ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.William Morris, a textile artist, was enad of medieval chivalric romances, so The Well at the World s End, published in 1896, is his contribution to that dying literary genre Thus, you ll find heroic knights on quests, damsels in distress, and scary beasts to slay The novel is even written in archaic language What s different and noteworthy about The Well at the World s End, though, is that it s set in an entirely made up world For this reason, William Morris is often considered the father of high fantasy literature and, not surprisingly, both J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis credit him as a major influence on their own writing.In The Well at the World s End, Ralph of Upmeads, youngest son of the King of Upmeads, leaves home where nothing exciting ever happens without permission and sets out looking for adventure When he hears rumors of a well that exudes water with magical properties, he is intrigued and begins his quest Along the way, he travels through various towns and wildernesses and meets and is sometimes led astray by a host of interesting people including a mysterious knight, a beautiful woman who may be a goddess, a treacherous servant, a brave tavern wench, a barbarian warrior, a solitary sage, and a sadistic king Many exciting adventures occur and by the end of his two year journey, Ralph is a different person and anxious to return home, for him seemed the world was worse than he had looked to find it Forsooth, The Well at the World s End takes a bit of getting used to whereas it s written in archaic prose What is amiss, fair damsel, that thou art in such a plight and what may I for thine avail Doth any pursue thee, that thou fleest thus But meseemeth to adapt, I wot not how, and thou mayst also if thou persevere thereat I m not too fond of this style, but it wasn t long before I got into the rhythm of Morris s prose and it didn t hamper my speed or enjoyment I did have to look up a few words, but Morris used these same unfamiliar words so many times that I was soon comfortable with them He also had the strange habit of sometimes changing, inexplicably, from past to present tense in the narrative.Ralph of Upmeads makes a great hero he s strong, handsome, brave, and good His adventures are entertaining, and so are the places there is some beautiful scenery and people the women, especially, were surprisingly strong characters he meets on his quest The Well at the World s End is not likely to completely satisfy if you re in the mood for something deep, dark, complex, or sexy, but it s a fun story and, since it was written by the first fantasy world builder, it s an important piece of fantasy literature history. William Morris wrote it, so it deserves five stars. This was my first time reading one of Willaim Morris s longer novels, and I was quite impressed Caveat He s coming at this as a folklorist who wants to write fictional accounts of northern European historical ideas The result is epic fantasy fiction written in old world language, but with a compelling storyline It was a bit predictable especially since the chapter headings tell you exactly what s going to happen , but not entirely so I really had no idea what it was about before I began, but I was intrigued as it slowly built up to be a story of an epic quest for basically the fountain of youth I think you really have to picture what s happening a la Tolkein to appreciate the story This would make for a great film This book truly does have everything you d want from a medieval romance of this sort The denoument was pretty long and hard to get into after the climax at the Well, but it got better as I went along, and I just reminded myself how Tolkien s LOTR finished in a similar way and no doubt owed such to the end of The Well Definitely think I ll try some other Morris. Dig around in fantasy enough and eventually you get to William Morris Granted, you ve probably got a long way to go from George R.R Martin to Tolkien to CS Lewis to Lord Dunsany to finally get there but if you re persistent enough he waits for you at the end of the line, like all those SF scenarios where when you get too far back in time you wind up running smack dab into the Big Bang.I m not sure if Morris can be considered the ur author from which all epic high fantasy eventually emerged but I m pretty sure the case had been made at one point or another For one, reading it at times can feel like a proto Tolkien without the insane attention to details of history and language Heck, there s even someone named Gandalf who appears at one point, and a lot of other details are going to be familiar to anyone who has spent many an afternoon with their nose buried in a story about some strange and distant land where everyone carries a sword and says thee a lot You ve got that here as well but Morris wound up beating almost everyone else to the starting gate by publishing his book in 1896 to put that into perspective, when Tolkein was about four years old where he basically had the whole fantasy section in the bookstore to himself.Not that there weren t fantasyesque books that existed before his, but what set Morris apart was his creation of an entire realm that clearly wasn t set in the distant past or existed in a sort of dream state or forgotten land Morris previous book, 1894 s The Wood Beyond the World has plenty of fantastic or supernatural elements but also clearly takes place on Earth, just on a part that s not super easy to get to For some reason this had never really occurred to anyone before and while I don t know how popular it was among the public at the time, it wound up being a little like the Velvet Underground, where even if you ve never heard of them pretty much every band you like is influenced by them in some way.But of course the problem with these first out of the