Shelf Life: The Forgotten Well At World’s End

I’ve never worked so hard to finish a book.

After reading William Morris’s The Well At World’s End, I can feel every aching step, every maddening mile of Prince Ralph’s epic quest to drink the magic draught and save the kingdom from the wiles of wicked men. I can feel the chafe of the bridle, the callous from the bit, my chair-bound behind as sore as if I’d been riding on his saddle, spent arms and weary legs wrapped tight around his armoured knighthood.

If this thing were assigned in some college lit class, it would have slid uncracked to the bottom of my backpack, lost before I hit the lunch-rush at the cafeteria. Of course, I’d look up a few things. Make a few notes on theme and imagery, regurgitate critical reception. Something to sound smart enough to slough through an essay on the exam.

But this wasn’t for school, wasn’t for something as silly as credit. No, this was for something sacred: This was for Book Club.  And the first rule of Book Club is that you read the book for Book Club. (Except when you don’t, but I’m too new to beg a free pass.)

Still, not my cup of tea.

In honesty, I don’t really know how to judge the book. I’ve never been a fantasy guy. Like hip hop, I don’t have a frame of reference to sift the good from the bad, the inventive from the ripped-off. Occasionally, I’ll dip my toe into some Sci-Fi.  That I get, Star Trek and the like, blasting modern conundrums a galaxy away, to better see the self at arm’s length, and with lasers. Phew! Phew!

Fantasy, well that’s a whole ‘nother leap of the imagination. Creating one’s own world from scratch, populating it with creatures, peoples, morals and social structures as you see fit. That’s a trick.

The author was suggested due to his influence on a few other writers: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. You may have heard of those guys. Morris palled around with them, a father-figure of a sort. A mentor perhaps.  The jury’s out as to how much influence he had on the next generation, but his words are still out there, wafting on the public domain. His name will likely pop up in the 3rd-pint round of a geekly discussion, sometime after debating Gandalf vs. Dumbledore.

So who am I to judge? William Morris was ahead of his time, and like young Prince Ralph, he blazed a trail to parts unknown.  Sadly he’ll go down as the Friendster of the Fantasy world, but at least he had the courage to get up and ride, to pen-up dreams of things unseen. A worthy quest indeed.

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