters don’t seem to belong to any unified cultural context, but I don’t think that’s a flaw. There are obviously a number of nations in Eddison’s world, with much contact and commerce among them. In the mundane world, my own circle of acquaintances provides names from at least five continents, and from too many languages to estimate.

Thomas, despite my snarky comments in an earlier post, is understandably defensive about Eddison’s powers of characterization. The heroes are mostly indistinguishable from one another. The one who stands out in my memory is Brandoch Daha, who is both a dandy and a berserker – and having told you that, I’ve told you all I remember of him. Eddison sometimes does a better job with the villains. King Gorice XII combines courage, cunning, charisma, and a number of other alliterative traits. The aptly-named Corsus, who panders his own daughter for a command position, is also memorable. But the most intriguing and nuanced character in the novel is the counselor Lord Gro, a bit player whose fidelity to his own principles (and they are not selfish ones) leads him to be a traitor to multiple sides.

As you might expect from a tale weak on character, events are plot-driven. Despite (or maybe because of) the careful construction of the symmetrical narrative, which circles around to bite its own tail, the novel feels episodic. Most acts and decisions seem to arise from force of plot rather than force of character. The “and so” is provided by a scheme outside the world of the story; within, all is “and then.”

According to Thomas, many readers have a problem with the beginning of the novel, which introduces a quickly-dropped framing narrative. I have more trouble with the conclusion, where the exaltation of war becomes explicit. If you can buy into that ethos, the ending gives the body of the tale more meaning. If your morals, like mine, are a little old and stiff and just won’t bend that far, the ending makes the main part of the book meaningless.

But I shouldn’t let that be the last word. I enjoyed the novel enough to go on to Eddison’s Zimiamvia trilogy, as soon as I find the volume I’m missing.

January 12, 2009

What I’m reading, 1-12-2009

Recently started:

  • Yoga for Dummies, by Georg Feuerstein & Larry Payne; I started reading this once before, then abandoned it, and now I’m starting again. Learning yoga is one of my goals for 2009.

Recently finished:

January 2, 2009

What I’m reading, 1-2-2009

Filed under: reading — crcb @ 11:10 pm
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Recently finished:

Recently started:

I believe in a long-ago post, I referred to the “Ouroboros trilogy” of Eddison, confusing The Worm Ouroboros with the Zimiavia trilogy.

I have the Dell edition of Ouroboros, with an introduction and endnotes by Paul Edmund Thomas. Writers might be interested in Thomas’s comments. In the introduction, for instance, he points out — at some length, with examples — that Eddison differentiates his characters by making them behave differently. I might add to this my own discovery, that Eddison also gives them different names. I’m going to try both of these techniques in my own fiction.

Snarkiness aside, the endnotes are often useful in defining some of Eddison’s archaicisms. However, they are often just silly, in a scholarly sort of way.

The story itself is gripping, and I’ll have more to say about it when I’ve finished the book.

November 8, 2008

What I’m Reading, 11-7-2008

Filed under: reading — crcb @ 1:55 am
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Recently started: Created Writing: Poetry from New Angles, by Paul Agostino

Recently finished: The Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine

October 28, 2008

What I’m Reading, 10-28-2008

Filed under: reading — crcb @ 9:51 pm
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Recently started:

  • The Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine
  • Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett

Recently finished:

  • Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett

October 13, 2008

What I’m reading, 10-13-2008

Filed under: reading — crcb @ 5:45 am
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Recently started and finished:

  • Hard Times, by Charles Dickens

October 5, 2008

What I’m Reading, 10-4-2008

Filed under: reading — crcb @ 12:04 am
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Recently finished:

  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • New Directions 15 (International Issue, 1955)

September 25, 2008

What I’m Reading 9-25-2008

Filed under: reading — crcb @ 9:29 pm
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Recently started:

  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • Yoga for Dummies, by Georg Feuerstein & Larry Payne

September 19, 2008

What I’m Reading 9-19-2008

Filed under: reading — crcb @ 5:36 am
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Books recently started:

  • Speaking French in Kansas, by Robert Day

Books recently finished:

  • Speaking French in Kansas, by Robert Day
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