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"Rightfully, having such a timeless life, this King weareth on his thumb that worm Ouroboros which doctors have from of old made for an ensample of eternity, whereof the end is ever at the beginning and the beginning at the end for ever more."
Lord Juss, Chapter XIII: Koshtra Belorn
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A High Fantasy novel written by Eric Rücker Eddison in 1922, predating The Lord of the Rings by more than 30 years, The Worm Ouroboros presents a sort of transitional text between classic high romance and modern fantasy. The novel focuses on a long war between Witchland (under King Gorice) and Demonland (led by Lord Juss and his brothers) in a fictional version of the planet Mercury, inspired primarily by Norse sagas and Classical Mythology. A notable similarity to LOTR is that both novels feature a heroic quest (Juss and Brandoch Daha's quest to rescue Goldry Bluszco) against the backdrop of a protracted war.

Despite drawing on similar sources as J. R. R. Tolkien's masterwork, Eddison's world contrasts strongly in tone and morality: it is a world of Chivalric Romance and proud warriorsnote  who believe the best way to die is on the field of battle. War Is Glorious and without a constant struggle against a worthy foe the lives of heroes would become meaningless. Another difference between LOTR and The Worm Ouroboros is that Eddison's world is made largely ad hoc by mixing elements of various Mythologies (primarily Norse and ancient Greek, but also some Arabic and Arthurian) and assigning names almost randomly. This was the main complaint Tolkien had about the novel, but he praised it overall nevertheless, particularly its originality. As the man said: "The greatest and most convincing writer of invented worlds that I have read." Finally, although both LOTR and The Worm Ouroboros contain a number of poems, Tolkien's poems are his own creations, while Eddison's novel incorporated actual early modern poems (all properly credited).

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Note that the names "Demons", "Witches", "Imps", "Pixies" etc. do not have their traditional meaning. Rather, they are more like nations, and are able to interbreed. Basically, they're all either humans or Rubber-Forehead Aliens. This fact, together with some of the character's names, stem from the author's childhood. As an adult, he actually revived the heroes of his childhood stories and wrote an entire novel about them, and it seems he simply didn't have the heart to change their names, even if they sounded childish.

The Worm Ouroboros is in the public domain. You can find the text online at Sacred Texts or Wikisource. Or listen to the audiobook.


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The Worm Ouroboros provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Targets: In-universe: The Imps are practically the Butt Monkeys for all other nations of Mercury.
  • The Ace: Zeldornius gives Brandoch Daha and Spitfire gifts that will aid them in the future, but tells Juss he doesn't need them, because he's already the best.
  • Aerith and Bob: While some characters have names you'd expect in a fantasy novel (Corinius, Gorice etc.) others... not so much. Examples: Goldry Bluszco, Lady Prezmyra.
  • Agent Peacock:
    • Lord Brandoch Daha is explicitly referred to as "delicate", his looks are described as "like a girl's", and he dresses extravagantly—- but he is also one of the best warriors and the best swordsman in the world of Mercury.
    • La Fireez
    • Corinius.
  • All-Encompassing Mantle
  • The Alliance: Demonland and Goblinland, later also Impland and Pixieland.
  • Alternative Calendar: The timeline in the appendix uses Anno Carces Conditae dates, "in the year since the founding of Carcë".
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Ghouls, according to the testimony of the civilized ("polite")note  Mercurians.
  • Animal Motifs: The symbol of Witchland is a crab.
  • Arch-Enemy: Corinius and Brandoch Daha to each other.
  • The Artifact: Apparently, the rather jarring names of the nations and the sometimes inconsistent and childish names of characters derive from the fact that Eddison's earliest drafts of the tale date to his early teens. He seemingly didn't have the heart to change them.
  • Asexuality: In contrast to the Witches, the Lords and Ladies of Demonland are mostly asexual beings — with the single exception of Brandoch Daha, none of them show interest in sex, and none at all (including Brandoch) show interest in a romantic attachment. This even includes Goldry Blusczo, who is "betrothed" to Princess Armelline of Goblinland, but whose bride has about two appearances in the book – after all, it is only a political marriage.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: The Witchland Ambassador in the first chapter. After delivering his message and being given a response, he could have said goodbye politely and left without further comment. Instead, he chooses to taunt the Demonland Lords.
  • Asshole Victim: Corsus dies moments after he betrays and murders his fellow Witchland lords - along with his wife - in the vain hope of surviving by gaining the invading Demonland forces.
