A Stranger in Olondria - Starter 2 - The Writing Style

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A Stranger in Olondria is written in a much more lyrical and descriptive style than many books we have read. Did you like this? Did the many snippets from other equally fictitious prose and poetry engage you or put you off?

Comments

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    Liked it. Am reading The Worm Ourobouros right now, and finding it beautiful. I'm tired of short declarative sentences being presented as normative of language. They represent a overweening arrogance of the speaker seeking to deny reception to listeners, most often in order to convince them that they are consumers rather than creative interlocuters participating in whole culture rather than demiurgic economy. Ha!

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Liked it. Am reading The Worm Ourobouros right now, and finding it beautiful. I'm tired of short declarative sentences being presented as normative of language. They represent a overweening arrogance of the speaker seeking to deny reception to listeners, most often in order to convince them that they are consumers rather than creative interlocuters participating in whole culture rather than demiurgic economy. Ha!

    (emphasis added)

    I wonder if this is why I didn't get on with this book, and others with similar writing style. When I'm reading a book, I'm not a listener, I'm a reader. I don't hear the words. I get nothing of rhythm or rhyme in written words. I don't pick up wordplay in homophones or even letter sequences. To me, words are bare symbols, without internal structure, that act as imperfect vehicles for communicating ideas from the writers mind to mine.

    The writing meant I gave up on the book. The book made me trudge through page after page after interminable page of just ... words. Words that weren't communicating anything. I kept asking, "Why are you telling me this? What should I learn from it?" and I was answered by yet another page of words that added up to nothing.

    @BarnerCobblewood , I'm glad you enjoyed it! But all I can do is observe your pleasure in something that I find inaccessible. Different tastes.

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    I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I love the writing, and at almost any point you can find a wonderful turn of phrase. The prose is almost poetic (and oddly, the poetry is prosaic). I picked up several quotable passages on this read through.

    However, the part that I hate is that the story gets lost in all the colour. It's as if someone wanted to pain a picture of something specific, but kept just painting colour swatches to admire them, and only later remembered they were telling a story and needed to come back to it. So, all of this colour, which I love at the best of times, also tends to be dizzying, and it's very easy to lose your way in the story. Once you lose it, it's hard to find your way back. It doesn't help that she uses a lot of proprietary word - they also tend to muddy the meaning.

    So, to return to the question - I love the prose, but too often it strays into self indulgence rather than serve the story.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Liked it. Am reading The Worm Ourobouros right now, and finding it beautiful. I'm tired of short declarative sentences being presented as normative of language. They represent a overweening arrogance of the speaker seeking to deny reception to listeners, most often in order to convince them that they are consumers rather than creative interlocuters participating in whole culture rather than demiurgic economy. Ha!

    I first encountered The Worm Ourobouros and (somewhat to my parents' frustration) painted a map of Demonland on my bedroom wall - insofar as I could work it out from the slightly inconsistent clues in the book. I then managed to track down Eddison's three books in the Zimianvian trilogy, which tough in the very broadest sense sequels to Worm are quite different in detail, and baffled me no end. I must reread them all sometime and see what I make of them now

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    @NeilNjae said:
    I wonder if this is why I didn't get on with this book, and others with similar writing style. When I'm reading a book, I'm not a listener, I'm a reader. I don't hear the words. I get nothing of rhythm or rhyme in written words. I don't pick up wordplay in homophones or even letter sequences. To me, words are bare symbols, without internal structure, that act as imperfect vehicles for communicating ideas from the writers mind to mine.

    The writing meant I gave up on the book. The book made me trudge through page after page after interminable page of just ... words. Words that weren't communicating anything. I kept asking, "Why are you telling me this? What should I learn from it?" and I was answered by yet another page of words that added up to nothing.

    That's really interesting. I don't detect or consciously respond to most literary devices when listening to a book (eg through Audible) but enjoy and appreciate them in written form. There's an open question in reader reception theory as to whether any reader does in fact respond to such things, albeit at a subliminal level, or whether they just don't work if you don't spot them in passing.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I love the writing, and at almost any point you can find a wonderful turn of phrase. The prose is almost poetic (and oddly, the poetry is prosaic). I picked up several quotable passages on this read through.

    However, the part that I hate is that the story gets lost in all the colour. It's as if someone wanted to pain a picture of something specific, but kept just painting colour swatches to admire them, and only later remembered they were telling a story and needed to come back to it. So, all of this colour, which I love at the best of times, also tends to be dizzying, and it's very easy to lose your way in the story. Once you lose it, it's hard to find your way back. It doesn't help that she uses a lot of proprietary word - they also tend to muddy the meaning.

