Considering this is a fiction blog, I have not written all that much fiction lately; at least not as much as I used to produce. I will come back, but I’ve been pretty busy and I’m still recovering and catching up on things. I’m sorry if I haven’t read your blog in a while, but I’ll try to soon (it helps if you comment 😉 )
Okay, so the book I’m talking about isn’t called “Demons vs. Witches” but it might as well be. It’s called “The Worm Ouroboros” by E.R. Eddison and it is ridiculous, insane, and awesome.
The Demons and Witches are enemies. The Witch king creates a spell which spirits away one of the Demons and so they have to mount a huge, epic quest to recover him resulting in a lot of adventure. Plus, while they are away, the Witches invade Demonland and run amok there.
1. This story apparently takes place on Mercury. In the prologue, a talking bird comes to the house of a man named Lessingham, in England and takes him to Mercury to see what’s going on there. The thing is, though, that except for one or two times in the first few chapters, Lessingham and the bird are never mentioned again. It’s like the author forgot about them totally.
2. The four main races in this world are the Demons, the Witches, the Goblins, and the Imps. In case you were wondering, the Demons are the good guys. They have horns and one of them named Spitfire apparently breathes fire every now and then. Other than that, they’re pretty much all act human.
3. I actually like the name Spitfire, but naming is an area where Eddison has some issues. The reason is that he came up with the story and characters when he was a teenager and kept them all when he finally wrote the book as an adult. The main characters are Juss, Spitfire, Goldry Bluszco and Brandoch Daha. Actually, the Witches have some cool names, like Corund, Corsus, and Corinius, but there are also characters named Fay Fax Faz, Cargo, and Volle.
1. It is written in what can only be described as “middle English, at best”. It was published in 1922, but Eddison uses language that would have made Shakespeare reach for his dictionary. Here is an example:
“I like not the dirty face of the Ambassador,” said Lord Zigg. “His nose sitteth flat on the face of him as if it were a dab of clay, and I can see pat up his nostrils a summer day’s journey into his head. If’s upper lip bespeak him not a rare spouter of rank fustian, perdition catch me.”
“Ere we leave it,” said Brandoch Daha, “hear what he speaketh concerning Koshtra Belorn. This he beheld from Morna Moruna, whereof he saith: ‘The contery is hylly, sandy, and baren of wood and corne, as forest ful of lynge, mores, and mosses, with stony hilles. Her is a mighty stronge and usid borow for flying serpens in sum baren, hethy, and sandy grownd, and therby the litle round castel of Morna Moruna stondith on Omprenne Edge, as on the limit of the worlde, sore wether beten and yn ruine.”
To be fair, that second quote is mostly from an old book they are reading out of, but you get the idea.
2. The description, the description. Eddison does not leave a thing to the imagination. He describes everything. In the first chapter alone, he spends at least 7 pages describing the throne room and all the main characters, including everything they are wearing. It is quite exhausting.
You may have gotten the impression that I don’t like this book, but I actually love it. Here’s why:
1. The characters in this story are about the toughest, manliest men there are. I don’t mean that in a sexist way, but this story is written in the mode of a Norse saga and holy cow, do they live up to it. It is literally epic. This book has some of the most awesome battle scenes I’ve ever read. The characters launch huge invasion fleets, get them wrecked to bits, struggle across deserts and wastelands, climb Mt. Everest-sized mountains with no equipment (while fighting off monsters), and generally act like demi-gods as a matter of course.
2. Despite all the blood and action, there is a nuanced side to it. Surprisingly, it’s mostly from the Witches, the bad guys. The Demons are great guys, but relatively uncomplicated. However, the story follows the Witches almost as much as the Demons and you really start to relate to them. Sure, a lot of them are bad, but some are just on the wrong side. There is all kinds of deep, heart-rending conflict and pathos that is really quite well done.
3. It is hilarious in parts. For one thing, the Witches are insanely heavy drinkers and hold massive banquets that go on for pages where they get totally hammered and act like idiots. It’s pretty funny, really. Also (spoiler alert on this 91-year-old story), at the end, once the Demons have vanquished all their foes, they are all sad and depressed. They’ve won and they hate it. But then an enchantress or fairy or resurrects all the Witches and gives the Demons eternal life so they can fight forever. Then they’re happy again. It’s very Valhalla-ish, but the way it’s written in this book is very funny.
I would definitely recommend this book, but there is a good chance you won’t read it, mostly because of the language. I don’t blame you: I never would have read it either, normally. I first found it when I was commissioned by a publisher to write a modernized version of it. I was forced to read it and fell in love with it (my version has not made it to print yet, and may never, for various reasons outside my control. But at least I got paid and discovered a good book out of it.) Still, if you’re willing to put up with the language, I guarantee it’s worth it.