  • Back from the Dead: King Gorice. Eleven times, no less.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Humility is not the strong (or weak) point of the heroes of Mercury, be they Demons or Witches. Brandoch Daha and the Gorices are especially prone to this.
    • Prezmyra gets one of her own:
      "The world without me would be a summer without roses. Carce without me would be a night without stars."
  • Badass Cape: Corund wears a great wolfskin cloak, adding to his image of barbaric might.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": During Mevrian's escape from Krothering, she has to play drunk to get past Corinius. The narrator notes she acts as if she had learnt the part by rote.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Imps as a whole. At least that's how the Demons and Witches see them.
  • Beard of Evil: King Gorice has a sinister-looking goatee.
  • Big Bad: Gorice. All of him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Juss and Brandoch Daha saving Mevrian and Gro just in time from Witchland soldiers.
  • The Big Guy:
    • Goldry Blusczo. While all the Lords of Demonland are supreme warriors, Goldry is the tallest and strongest.
    • Corund is this to the Witches.
  • Bishōnen: Brandoch Daha, for want of a better word to describe him. As he's introduced (though like the rest of the lords he wears mustachios):
    "His gait was delicate... Very tall was that lord, and slender of build, like a girl... His face was beautiful to look upon, and softly coloured like a girl's face..."
  • Black Magic: Gorice XII's area of expertise (and, it is mentioned, of the long-dead Gorice VII).
  • Barehanded Blade Block: At one point, Brandoch Daha catches a lance being thrust at him, unhorses the rider wielding it, and beheads him. Thus ends Corund's son Cargo.
  • Blood Knight: Most of the characters firmly believe that War Is Glorious and that their lives would be meaningless without it. Lord Gro and the Red Foliot are the only notable exceptions.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Goldry Bluszco, Corinius.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: When Juss and Brandoch Daha are captured in the failed surprise attack on Carcë, Gorice XII (instead of executing them at once) cannot resist the temptation to keep them alive to revel in their humiliation. This, of course, gives them opportunity to escape.
  • Bookends: The main storyline begins and ends with an envoy from Witchland arriving to Demonland. In addition, there's an attack on Carcë near the beginning and another one near the end of the book.
  • Born Winner: The Lords of Demonland.
  • Brain Food: Mantichoras supposedly subsist on human brains.
  • Brains and Brawn: Gro and Corund, while their friendship lasts.
  • Brave Scot: Although Lord Brandoch Daha — mightiest swordsman in the world of Mercury — does not speak with a Scottish accent and has no other obvious Scottish traits, the motto inscribed above his castle's gate is surprisingly composed in (something that sounds like) Scots:
    Ye braggers an' 'a'
    Be skeered and awa'
    Frae Brandoch Daha!
  • The Brute: The Witchland nobles Corund and Corsus are strong, loud and like to fight, but aren't exactly known for their intelligence. However, they differ in that Corund is generally honorable, while Corsus isn't.
  • Call a Pegasus a "Hippogriff": The novel includes both Hippogriffs and "Mantichoras", and both may be somewhat different from what most modern readers would expect.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": "Martlet" is a heraldic term for the real-life bird known as swift. "Flittermouse" is an archaic name for bat.
  • The Cameo: The mysterious, nameless old man that warns Spitfire before the Battle of Thremnir's Heugh is identifiable as Odin for those versed in Norse Mythology and legend.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Lord Gro. Less morally negative than the usual depiction, as this is strongly implied to be due to being the only person who doesn't think War Is Glorious in an entire world of Blood Knights.
  • Citadel City: Carcë, the heavily fortified capital of Witchland, is described both as a citadel and a city.
  • Collapsing Lair: The Iron Tower.
  • Combat by Champion: A wrestling match between Goldry Bluszco of Demonland and King Gorice XI of Witchland, with Witchland's claim for suzerainty over Demonland at stake, sets the main plot in motion.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Gorice XI cheats in his wrestling match with Goldry Bluszco by ramming his fingers up his opponent's nose (it's nowhere near as funny as it might seem in context). Unfortunately for him, Bluszco is just flat-out a better wrestler and, being now sufficiently pissed off, he kills Gorice by slamming him headfirst into the ring.
  • Conflicting Loyalties: Prince La Fireez has to choose between his vassal duties to King Gorice and his debt of honor to the Demons, who once saved his life.
  • Costume Porn: The outfits of significant characters get extensive description, with special attention given to the gemstones, precious metals, fabrics, and any unusual characteristics.
  • Curse: Zeldornius, Helteranius and Jalcanaius Fostus "ensorcelled" in Impland. The "weird" imposed on Brandoch by the Lady of Ishnain Nemartra.