    So, to return to the question - I love the prose, but too often it strays into self indulgence rather than serve the story.

    That's seems to me to be a very good way of explaining it

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I love the writing, and at almost any point you can find a wonderful turn of phrase. The prose is almost poetic (and oddly, the poetry is prosaic). I picked up several quotable passages on this read through.

    However, the part that I hate is that the story gets lost in all the colour. It's as if someone wanted to pain a picture of something specific, but kept just painting colour swatches to admire them, and only later remembered they were telling a story and needed to come back to it. So, all of this colour, which I love at the best of times, also tends to be dizzying, and it's very easy to lose your way in the story. Once you lose it, it's hard to find your way back. It doesn't help that she uses a lot of proprietary word - they also tend to muddy the meaning.

    So, to return to the question - I love the prose, but too often it strays into self indulgence rather than serve the story.

    Fascinating! I am reminded of Tolkien's Leaf by Niggle, one of his short stories. Also reminded of Herodotus, whose History is a series of rich and wondrous digressions which seldom return to their starting point. Needless to say I love both.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    Liked it. Am reading The Worm Ourobouros right now, and finding it beautiful. I'm tired of short declarative sentences being presented as normative of language. They represent a overweening arrogance of the speaker seeking to deny reception to listeners, most often in order to convince them that they are consumers rather than creative interlocuters participating in whole culture rather than demiurgic economy. Ha!

    I confess: once reminded of this I could not stop myself downloading The Worm Ourobouros plus the others and am starting to reread. I had remembered (of course) the frame story, which Eddison rapidly forgets about in Ourobouros, but I had completely forgotten that the frame character Lessingham lives in Wasdale, a mere 10 miles or so from here as the raven flies.

    I have walked along Illgill Head (a ridge rising above the southern shore of Wastwater, also in the frame narrative) but never on the side that Lessingham would have done. My own approach was from the village of Boot, via Burnmoor Tarn and the associated Neolithic / early Bronze stone circles nearby.

    So thanks for jogging my memory of this one.

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    I'm considering starting the trilogy. Haven't read it before. How does it compare with WO?

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I'm considering starting the trilogy. Haven't read it before. How does it compare with WO?

    Well, I last read the trilogy as a teenager and got very baffled... I'm rather hoping I'll get a lot more this time around. They are set in the same world (Mercury, for those who haven't read the first one, but it's not in the slightest like the Mercury of our solar system) but have almost no overlap of characters or plot. From distant memory, it's more like a reimagining of Greek Olympus than the martial and personal drama of Worm - but I cold easily be misremembering.

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    I'm looking forward to finding out the motivations that drive these stories forward. Part of what I loved about the WO is that the characters are definitely not motivated by the rewards typical of RPGs. If there was a mechanic, I suppose it would have to be some kind of social points based on honour, fear etc. or something.

    Also wish that magic was more often like this, instead of a technology replacement.

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    Fear plays a huge role in The Worm Ourobouros - either the uncontrolled presence of it holding people back, or the overcoming of it to face the next threat or challenge.

    For those who haven't read it, there are a few different kinds of magic, none of which are what you might call battlefield spells like energy bolts or whatever. At the very powerful end there are seriously perilous rituals, usually with the aid of books, herbs, invocations and the like, which if they go wrong can seriously spoil your day and those anywhere near you, but if they go right can not only cause an immediate disaster to act on your target (who might be hundreds of miles away), but also have a kind of longer-lasting undertow for weeks or months, experienced as a run of bad luck or misfortune presupposing you survive the initial hit.

    At the lighter end there are sundry protective items, usually mediated by gemstones, hand-crafted artistic objects, or specific places, which have a definite but limited ability. For example, to ensure that only true prophetic dreams are encountered rather than misleading ones, or to counteract the effects of to much wine and leave the person still able to think and act despite surfeiting. This reminds me a bit of the effect of the Eyes in Tekumel, so in that sense are a "technology replacement", but though useful they are sufficiently limited in scope that they are not going to change the outcome of a battle.

    Other magical ability is useful-but-trivial stuff like being able to talk to birds, or ride magical creatures like a hippogriff. The overwhelming bulk of combat is straightforward warrior stuff, not magicians dueling.

    Now in the trilogy I'm not sure any of this still applies - I can't remember anything like the same kind of military / political plot as in Worm, and what has stuck with me has to do with characters rather than storyline. But in a few weeks I shall be able to tell you more.

