Eddison’s Zimiamvia e-book

Mistress

The Worm Ouroboros is the best fantasy of the 20th century.  At this point, for me, the only competitor is either of the first two Gormenghast books.  (It takes a contrarian to call the third book “good.”)  Very few people have started Ouroboros, and I’d wildly guess about 1 in 10 of those people has finished it, and those few people may, like Tolkien, find its unequivocally pagan worldview repulsive.  So I am in the tiny minority as an avowed Ouroboros partisan.

That said, Ouroboros isn’t the most interesting of Eddison’s works.  It’s the best, but it’s not the most interesting.  Floridity notwithstanding, Ouroboros is straightforward.  As is the case in Barker’s Jakalla, the crux of morality isn’t “good” against “evil,” it’s nobility versus ignobility.  In this case, nobility lies in playing one’s part boldly.  Villains of the blackest stripe can be heroic in their dastardy; bald-faced oathbreakers can be heroic in their treachery; but there is no heroism in poltroonery or sentimentality or half-measures.  The characters don’t grow.  Of course they don’t fucking grow, and in this case they literally do the opposite.  They’re typal and they aren’t “deep” any more than Achilles or Styrbjorn is deep.  (Hector?  Solid guy, wouldn’t last a second in Demonland.)

Nope, Eddison’s most interesting work is the Zimamvia trilogy, brought to the modern mass spotlight by the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series.  (Just like the Gormenghast books and The Night Land.  Lin Carter is well-shriven of any literary sins.)  It’s a bit of a mess, although that’s often the intention.  The timelines are fucky, the characters aren’t necessarily who they are, the setting isn’t necessarily what it is, and there’s a shitload of repartee, and soliloquizing, and speculation, and Spinoza.  But you get a thorough explication of Eddison’s personal philosophy, which is arch-pagan in a far more nuanced way than the epic/saga homage of OuroborosOuroboros does not fuck around with meandering dinner table metaphysics because that is nerd shit.  Zimiamvia wallows in it, and it isn’t perfect but it is awesome.

The volumes’ publication order is the reverse of their internal chronological order (to the extent that has any meaning at all in the context of the stories).  They should be read in the order they were published.  The third installment was never finished, although Eddison did leave behind a fragment and thorough outline.

The Zimiamvia books are not in the public domain and they are relatively obscure, so for a very long time, there were two ways you could read them:  in moldering BAF paperbacks or in a loathsome “annotated” Dell omnibus.  Now you can get them in a very nice e-book version HERE.  This makes life a lot easier on me, because my BAFs really are spore-ridden pieces of shit now.  And happily enough, you also get Ouroboros, billed as a precursor to the Zimiamvia books, which it is in no way whatsoever.  (Zimiamvia is mentioned once in passing, and the guy who pops up at the beginning of Ouroboros and never shows up in the book again and every plebeian reviewer bitches about?  He’s the franchise, boys.)

I doubt anyone will read Zimiamvia on this recommendation, but I can hope.  If you haven’t read The Worm Ouroboros, it’s more important that you do that, and I urge you to give it another run if you tried it before and didn’t like it.  This is also how I pester people about Robert Aickman.

(Ouroboros is, however, completely useless for D&D purposes.  It does not correspond in any way with that level or tone of adventure, it is not within horizon’s distance of S&S or weird fantasy, and there would be nothing more offensive to Brandoch Daha’s sensibilities than a grubby little caucus of Cugels.)

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20 thoughts on “Eddison’s Zimiamvia e-book

  1. I will give it another try. I adore the Worm Ouroborous, and got stuck on what I think is the first book of Zimiamvia. Which of those books are you saying I should read first? Mistress of mistresses?

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    1. Yes, absolutely. Reading them in internal chronological order would still theoretically work, if you’re the sort of person who’d read The Magician’s Nephew before LWW

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  2. I liked Ouroborous. I found it a bit simple, but that’s actually a positive feature with a lot of the earlier fantasy authors I like (Dunsanny et al).

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      1. I didn’t find Zimiamvia all that complex. Had no trouble tracking the plot or the main characters. Then again, I did accidentally read it out of sequence the first time, so there is that…

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  3. Ouroboros is one of my favorite books as well. I mined it for a campaign once: an epic trek up a mountain. I think I read the “Fish Dinner…” a while back. Very weird and hard to follow, but I love the writing.

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  4. We have spoken about this before but having read Mistress again since, I still find it stodgy in places and think if there are philosophical nuggets in Eddison’s work he would have been better to write aphorisms after Nietzsche. I have a low opinion of philosophising or messaging through literature, and am not convinced that is what he was at, I just think his later works are not as interesting.

    I agree about Ourobouros, and Mervyn Peake. I don’t agree about the Cugel stories, they are peak fantasy too, and it is usually vain religious or precious personalities who are put off them.

    CA Smith is a one tone writer, so if you are in the mood and are listening to some dark krautrock he can hypnotize with Zothique but over time the effect pales. His average stories are weak. You implied something similar before and are right.

    I have recovered my respect for Tolkien but still ignore the useless drafts of the HoME. Hodgson is probably the most intoxicating and potent writer of deeply immersive fantasy. The idiots who criticise his language style are … idiots.

    I finished Gene Wolfe’s BotNS again recently and enjoyed it even more. Bafflingly unpopular.

    ‘The School Friend’ has a perceptibly mounting strangeness until the last two pages where Aickman seems to pretend nothing has happened at all. I lost interest in him because of that.

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    1. I’m a fan of Vance in general and Dying Earth in particular (although I like Mazirian and Rhialto better than the Cugel stories. Just saying that the Mercurians wouldn’t even have a frame of reference for comprehending someone like Cugel.

      I think the CAS Hyperborea stories (particularly “The Seven Geases) are very clear influences on Vance. The Zothique stories have the best imagery but are magazine-formulaic to a fault in that the villains are invariably punished to the extent they deserve. Hyperborea has aged better. (Apparently CAS was a celebrated poet for a while, but I’m completely unqualified to judge poetry.)

      Book of the New Sun is the only recent fantasy I’ve thought was actually good, which is sad because I just looked and it’s 35 years old. I loved it but I didn’t understand it with any depth and will have to read it again.

      Elizabeth Jane Howard, Aickman’s secretary he was banging, wrote three of the six stories in his first collection, We Are for the Dark. She did opine that he cheated sometimes and rather than playing by the “strange story” rules and presenting a murky puzzle with some loose ends somewhere we can’t, he just plain hid the ball. So it’s an understandable conclusion that he doesn’t stick the landing.

      (I’ve seen people compare Aickman to Thomas Ligotti, which is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.)

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      1. I think Brandoch Daha might have understood Cugel, while the later Gorice Kings would have been magisterially bewildered and placed him in a bird cage.

        I read a few Hyperborea stories today and they were dreadful. The problem for CA Smith lies with promising the shivers of indescribable evil but not delivering while somehow Lovecraft does deliver.

        If it is any encouragement I enjoyed Wolfe’s BotNS more on the 3rd reading than on the 1st. I had a problem before with the iii and iv volumes which I could not remember on the last survey.

        Your comment on Aickman is a common disease among writers of strangeness, Kafka struggled to end his work, though not the short stories. I suppose a corny conclusion is worse than none. If I am enjoying a story I am sometimes tempted not to finish it in the event the author ruins it. You are vehemently dismissive of Ligotti, perhaps your hopes were too engaged.

        Have you read Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner? That is literary, modern and disturbing.

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      2. I hadn’t heard of the Hogg book, so I read the Wikipedia entry. Seems like something I’d be interested in, especially since I converted to an “orthodox” Protestant denomination that holds to the Reformation confessions and I’ve now read the usual Calvinist theology standards. Did you buy a particular edition or just read a free version?

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      3. The two editions I have are the Folio Society hardback from 1978 which is a nice readable copy, and the Edinburgh University Press paperback from 2002 which has a shit ton of notes.

        This is a an extremely disturbing novel for someone who is religiously entrenched (as I am not).

        How on earth have you, as an intelligent chap by my standard, become religious in any capacity. To be honest I don’t recommend you read Hogg, seriously.

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      4. I suspect that as a lifelong edgelord, I’ll be able to weather his vicious indictment.

        As for the conversion, it all became obvious to me. Difficult to explain. I gave it long enough to verify that it wasn’t a manic episode before I committed in any real sense and was baptized in 2017. I don’t proselytize or argue about it on the internet because the internet is stupid and densely populated with incorrigibly blasphemous degenerates. But I’m very serious about it.

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      5. I was in some sense religious when I was eighteen for about a year, a year of grace.

        What I came to suspect about religious sensibility is the *unearned certainty*. I do believe that reality is far beyond our comprehension and that that leads to two attitudes with a gulf between. One attitude is that there is a priestly class *who know* and the adherents to this class gain relief, or surety, from knowing that someone else knows. And the other is … nearly the same except we call them scientists and they say truly their domain is specific and accumulating, but again very few are endowed with gifts to appreciate scientific knowledge as far as it has gone.

        The middle is broad and bewildered.

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      6. I really like you Scott, maybe because I am drunk (I don’t visit the osr online unless I am) but I don’t think that is the only reason why.

        If you have become religious, maybe there is something to it. I despise priests because of their calibre. If special forces types became priests I would might have some respect.

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      7. That reminds me of Runciman’s Crusades. I read the first volume after reading a dozen medieval surveys, the best of which were Jusserand, Cohn, Huizinga, Coulson. Religion in those times felt natural, essential. I am scientifically trained but hate technology and wished I was Icelandic farmer from the 10th century.

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  5. Have had Mistress of Mistresses on the shelf for a long time, probably should use this as an excuse to give it a go. I read Ouroboros a long while ago and did like it, but it certainly was not an effortless read at times.

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  6. I would rate Ouroboros above the first Ghormenghast (having not read the second) if only because I prefer nobility to the macabre. I have read only the Black Star by Lin Carter and do not understand your high regard of him. I am baffled that you would find Rhialto superior to Cugel, I felt the last book came across as more of an afterthought, with inferior buffoonery and turgid momentum.

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    1. Lin Carter was an awful writer — one of the worst professional fantasy writers I’ve ever read — but his work on the Ballentine Adult Fantasy line and its precursors made Eddison, Peake, Dunsany, and Hodgson accessible in a cheap form to readers who’d have otherwise probably have never even heard of them.

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