  • Darkest Hour: There are two instances when temporarily all hope seems lost for the Demons: Juss and Brandoch getting captured in their botched surprise attack on Carcë, and the loss of the (seemingly irreplacable) Hippogriff egg in Ravary.
  • Death-or-Glory Attack: Gorice XII's "Sending". While it is an extremely powerful spell, performing it is so difficult and dangerous that Gorice is reluctant to use it more than once.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Lessingham, who is simply never mentioned after the first few chapters.
  • Defiant to the End: Corinius dies with a taunt and a sneer, refusing to drink the water that the Demons offer him.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Gorice XII, instead of having the captive Demons executed on the spot, tortures them by chaining them to a wall and serving them an opulent banquet just out of their reach. — Hardly surprising, this descent into Evil Gloating comes to bite him in the ass.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The people in Lord Juss' dream are as pallid as "a dead corpse".
  • Dirty Coward: Corsus betrays and poisons the other lords of Witchland, hoping to save his own skin when the Demons storm the citadel they're hiding in.
  • Distressed Dude: The bulk of the story focuses on Lord Juss and Brandoch Daha's quest to save Goldry Bluszco after King Gorice's magic spirits him away to an unknown place.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Gro towards Mevrian.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Gorice, we must assume. Though the ending implies he'll come back.
  • The Dragon: Lord Corund takes the post over from Corsus, and the implication is that Corinius is next in line.
  • Driven to Suicide: Queen Prezmyra.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The death of Lord Gro. For a major and probably the most complex character in the book, his abrupt death in the Battle of Carcë is treated very curtly and feels decidedly anticlimactic.
  • Due to the Dead: The victorious Demons have their dead enemies buried magnificently.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: After the penultimate battle for Carcë, Corsus counsels they surrender and trust the Demons to deal fairly—since they have no hope of further reinforcements and their numbers are too few to carry the fight further. This gets him thrown out of the council and reviled as a coward.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Corund walks to his bier while mortally wounded and sits there in full armor until he dies.
  • Egg MacGuffin: The Hippogriff egg.
  • The Emperor: Despite not carrying the title, King Gorice embodies most aspects of this trope, including having lesser kings as vassals.
  • The Empire: Witchland and its dependencies.
  • Enemies Equals Greatness: The Demonland lords end up mourning their former enemies, acknowledging that with their triumph, they have nothing left to truly test themselves or prove their worth, and are left with either becoming farmers and shepherds, or hunting animals well beneath their skill. Hence why the gods grant their wish to resurrect their fallen foes and fight again.
  • Epic Catalog: In chapter XXXI, the armies and their commanders before the Battle of Carcë are listed.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Corund's sons helping Mevrian escape from Corinius.
  • Evil Counterpart: Corinius to Brandoch.
  • Evil Former Friend: Lord Gro from King Gaslark's perspective.
  • Evil Gloating: Gorice XII does this a lot. At one point, Gro mentions how hard it is to play yes-man to this sort of person.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: As Gorice XII is well aware.
  • Evil Overlord: King Gorice's aspiration in all his incarnations.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Iron Tower in Carcë, lair of the sourcerous King Gorice of Witchland. Also a Mage Tower.
  • The Exile: Lord Gro, banished from his native Goblinland for treason.
  • Face Death with Dignity: ...a large number of characters, due to Villainous Valor.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Lady Prezmyra goes from being somewhat sympathetic to the Demons to wishing ruin upon them, in large part due to her anger at how her brother's loyalty to the Demons is putting him at risk, and bringing their home kingdom closer to ruin. This escalates when La Fireez is reported dead during a sea battle between the Demons and Laxus.
  • False Reassurance: Lady Sriva tells Corinius he will "find her chamber-door unlocked at midnight". And she keeps her promise. Only she isn't there.
  • Familial Body Snatcher: King Gorice of Witchland is actually an immortal spirit that possesses its son every time a body dies.
  • Fantastic Racism: Because of their weaker physical build, Goblins are not regarded as worthy opponents on the battlefield by Witches and Pixies (and probably Demons too). Imps are regarded as primitive barbarians by the 'civilized' peoples of Mercury.
  • Fantastic Slur: The Witches repeatedly liken the Red Foliot to a lobster behind his back.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Demonland bears a strong resemblance to medieval Norway. The towns and castles have English names, though.
  • Fat Bastard: Old and gluttonous Corsus. As it turns out, he still can be quite capable when needed.
