The Ouroboros worm

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The worm Ouroboros (1922) is a novel by the English author Eric Rücker Eddison . It was firstpublishedin London as The Worm Ouroboros . After the great success of The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien , the novel was thenreissuedby Ballantine in the 1960s.



The novel is about the war of the heroic princes of Demonland against the cruel King Gorice of Witchland and his army leaders, which the demons ultimately decide for themselves. But the demons have to realize that with the total annihilation of their enemies they have also destroyed their own purpose in life. Desperately they ask the gods to give them back their enemies. These restore the world to how it was before the war and the fight can begin again.


The heroes of the novel are not humans, but (in the original) demons ( demons ) , witches ( witches ) , imps ( wretches ) , pixies ( gnomes ) and goblins ( goblins ) . But their shape is human throughout.

  • Juss, Spitfire, Goldry Bluszco, Brandoch Daha: Princes of Demon Land
  • Gorice XII: King of Witchland
  • Corsus, Corund, Corinius: Heerführer Hexenland
  • La Fireez: Prince of Gnome Land, vassal Gorice ', friends of the Demon Land princes
  • Prezmyra: La Fireez's sister, married to Corund
  • Gaslark: King of Goblin Land
  • Gro: Gaslark's foster brother, lives in exile at Gorice's farm
  • Mevrian: Sister Brandoch Dahas


The novel takes place in a medieval (in the English original) Mercury called, earth-like fantasy world. In the first German edition of the novel, this was translated as Merkur . Since there was a risk of confusion with the planet Mercury , it was later called Mercury .


Ouroboros is the name of an ancient Greek symbol, the snake devouring its own tail. It symbolizes an eternally repeating sequence of events without a beginning or an end. This principle appears several times in the novel. On the one hand, King Gorice wears a ring with the Ouroboros symbol, because as soon as Gorice dies, he is reborn in a new guise. Only the total defeat of the witches at the end of the book interrupts this cycle. On the other hand, the plot of the novel itself is circular: From the middle, events repeat themselves in reverse order and with reversed signs and the novel ends exactly as it begins.


Critics mostly criticize Eddison's confused and completely unsystematic naming of the novel. His names prevent the people of Mercury ( demons, witches, goblins, gnomes, wretches ) from identifying with the actors. The same applies to the names of the people ( La Fireez , Fax Fay Faz , Goldry Bluszco ). Although wrote Henry Rider Haggard in a letter to Eddison: "What a wonderful skill in inventing names you have." Tolkien, however, called "his nomenclature sloppy and often clumsy".

The names probably come from the fact that Eddison came up with them when he was 10 years old. A surviving exercise book from Eddison ( Book of Drawings ) with the note "1892" contains several drawings of scenes that also appear in exactly the same way in the novel.

The structure of the novel also gave rise to criticism. At the beginning Eddison lets the human Lessingham reach Mercuria by magic. His observations are intended to introduce the reader to the plot. But already at the beginning of the second chapter Lessingham disappears and never appears again, which causes confusion for many readers.


"Despite everything, I still think he's the greatest and most convincing writer of 'invented worlds' I've ever read," wrote Tolkien of Eddison, in the same breath that he criticized the sloppy nomenclature.

Fritz Leiber called the worm the "[The] greatest heroic fantasy or sword-and-magic story in English". Also L. Sprague de Camp said something similar.


Although the novel was only noticed by a broader public due to the great success of Tolkien, it is today considered a pioneering work in fantasy literature and the immediate forerunner of The Lord of the Rings . Tolkien, like Eddison, used the name Middle-earth .

Many topics that still dominate fantasy today were shaped by Eddison, such as the principle of the eternal struggle between good and evil, which also appears in Tolkien. Tolkien, however, holds out the prospect of an eventual victory for good. Eddison's concept, in which good and bad stand side by side on an equal footing, yes, evil is necessary for good to exist at all, is increasingly being picked up by contemporary fantasy authors, for example in the Dragon Lance saga by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman or in Rad- the time cycle by Robert Jordan .

The novel also gained importance outside of the fantasy genre , on the one hand through its language (it was long considered untranslatable because of Eddison's baroque writing style) and on the other hand through the numerous allusions and quotes from Elizabethan dramas and Icelandic sagas.

Book editions (selection)


  • First edition: The Worm Ouroboros. Jonathan Cape, London 1922.
  • Current issue: The Worm Ouroboros. Gollancz, 2000, ISBN 1-85798-993-7 .


  • The Ouroboros worm. Edited and with an afterword by Jürgen Blasius. Translated by Reinhard Heinz. Heyne Verlag, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-453-30736-4 .
  • The Ouroboros worm. Translated by Helmut W. Pesch. Bastei Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1993, ISBN 3-404-20319-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ The Ouroboros worm, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, 1981
  2. a b c The Ouroboros worm, Bastei Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach, 1993
  3. a b c ( page no longer available , search in web archives: Classics of Fantasy: The Worm Ouroboros ) by ER Eddison by John D. Rateliff@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /