"Queen of all scents &
furry wings, dews, silences,
(Paraphrased from E.R. Eddison, Mistress of Mistresses page 126.)
elladorian got me this for my birthday, & what a find! A confusing, labyrinthine, wonderful find. This is the first book in the Zimiamvian Trilogy...or the last? First published, last chronologically? I don't honestly understand, though I am hoping it is a situation like The Chronicles of Narnia, where all sane creatures consider The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe the first book, even though Sorcerer's Apprentice chronologically comes first. It is called a prequel, people, look it up! Anyhow, the book Eddison is most famous for, the one that spurred a young guy named Johnny Tolkien to write some books about a magic ring, is The Worm Ouroboros. That book basically blew the lid off my head; it is very excellent in all respects, & contains my favorite fight scene of all time (versus a manticore!) nestled snug amongst some crazy post-modern writing done decades before anybody else got around to recursion. That is the soup of expectations I had when I went into Mistress of Mistresses.
I don't read a lot of books that I would describe as "challenging"-- I'm a fairly astute reader, I like to think. I suppose a fair amount of the academic stuff I read is hard going, but fiction-wise, you have to get up pretty early in the morning for me to flinch at how dense you are. Well, E.R. Eddison gets up early in the morning, but not before putting Nabakov to shame with his integration of multiple languages. What, a little Ancient Greek inscribed in a wedding ring? Ημετερα or HMETEPA? No sweat! You want to break into Middle English for a few pages? Go right ahead? The characters speak Spanish or French sometimes? Sure they do, of course they do. & This is how I find out about Nanga Parbat, a toss away line? The book sort of drags its feet at points; while Worm is an adventure romp, the Zimiamvian Trilogy is a romance, & fully embraces the purple prose allowed by readers in 1935. & it is soaked in confusion-- starting with death & proceeding to otherworldliness, peppered with sudden transformations-- she was an otter all along! Then characters slide from being one person to another with liquid intermingling. Of note: Lessingham wears the Orouboros ring (77, 233)! When the Dramatis Persona states Lessingham, Barganax, Fiorinda & Antiope, it over states things by half. Once Barganax & Lessingham meet, it is ON; a hammer & an anvil. I think I like Barganax best, unsurprisingly. Really though remember: the book is all about love, & She the Goddess, above & below.