  • Fate Worse than Death: According to the grimoire, making a mistake in the "sending" ritual will not only mean death for the performer, but also his eternal damnation. Ouch.
  • Final Solution: Used against the cannibalistic Ghoul nation.
  • Food Porn: The description of the banquet at Carcë.
  • Food Songs Are Funny: General Corund sings a "Roast Pork Song" which discourses about how pork is better than poultry and mutton.
  • Foreshadowing: Many instances, sometimes lampshaded and sometimes not. For example, the King's wild eagle tearing out the eyes of the King's hound foreshadows the murder of Gallandus by Corsus.
  • Forever War: Any given country is almost always at war with at least one other country.
  • Forgotten Framing Device: The novel begins with a man from Earth, Lessingham, who dreams his way to Mercury, where the bulk of the novel takes place. On Mercury, Lessingham can watch the locals but cannot be seen or interact with the environment. After observing a feast at the royal court of Demonland in chapter I, at the beginning of chapter II he finds himself transported to the Foliot Islands, where the wrestling match between Gorice and Goldry is about to take place, at which point he disappears from the narrative and is never mentioned again. The rest of the book is entirely about the adventures and intrigues of the nobles of Mercury.note 
  • Friendship Moment: When Corund, suspicious and annoyed at Gro, threatens to kill him, Gro offers him a sword to do it with. Gro later tells Prezmyra that she and her husband are his only real friends in Witchland.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: King Gorice XI and Lord Goldry Bluszco engage in their "wrastling" match while completely buck naked.
  • Funny Foreigner: The Imp prince Mivarsh Faz.
  • The Good Kingdom: Demonland, in contrast to Witchland. The Demons pride themselves on their freedom, and they all seem to serve their lords out of a sense of duty, while the Witches are shown to rule through fear and a rigid hierarchy. Furthermore, Demons treat their allies as equals, in contrast to the Witches, who treat them as vassals.
  • Great Offscreen War: The 'Holy War' against the Ghouls, in which all the "polite" nations of the world of Mercury fought alongside each other, and that ended just shortly before the book's storyline begins.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: The "Holy War" that ended in the Ghouls' extinction. Lampshaded when Lord Gro tries to mine the genocide for anti-Demonland propaganda and is rebuked by the Red Foliot (the most peaceful and mild-mannered ruler in the book), who assures him that the extermination of the Ghouls was most certainly a praiseworthy heroic. As the Ghouls were cannibal sea-raiders, it can be inferred that they felt no different towards the other races of Mercury.
  • Handsome Lech: Corinius. He's handsome and strong but his behaviour towards women is appalling.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In two instances, a character talks about doing something incontinentlynote .
  • Heaven: The land of Zimiamvia, glimpsed by Juss and Brandoch Daha from Morna Moruna, is an earthly paradise for the people of Mercury, where the worthy go after death.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Lord Gro is an incredibly manipulative Magnificent Bastard with a soft spot for the underdog. Thus every time he pulls off a successful plan (and this happens frequently), he immediately goes and switches sides to support the people he just screwed over. This makes him by far the most awesome character in the book. Unfortunately, the stress of being the only non-Blood Knight in his world eventually gets to him, and he goes berserk and starts randomly killing people from both sides in the middle of a battle, leading to his death.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Lord Gro. He goes on to do a Face–Heel Turn near the end of the story.
  • Here We Go Again!: The story begins and ends with the Witchland declaring war against the Demonland.
  • The Hero: Juss.
  • Heroic BSoD: Juss after the attempt to climb Zora. He's out of action for nearly a year.
  • The High Queen: Sophonisba. Prezmyra has the personality, and is crowned Queen of Impland later.
  • Hoistby His Own Petard: Gorice is prone to this. Gorice X, a master swordsman, is killed in a sword-fight; master wrestler Gorice XI is killed in a wrestling match (in which he cheats); Gorice XII, a sorcerer, is killed when his spell backfires.
  • Horned Humanoid: According to chapter I, the Demons have (small) horns. However, they are never again mentioned after chapter I. Whether other races have horns is unclear.
  • Hot-Blooded: Gaslark. It combines poorly with the below trope.
  • Hufflepuff House: The Goblins (with the exception of Lord Gro). We are informed that Goblinland is a major power on par with Demonland, but in the struggle for world domination against Witchland, they are effectively just extras sticking to the coattails of the Demons. And whenever King Gaslark tries to do something grandiose and heroic — like ambushing Carcë or conquering Impland — it backfires spectacularly.