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    @BarnerCobblewood I have now read the first of ER Eddison's trilogy (Mistress of Mistresses) and have got a lot more out of it than I did some 40-45 years ago :)

    The writing style is very like The Worm Ourobouros - archaic vocabulary and phrasing, with occasional lengthy passages of bizarrely ornate descriptions of places, people or clothing, which can seem impenetrable at first sight - even at second sight I'm not sure what purpose they solve other than just immersing you as reader in a verbal bath of words.

    There is substantially less plot than Worm and you get the feeling that the plot and setting are fairly thin skins around what he really wants to write about, which is much more speculative and philosophical. The heart of the book (I think) is an extended musing on what it means to live in a world of contrasting poles - male and female, human and divine, human and animal, courageous and dastardly, fearful and bold. And of these, the explorations of male/female and mortal/immortal have the most focus. It is as though he took accounts from the classical myths seriously, with gods wandering round the world and interacting with humans, but relocated into a kind of Renaissance world rather than ancient one.

    I think a more recent author would have tackled the same themes by discussing how archetypes can sometimes take over a situation or a personal interaction, then just as suddenly submerge again and restore purely human relations. Here, instead of talking about archetypes, Eddison talks about gods, and especially Aphrodite. Or again, a modern author might turn it into a superhero story, where Diana Prince could at any moment allow her Wonder Woman persona to emerge, but chooses most of the time to let it remain hidden (I've obviously chosen this example to parallel with Aphrodite, but one can easily construct male examples).

    This time around I am enjoying the read (and am now on to #2, A Fish Dinner in Memison) but I can see why I didn't get on with it back in my late teens, and can easily imagine lots of people of any age just not persevering with it.

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    edited December 2

    @RichardAbbott said:
    @BarnerCobblewood I have now read the first of ER Eddison's trilogy (Mistress of Mistresses) and have got a lot more out of it than I did some 40-45 years ago :)

    The writing style is very like The Worm Ourobouros - archaic vocabulary and phrasing, with occasional lengthy passages of bizarrely ornate descriptions of places, people or clothing, which can seem impenetrable at first sight - even at second sight I'm not sure what purpose they solve other than just immersing you as reader in a verbal bath of words.

    Yeah I am about a third of the way through. These ornate passages remind me of religious literature describing other worlds, world-building which long predates what we call speculative fiction. In general I think that most Western secular culture is a response to a previous religious culture, which proceeds by consuming and denying its parentage, a process of assimilation and denial indicated even in the Greek Myths when the Olympian Gods destroy the Titans. That old culture still resonates though, and continues to be used as a resource.

    There is substantially less plot than Worm and you get the feeling that the plot and setting are fairly thin skins around what he really wants to write about, which is much more speculative and philosophical. The heart of the book (I think) is an extended musing on what it means to live in a world of contrasting poles - male and female, human and divine, human and animal, courageous and dastardly, fearful and bold. And of these, the explorations of male/female and mortal/immortal have the most focus. It is as though he took accounts from the classical myths seriously, with gods wandering round the world and interacting with humans, but relocated into a kind of Renaissance world rather than ancient one.

    I think a more recent author would have tackled the same themes by discussing how archetypes can sometimes take over a situation or a personal interaction, then just as suddenly submerge again and restore purely human relations. Here, instead of talking about archetypes, Eddison talks about gods, and especially Aphrodite. Or again, a modern author might turn it into a superhero story, where Diana Prince could at any moment allow her Wonder Woman persona to emerge, but chooses most of the time to let it remain hidden (I've obviously chosen this example to parallel with Aphrodite, but one can easily construct male examples).

    Can't say as I am not that far along. So far what I notice is that members of society are not individuals in the modern sense, they are rather manifestations and exemplars of other individuals, who at the same time neither more nor less than the bases for their manifestations. I see a kind of effort to deal with the mystery of self in a additive way, where the self (or maybe better persona) is the carrier of culture which is immortal.

    Also, a so-called classical education is pretty much assumed. I have some good classical dictionaries, but for those lacking such education I am not sure that the ideas are that accessible.

    When I finish I will get back to this (as long as it is ok with you), but in the short term, do you notice any response to Dante's Beatrice?

    This time around I am enjoying the read (and am now on to #2, A Fish Dinner in Memison) but I can see why I didn't get on with it back in my late teens, and can easily imagine lots of people of any age just not persevering with it.

    Agree.

    Best, BC

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