gate books is that sometimes there s a reason they tend to remain obscure and you tend to approach it cautiously, like taking a chance by sitting next to that stranger on the train who might regale you with a witty anecdote or tell you a rambling boring story for the next few hours Just because people thought it was swell at the turn of the last century doesn t mean it plays as well now Society thought human zoos were a reasonable thing as well around that time Sometimes its best to leave things where they are.But surprisingly you can generally see what people like HG Wells and Lewis and Tolkien all saw in this book, as its got a certain charm to it that s pretty undeniable The plot mostly centers around Ralph, the son of King Peter, who allows three of his four sons to head off on adventures so they can see the world Ralph, not wanting to stay behind, decides to sneak off to find the fabled Well Beyond the World s End, the water of which is supposed to bestow wondrous vitality on all who drink it Well, eventually that becomes his goal Before that he just kind of wanders around until someone gives him the idea.And that right there should tell you what kind of book you re walking into Anyone who has read books written in the nineteenth century probably has figured that their idea of thrilling wasn t quite the same as ours and a gentle, easy pace was their version of pulse pounding If you re looking for a deep plot or Tolkien s epic pitting of good against evil, you may have to head back into Hobbit country because is a kind of paen to old time Romantic literature, where the plot exists, but its mostly an excuse to have a series of adventures that tie back to the main thrust in a general sense, giving it a very episodic feel.Its also written in a style that is unabashedly medieval and while its not quite you swear he wrote it while wearing armor in a castle level of insanity that Eddison committed to during The Worm Oroborus to say it takes a while to get used to it is probably putting it mildly Sentences play out languidedly, like a cat stretching in the sun, words like therewith are used without any irony and there s enough Thou s to make even hardcore LARPers ask to dial it down a notch Its a book that you probably have to decide to read for lengthy periods, only because once you immerse yourself in the rhythms of the language it gets easy but diving back in repeatedly will make you feel like one of those people who voluntarily run into freezing cold water Get the shock over with it and plow onward, its easier that way I read most of the second volume on a long plane flight.Still, is it good I say yes, with some qualifications The early stages before the plot really kicks in can be rough going in spots because its mostly Ralph wandering and having reasonable conversations with people and while the fantastic setting has some merit, just because its set in a fantasy world doesn t automatically make it fascinating There s very little feel of magic at play and not in the wizardy sense but a sense of strangeness and otherness that comes from existing right on the edge of what s known.Fortunately, the Lady of Abundance shows up and rescues us all.Her appearance, nearly a hundred pages in and for some people probably in the nick of time, finally gives you an idea of what people saw in this book, as she tells Ralph the story of her childhood and her encounter with the well, a sequence that honestly feels like watching a myth of the collective unconscious being born before your eyes Her presence not only gives the book a focus but also an added emotional heft that wasn t quite present earliera sequence where Ralph mourns the death of someone close to him feels honestly touching even through the flowery language.From there itsepisodic encounters but now with a little bit of focus we actually feel like we re going somewhere The addition of a possible love interest though either hotties are scarce in Ralph s world or they re all a bunch of hippies because pretty much every lady with eyes falls in love with Ralph, making this truly a fantasy and an evil warlord gives the proceedings a bitspice and by the time the first volume closes I had to admit I was being fully entertained, even while my brain was screaming at having to slog through deciphering the language into the simple words and sentences it craved keep a reference for medieval words on hand is my advice By the time I had reached the end of the first volume because its fantasy, so of course it takes place across multiple books I was honestly curious to see where he was going with this Archaic as it comes across, it has a feel both new and old, where it taps into a sense of a long ago past to create something entirely different and even if it feels like well trod territory now, its really only because everyone else has been following and messing up the landscape with all their stomping around. This review covers both volumes.Originally published on my blog here in November 1999.William Morris late nineteenth century romances have proved very influential in twentieth century popular literature, yet they are probably rarely read today There is a strong case for arguing that they mark the origin of the modern fantasy genre The Well at the World s End is the longest, and amply illustrates why his work has become both so influential and so obscure.The story is a simple one, telling the tale of the quest undertaken by Ralph of Upmeads to drink from the well at the World s End, which gives a renewed life both physically and morally to those who do so It tells of the perils and wonders of his journey, of his friendships and loves as he also moves from being a boy to an adult man.So what is it that made Morris an inspiration The principal features of the background to the novel have become the principal features of just about every fantasy novel of