  • Human Alien: If not for the narrator claiming the story occurs on Mercury, and that weird mention of the Demons' horns, it would be easy to believe that the characters were simply humans of fictional ethnicities.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Corinius to Mevrian. Only it turns out he doesn't, because even his own men find it disgusting.
  • I Kiss Your Foot: The story kicks off with the ambassador of Witchland bringing a message from Gorice XII: namely, that his "servants" in Demonland have not paid homage to him recently, so he bids them to present themselves to him, swear allegiance, and "kiss [his] toe" to demonstrate that he is the overlord of Demonland. Some of the lords of Demonland would have killed the ambassador right there for this grievous insult, but Juss knew the whole thing was a declaration of war, but that Gorice hoped the Demons would start it.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Ghouls are supposedly cannibals.
  • In Harm's Way: The story ends with the triumph of the heroes and the defeat of their noble foes, after a long and ruinous war. The heroes are bored. So the gods bring back their foes that they might fight them.
  • Inexplicable Cultural Ties: The civilized nations of Mercury revere the Greek Pantheon. Also, in chapter V, King Gaslark wears a "kirtle of Tyrian purple".
  • Inexplicably Awesome: King Gorice is an immortal sorcerer who has lived for centuries by reincarnating in a new body whenever he's killed. The origins and mechanics of this reincarnation are never really explained; when Lord Juss questions Queen Sophonisbia about it, all she can say is that the gods must permit it for their own purposes and that's all we ever get.
  • In Vino Veritas: The drunken Corinius spills the secret of the Demons' captivity to Prince La Fireez despite heroic efforts at misdirection by the rest of the court.
  • I Owe You My Life: Prince La Fireez to the Lords of Demonland.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: When Gro counsels that the Demons try treachery, Brandoch Daha responds with this.
  • Immortal Ruler: For unknown reasons, King Gorice of Witchland reincarnates upon death. In this way, he has ruled Witchland for at least three-hundred years in twelve incarnations.
  • It's Personal: Between Brandoch Daha and Corinius.
  • Karmic Death: Gorice XII falls victim to his own sorcery. After poisoning several other characters,Corsus dies when his plan to poison the other lords of Witchland backfires.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Witchland declares war on Demonland while the Demons have not yet rebuilt their fleet, which was heavily decimated in the war against the Ghouls.
  • Killed Offscreen: La Fireez and Laxus are killed in a naval battle that's not directly described. The former's death is revealed quite a bit later, and only mentioned in passing.
  • King Bob the Nth: All the Kings of Witchland have been named Gorice, with the novel opening with the death of Gorice XI and ascension of Gorice XII. This is implied to be because all of them are actually the same Familial Body Snatcher.
  • Lady of War: Mevrian, at need. Assisted by the enthusiastic but unskilled Lord Gro, she holds her own in a sword fight against six Witches for a while.
  • The Lancer: Brandoch to The Hero Juss.
  • Large and in Charge: The tallness of a character is a good indicator for the character's political power. Accordingly, Gorice is the tallest, Corund the second tallest of the whole cast.
  • Last Stand: Corund and his troops make a Heroic Sacrifice to provide cover for the remaining Witchland troops to withdraw to Carcë.
  • The Leader: Juss. Although he is never given a title, he is de facto leader/king of Demonland.
  • Lean and Mean: Gorice XII. He's described as tall and thin, but with strong muscles.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: A core part of the background of the conflict. In theory, Witchland and Demonland were supposed to be united against the Always Chaotic Evil Ghouls during the Holy War. In practice, Witchland ditched Demonland to fight on their own at the last minute, forcing Demonland to take heavy casualties while leaving King Gorice's men high and dry. Once the war ended, and Demonland were barely recuperating, Gorice demands they swear fealty or face war, banking on their exhaustion to earn an easy victory.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Corund's sons are brave and honourable. Corsus's sons, though we see very little of them, seem to be cruel and scheming like their father.
  • The Load: Mivarsh to Juss and Brandoch. Subverted though, as his healing skills save Juss's life after the fight with the mantichora.
  • Lovable Traitor: Lord Gro feels that any idiot can do well by being on the winning side but that true genius and sportsmanship lies in joining the losing side and helping them to become the winning side. So in the war between Witchland and Demonland he deserts whichever side is winning to help the losing side and does this several times throughout the novel. He is unhappy but not surprised at the sort of reputation this gives him.
  • Love Before First Sight: Corinius falls in love with Mevrian after seeing her in a painting.
