E.R. Eddison – The Mezentian Gate

Can one really write a review about an unfinished novel? E.R. Eddison died while he was still writing The Mezentian Gate (1958), the third novel in the Zimiamvia Trilogy, leaving only summaries for the planned chapters he had not written yet and its actual publication stalled until a much later date. The funny thing is that the chapters that he had written, about a dozen or so, belong for one half to the beginning of the novel and for the other half to the end of the novel. A few chapters remained that take place somewhere in the second half. Including the summaries the whole novel is however still 270 pages, which is still a considerable read. The story has a beginning and an end and while the majority of the middle part is summarized the story in itself is fairly complete.

There are several reasons why one would want to read this novel. The first is that it concludes a trilogy. Reading this novel is essential to understand much of what is written in the first two novels. Much of this is caused by the fact that the first two novels explain very little. The reader is just given the characters, their interactions and the events that take place. This is rather different in The Mezentian Gate. In a way one could compare it to the regular revelations and explanations that are provided in a final novel but in the case of the Zimiamvia Trilogy it is the other way around as the books are set up in reverse order. The Mezentian Gate presents the reader with the events that lead up to what happens in the first novel and when you read it you finally can understand what happened in certain events. So should you actually read the novels the other way around? Personally I think it is better to read them in the order the author intended. This way the first two novels are filled with mystery until much is revealed in the final book and the pieces of the puzzle fall into their place.

Although there are only a dozen full chapters in the book they each shine a deeper light on several known characters and introduce several new characters that have the familiar zeal and vividness as is Eddison’s great style. Although the events are less surrealistic there are still several grand scenes that capture the imagination. There is much to appreciate in the prose and presentation of Eddison. If I could compare them to someone contemporary than that would be Quentin Tarantino who can create iconic scenes where they would seem not to be fitting into the type of movie you are watching but they turn the movie to something more. Eddison does this in a similar way. This was less so in the previous novels but now that I think about the scenes from the few chapters of the Mezentian Gate that captured me then there are several of those in this book.

What makes an Eddison novel unique and original is the way he plots his story. It is all just a bit different from the usual fantasy stories. The cause is found in his approach, his desire to tell a story from a particular perspective that lies outside the view of the reader. Perhaps it is also based on an older storytelling style which aims to expand the interactions between the central characters in which they are to be pitted against each other in as many scenes possible without making either of them seem in control, leaving all options open.

The Zimiamvia Trilogy is no easy read but I did enjoy it because of the unusual and original approach. It is the worth found in a well-written novel in a time when the fantasy genre was slowly becoming distinct from science fiction.

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