E.R. Eddison – Mistress Of Mistresses

The first novel of the Zimiamvia Trilogy by E.R. Eddison is actually the second book that I’ve read and it is in fact not completely wrong to do so as the first book was the second book of the trilogy although the events described take place after that of Mistress Of Mistresses (1935). Peculiar? Indeed. However, this is a fantasy novel written in a time when fantasy novels were still a relative rarity and no clich├ęs existed yet. Eddison, in a way, was pioneering, unfamiliar and unbound with how a fantasy novel should be set up, so he did it in his own way.

It is hard to describe Mistress Of Mistresses. While the world it takes place in is not our own, there are many references made to earth culture. It is a mediaevil world that is nevertheless a mixture of a learned society and brutal intrigue. The reader is early on thrown into the thick of the matter. A critical event has thrown the country into turmoil. Some sides are clear but others remain doubtful. While one man is a force of chaos two others are opposities of order around whom all rotates. Eddison spends much time setting these characters up and puts them together to create sparkling interaction. In fact, what is most remarkable is that the action scenes are rather short. These great events are pretty much summarized unto the highlights. Eddison is mostly interested in the character interaction. The dramatic events almost seem only to be added so he has reasons to bring characters together and provide some tension to the dialogues.

There is more to these dialogues and character interactions. While there are three central main protagonists there is a fourth force working in the background. It is the mistress of the title although it remains rather unclear what her intentions are. There are several long scenes that revolve around her and all of these are surrealistic and metaphysical. Eddison uses these scenes to present certain philosophical ideas and concepts. As much of philosophy is to me just a bunch of abstract reasoning on the meaning of life and the universe much of these scenes were hard for me to grasp. Nevertheless I did enjoy the fantastical essence of these scenes as they make this novel even more peculiar than before. I did like the different characters who defined their behavior in very strong and sometimes strange ways. I was a bit disappoined with the summarized action, which I had not expected as the earlier fantasy work The Worm Ouroboros had plenty of it. Mistress Of Mistresses is however a more conceptual work. The world is a device to display persons and scenes which resonate with his thoughts.

Mistress Of Mistress is to some extent a complicated work in a very stylized but still readable prose. There is plenty of intrigue and the behavior of the characters is sometimes hard to grasp. While reading you can feel there is a lot of history and hidden motives which are unknown to the reader as Eddison does not openly explain or describe these. The reader has to build a picture of his own from the actions and words of the characters and that is a challenge that I do not shrink from. I do have to admit the novel left me rather puzzled at the end, which is somewhat open. Having read the second novel first did not help me. It was some time ago and I could barely recall the details. I could have read it just as well again.

Is Mistress Of Mistresses a worthwhile read? Within the frame of original and old fantasies it certainly is. It won’t be a novel you can do in an easy read. You have to take your time for it and immerse yourself in this peculiar world. There is much to enjoy as Eddison does things very differently from any other fantasy work. That nobody has been inspired to follow his style does say something about the impact it has had although his first work The Worm Ouroboros is much better known. This series does seem to fall into a special category within the genre. Readers who like to explore all kinds of different fantasy stories certainly should not miss this one.

Comments are closed.