  • Love Redeems: Gro's defection from Witchland is triggered by his crush on Mevrian. Of course his initial loyalty to Witchland seems to have been due to his crush on the beauteous Prezmyra. Apparently he's a 'love the girl you're with' type.
  • Magic Knight: King Gorice XII is a master sorcerer, and, although we never see him in a fight, is also described as physically very strong and imposing. Lord Juss is primarily a fighter, but can also use some magic.
  • Mage Tower: The Iron Tower of Carcë, where Gorice XII goes to study Black Magic and call on the powers of Hell.
  • Make a Wish: On behalf of the Demons, Sophonisba prays to the Gods to restore the Witches. And it happens.
  • Master Swordsman: Lord Brandoch Daha, who at age nineteen defeated Gorice X, then the greatest swordsman in the world.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Corsus is coarse, but Gallandus is gallant. No wonder they don't get along.
    • Spitfire breathes fire (though, like the other non-human characteristics of the Demons, this is never referred to again after the start of the novel).
    • Sophonisba shares her name with a Carthaginian noblewoman, who also committed suicide rather than letting herself be captured by a conquering army.
  • Medieval European Fantasy
  • Mr. Exposition: The martlet.
  • Mundane Wish: When the Lady of Ishnain Nemartra grants Brandoch a wish, he — instead of making use of her semi-divine powers — wishes to sleep with her. Then he leaves her. No wonder she curses him.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Corsus, general of the Witchland will opt for murder in a tight spot: Thus, he poisons King Rezedor of Goblinland, stabs his second-in-command Gallandus for fear of mutiny, and, finally, poisons the whole remaining elite of Witchland in an effort to save his skin. Each time, it backfires on him and leaves him off worse than before.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: The more honorable Witchland nobles, such as Laxus and Corund and his sons, have this attitude.
  • My Friends… and Zoidberg!: Played With when Juss swears the Witchland ambassador will not be harmed, and that his oath "hath never been forsworn, to Witch or other barbarian."
  • Mythical Motifs: The symbol of Demonland is a Hippogriff. Ouroboros, among other things, is a symbol of King Gorice because he can reincarnate after death.
  • Narrative Filigree: A lot.
  • Nasty Party: In a case of Offstage Villainy, the Witches thus get rid of the Princes of Impland.
  • Noble Demon:
    • Mevrian praises Corund's sons for being this.
    • Corund himself has shades of this, too: he is crude and harsh, but generally honorable. He even spares the lives of all ordinary Demon soldiers the Witches capture after a siege that's very costly to his troops.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Gorice XII (sits back, gives orders, casts one spell to set the main plot in motion). Contrast with his predecessors Gorice XI (killed in a Combat by Champion wrestling match) and Gorice X (considered the best swordsman in the world; killed in a swordfight).
  • Non-Action Guy: Gro relies on his wits rather than his sword; he turns out to be a worse fighter than Mevrian.
  • Non-Indicative Title: The eponymous Worm Ouroboros is not actually an entity in the book. It is, however, a important thematic motif associated with King Gorice and the ending.
  • Non Sequitur: Corund's phrase "The devil damn me black as buttermilk" in chapter XI.note 
  • Ouroboros: King Gorice wears a ring with this symbol. But also the book is a story that is taken to be part of a wider conflict with an ill defined beginning or end which casts an interesting light on the heroics of the main characters. To reflect this they have the name and also the Bookends of Here We Go Again!.
  • Odd Name Out: The top military command of Witchland consists of Corund, Corsus, Corinius and ... Laxus.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: A number of battles are described by characters after the fact, but Brandoch Daha's retrieving the hippogriff egg from the frozen lake counts double, as no one else is there to watch him do it.
  • Only Sane Man: Lord Gro can come across as this, as the only major character who isn't a Blood Knight to some degree. Most notably, he tries to convince the Demons to eliminate the worst Witchland leaders (Gorice, Corsus and Corinius) using trickery and negotiate peace with the honourable ones like Corund and his sons. They flatly refuse, thinking this dishonourable.
  • Our Demons Are Different: To the point where they have nothing to do with any conventional depiction of demons. There is one brief and early mention of them possessing horns (or, perhaps, their helmets possessing them), but at best, their love of war, if anything, vaguely recalls the Asuras of Hinduism and Buddhism.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The Foliots are named after an obscure type of poltergeist-like spirit. They don't really have anything in common with these beings, though.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Like the demons, they barely resemble their mythological counterparts, though Lord Gro at least has the physical ineptitude and backstabbing, trickster nature associated with goblins, despite being an apparently Human Alien.