the twentieth century an imaginary world, a medieval culture, and magic Morris work shared these aspects with other novels of the nineteenth century they are present to some degree in many Gothic novels but Morris combined them with an optimistic tone which makes his workescapist This tone is related to that of the medieval romances of Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle, but these are firmly set in an idealised version of the real world Of course, part of this comes from the fact that Ralph s quest fits fairly snugly into the mould of Joseph Campbell s hero s journey setting it in an imaginary world is what s new.Morris is perhaps closer to the medieval romance than most of the authors mentioned, hints of say Malory or Chretien de Troyes being constantly present, while the allegorical sounding place names recall such works as Piers Plowman.This medievalism is the foundation of the reasons for the neglect of Morris, as well as conveying the other worldly atmosphere which was another vitally important legacy to the genre There are two aspects of it which led to its rejection as a model First, the prose is full of archaisms which make it difficult to read second, his similarity to allegorical Christian writings together with his rejection of religion given a remarkably peripheral part to play compared to his models means that the whole quest is poorly motivated.The archaisms and pseudo medieval style are grating to a modern reader, and make Morris a slow read They are derived, I suspect, from Scott s ideas of medieval prose, and is about as authentic as a Neo Gothic castle It is, thankfully, something most fantasy writers have abandoned A few still use thee and thou for effect, and there are fewannoying things than reading a writer who has got this wrong The lack of motivation is aserious problem It is possible to read The Well at the World s End as a pure adventure story, if a slow and sedate one, but the allegorical side of things leads the reader to start wondering what the the main symbols especially the well itself actually mean It is possible to come up with meanings I would say that the well is there to show that we need something outside our normal existence to give our lives true meaning, for example but none are insisted on or even important to Morris. Note this is Volume I of II It was Quite good The simplicity of the story in The Wood Beyond the World is refreshing, however the extra space allowed by taking up 2 larger volumes affords a much wider canvas for The Well at the World s End The story of Ralph was interesting and as of the writing of this I m excited to read Volume 2 to find out how it ends I would say I wastaken with the world in this bookthan the story propper The plot isof a mythological or archtypal journey than a compelling story.Having said that, the time I spent reading this book was great and I felt like I was somehow relaxed a bit each time I picked up this bookdespite none of the plot elements themselves being at all calm or relaxing.The basic premise of the book is that the main character goes about on a quest, alternately to reach the fountain of youth beyond the worlds end, and to find a maiden who appears to him off and on. In The Land Of The Upmeads, King Peter S Sons Thirst For Adventure And The King Agrees That All Except Ralph, The Youngest, May Go Forth But Ralph Secretly Makes His Way To Wulstead, And Here Learns About The Well At The World S End, Beginning A Journey Which Will Eventually Lead Him There Just finished volume 1 of The Well at the World s End the other day For a moment I was afraid I wasn t going to like it that much, partly because of some of the reviews I read here, partly because there aren t really a lot of fantasy elements As other reviewers have indicated, it sof a chivalric romance than a fanstasy novel Yet I found myself captivated by the story The faux archaic style is not really distracting in my opinion At the beginning I was getting real fairy tale vibes because of the tropes used in the telling and as the story went on I was very curious about where the adventure would take the protagonist.Reading it directly after finishing a second reading of The Hobbit, it did suffer somewhat by comparison Mainly because Tolkien has a way, in my opinion, of giving very cozy descriptions I didn t find the environment of Morris s tale particularly immersive It felt a bitfunctional than anything else The strength of the book lies mainly in building interest in the strivings and desires of the main characters and making the reader desire to see how they will turn out.Since I have only read the first part at this point, I can t give a complete judgement on how satisfying the entire work is, but I will say that this work does have an epic feeling mainly because of the scale of the adventure Readers may want to decide whether they are up for chivalric novel with little to no magic and no monsters or creatures before taking it on, especially since it is a fairly lengthy work if you consider both volumes together. The Well at the World s End, Volume I actually comprising volumes 1 2 of the original published 4 volume work by William Morris is considered one of the first pure fantasies previous fantasies being set in exotic places similar to Arabian Nights , rather than being set in entirely created settings William Morris was a Pre Raphaelite artist, socialist, poet, furniture maker, philosopher, as well as having written the first pure fantasies This is actually his second one Both C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien admired and claimed to have been influenced by his work So far it has been a pleasant and fairly entertaining work, but these two volumes are obviously only part of a whole and there is really no even minor conclusion For a review of the book as a whole, please see my review of Volume II.