So, I'm still reading through William Morris's The Well at Worlds End. I mentioned that I was going to be reading through it a couple of posts ago.
It is a long book, a very long book, divided into four sections. I'm just arriving at the end of the second section – so I think I can say that I have given it a fair trial.
It is written in the style of a medieval romance, and follows the quest of Ralph, our hero, son of the ruler of a minor kingdom at the edge of the known world, who sets off to seek adventure. He hears stories of the Well atr Worlds End, a well that many have sought but few have found and to drink from which apparently gives eternal youth. He sets off to find it travelling through numerous realms, fighting battles, falling in with travellers, making rather too free with the damsels he meets, to search for this well.
I had been thinking for a while that it was only a matter of time before he met a band of roving hobbits. To be fair I haven't read many fantasy novels, they really aren't my style, so Lord Of The Rings immediately sprang to mind as a referenc point. Imagine my total lack of surprise when I read, in researching the background to the novel , that it has been claimed that The Well at Worlds End was a significant influence on "many notable fantasy authors including C S Lewis and J R R Tolkein." Indeed to the extennt that one "queen" Ralph meets on his quest rides a horse called Silverfax. What was Gandalf's horse called?
So yes, there is still a chance I might meet with hobbits.
I am very torn now whether to continue. My Gothic book pile is filling up and time is precious (did I put in "precious" there as another nod to Tolkein/ Hm, I'm not sure). Still I promised myself that I'd give it two volumes to draw me in. To a great extent it hasn't. The language it is written in attempts to reproduce that of the medieval style, full of meseemeth, yeasays, naysays. Opening the book totally at random we get:
Ralph laughed again, and said "Seest thou what an evil craft ye follow, when thou deemest it better to be slain with bitter torments (as thou shouldest be if thou slewest thy master) than to be sold to any master save one exceeding good?"
At first this language grated sorely, but to be fair (again) I am getting used to it now, and it affects me less.
The whole story gallops along, it is all description of action and speech. What I found difficult was that Morris never tells us what his characters are thinking, the style is much more like watching a film, and it is hard to get inside their heads. Becasue of this I found it hard to bond with Ralph, to fully understand his motivation at each step. As such, for much of the book I felt that I didn't really mind whether he found the well or not.
But now, to be honest, I am starting to get interested. I'm not a quitter, and it seems sad and perverse to leave a book that I have come so far with half read. I don't think I have warmed to Ralph. The only character I felt an interest for, The Queen of Abundance, was sadly killed off all too quickly. So Ralph, no I don't really care if you live happily ever after or not; and at times I really think you don't deserve to. But your quest is now becoming my quest, so methinkest that I shall have to finish this novel despite that, just for the challenge of the quest.
edit – several days later – as I read on I find that the evil lord is called GANDOLF ! – Mr Tolkein – the truth is out !