  • Pervert Dad: Corsus comes across as this, especially when he sends his daughter to Go Seduce My Archnemesis.
  • Parental Abandonment: Although the Lords of Demonland all are in their early thirties at most, they apparently have no living parents — nor is there a single word dropped on what happened to their parents or who they were.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Backfires on Corsus.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Witches are considerably more dismissive of other peoples than the Demons. Fits especially on Corinius, who never misses out on an opportunity to show his disapproval of Gro, whom he likes to call "the Goblin". He is also an unabashed macho (See I Have You Now, My Pretty).
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: A soothsaying woman once prophesied Mivarsh the manner of his death: He would be eaten by a crocodile. As it turns out, she wasn't a fraud.
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • Laxus, Admiral of Witchland. The Demons themselves acknowledge that he is an utterly decent guy, only he happens to serve the evil side. And he has an exemplary sense of duty.
    • Corund's sons Heming and Cargo seem to be rather decent fellows, too.
  • Purple Prose: And how!
  • The Quest: The two expeditions into Impland to rescue Goldry Bluszco.
  • Really Gets Around: Sriva, who at one point is justifiably worried because she has one boyfriend waiting in her room and another one singing ballads outside the window (and then traipses off to seduce another).
  • Reluctant Warrior: Lord Gro and the Red Foliot. They stick out because all the other characters are Proud Warrior Race Guys
  • Really 700 Years Old: Queen Sophonisba, fosterling of the gods, forever seventeen years old. Actually around 230 years old at the time the events of the novel take place.
  • Reset Button: Deliberately pushed at the end. The princes of Demonland, having triumphed over rival Witchland, nevertheless mourn the loss of their worthy enemies and the ending of their epic battles. Their companion the demi-goddess Sophonisba allows their entire world to be reset to just before the countries declare war, to the satisfaction of all involved, with the implication that this may keep happening for the rest of time.
  • Respawn Point: Whenever King Gorice of Witchland is killed (and buried), he soon after reincarnates in the Iron Tower of Carcë.
  • Rightful King Returns: After two years of absence, Lords Juss and Brandoch Daha return to Demonland, now occupied by the Witches, to drive out Corinius, the king installed by Gorice.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The Demons are mentioned to have horns in the early chapters, though they're not mentioned again and might actually be horned helmets. The Red Foliot apparently has red skin. The Witch ambassador has a tail, but it appears that other Witches don't (i.e. it's some sort of birth defect or curse).
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Corinius suggests to Mevrian marrying him would be in the interest of her conquered people. She doesn't buy it.
  • Scenery Porn: The story frequently stops in order to describe the supernaturally beautiful scenery, both indoors and outdoors. The description of the Demon Lords' throne room is the most outrageous example, but there are others. The novel contains its share of Costume Porn as well.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: Goldry Bluszco in his mountain prison.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: Gorice XII.
  • Serenade Your Lover: Laxus for Sriva.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: When Corsus believes his soldiers plan to mutiny and to put Gallandus in his place, he stabs Gallandus to death in his sleep.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: After the heroes' final victory, they are feasting in their hall, feeling melancholy over their inability to complete any more great deeds, when one of their powerful magical allies offers them a gift for helping her earlier. They wish for the villain and his henchmen to be resurrected so they can fight him again, rather than being bored, finding some other adventures, or turning on each other.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Gorice XII, though he seems to use his sorcery rather sparingly.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Zimiamvian series is loosely related to The Worm Ouroboros and can be considered a sort of prequel.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Corund advises Gorice to have the captured Demons executed on the spot. He won't listen.
  • Staying Alive: Gorice.
  • Storming the Castle: The storming of Carcë.
  • Stupid Neutral: Lord Gro just can't help rooting for the underdog, which leads him to switch sides on a regular basis until in the final battle he starts attacking both sides at once.
  • Summoning Ritual: Gorice XII, assisted by Gro, summons a supernatural entity to wreck the Demon fleet.
  • Superpower Meltdown: The end of Gorice XII.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Mevrian escapes Krothering disguised as one of Corund's sons.
  • Take That!: As listening to the martlet rambling about the noble Demons and the accursed Witches, Lessingham thinks the little bird talks like a politician.
    "Behold, wonder, and lament," said the martlet, "that the innocent eye of day should be enforced still to look upon the children of night everlasting. Corund of Witchland and his cursed sons."
    Lessingham thought, "A most fiery politician is my little martlet: damned fiends and angels and nothing betwixt for her. But I'll dance to none of their tunes, but wait for these things' unfolding."
  • Take Over the World: Witchland's unspoken mission statement.
  • There Is Another: It turns out the "last hippogriff egg" wasn't really the last one — there is another on the bottom of an icy-cold lake in Demonland.
  • Those Two Guys: Intelligent, duplicitous Gro and badass Corund. Fritz Leiber credited them as one of the inspirations for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The grimoire of King Gorice of Witchland in E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros is used to harness the powers of Hell.
  • Treasure Is Bigger in Fiction: Juss' palace at Galing takes the cake. Not only are the high seats of the Demons carved from single gemstones "of monstrous size", there's more: "(...) the capital of every one of the four-and-twenty pillars was hewn from a single precious stone (...) all hewn from faultless gems, thrice the bulk of a big man's body."
  • Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: The ambassador from Witchland says that he represents "Gorice XI, most glorious King of Witchland, Lord and great Duke of Buteny and Estremarine, Commander of Shulan, Thramnë, Mingos, and Permio, and High Warden of the Esamocian Marches, Great Duke of Trace, King Paramount of Beshtria and Nevria and Prince of Ar, Great Lord over the country of Ojedia, Maltraëny, and of Baltary and Toribia, and Lord of many other countries, most glorious and most great, whose power and glory is over all the world and whose name shall endure for all generations." The lords of Demonland, still stinging from Gorice's cowardly abandonment of them during the war against the Ghouls, are unimpressed.
  • Turn Coat: Lord Gro of Goblinland, no, Witchland, er, well, Demonland, um...
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Lady Sriva, the beautiful daughter of old, fat and ugly Duke Corsus.
    Zenambria, wife to Duke Corsus, sat on her left, and on her right Sriva, daughter to Corsus, strangely fair for such a father.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Corund and Prezmyra. Just about everybody views their marriage as a misalliance yet Corund was Prezmyra's own free choice out of a score of suitors.
  • Undying Loyalty: In the final battle for Carcë, the Red Foliot turns up with three hundred men.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Corinius sets off the Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo debacle by suggesting they all swap cups while toasting.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Goldry Bluszco is seized by berserk fury in the wrestling match.
  • Victory Is Boring: The protagonists win, but find nothing else interesting for them to do after their victory. They wish for the conflict to happen all over again, causing the entire thing to start over again. This is the purpose of the title, as the Ouroboros is a symbol of a snake or dragon eating its own tail, symbolizing cyclicality.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Sriva, in stark contrast to Prezmyra, is last seen begging for mercy from Goldry Bluszco.
  • Villainous Crush: Gro, Heming and Corinius fall for Mevrian. She's quite something! Unluckily for them all she's also vowed to Artemis. Recognizing the honorable character and intentions of Gro and Heming Mevrian turns them down gently and with courtesy as opposed to her scornful rejection of the brutish Corinius.
  • Villainous Glutton: Duke Corsus.
  • Villainous Valour: Displayed by the Witches in many instances.
  • War Is Glorious: The Demons love battle, so much that they wish their enemies back to life and start the whole cycle over again just to get someone to fight.
  • Warrior Prince: Juss and the other Demonland lords often fight at the forefront of their troops.
  • We Have Reserves: The Witches treat the subjugated Imps as cannon fodder.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Just about everybody wonders why on Mercury the beauteous Prezmyra picked Corund of Witchland - at least a decade her senior and frequently compared to an ox in appearance - out of a score of suitors. She is clearly devoted to him to the point of committing suicide after he is killed.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Heavy case. Both Witches and Demons worry little about the countless mooks that have to die for their war, including those of their own side.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: Bear in mind that the morality on this world is different from our own, being more in line with that of medieval Norse warriors. The Witches come across as worse because they're trying to subjugate all the smaller nations. King Gorice and Lord Corinius come across as thoroughly evil (and Lord Corsus is not far behind), but the same cannot be said of the other Witchland nobles.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Demons never lie, and detest those who do.
  • Witch Species: In Name Only. The Witches are one of the major peoples of Mercury and the antagonists of the novel, but while their king is a powerful sorcerer, most of them have no more magical ability than anyone else.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: Voarchadumia and Tripsarecopsem.
  • Worthy Opponent: How the Demons see the Witches, particularly Lord Corund. He returns the favour, and refuses to use trickery against the Demons despite Lord Gro's urgings.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: The Demons. This, together with the fact that they always keep their word, is the main reason they come across as the good guys.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Masterfully averted. The book is written in perfect Jacobean English.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: As Mivarsh has to learn harshly.


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