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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two romances from the foundations of fantasy, 25 Oct 2006
This review is from: On the Lines of Morris' Romances: Two Books that Inspired J. R. R. Tolkien-The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World's End (Paperback)
These stories are two of the earliest fantasies ever written, by the father of fantasy, William Morris, who started this new sort of story writing round about the 1870s. 'The Wood Beyond the World' and 'The Well at the World's End' were first published in the mid 1890s. Because Morris was the first and had no pattern to follow or column of 'tick-boxes', to guide him as to what should go into a fantasy and how it should be written, these stories are not conventional but original. Some readers who enjoy modern fantasy, have been heard to grumble about the lack of character development, political incorrectness, references to the religions of this world and so on. None of those criticisms seem entirely fair in light of the fact that fantasy didn't exist as a genre when Morris first conceived these tales. They're set in this world (not some alternative or parallel universe), albeit in some imaginary location in Northern Europe and the references to religion reflect the situation at a particular period in our history. In these two stories, it's the Roman Catholic religion but in other stories, set in an earlier period (eg 'The House of the Wolfings' and 'The Roots of the Mountains'), all the references are to an older, Pagan religion. It's true that the characters are thin, but their adventures are substantial and we learn enough about them from what they do to make up for what we're not told about how they think and feel. As for political correctness, that's a very modern invention and Morris could not be expected to anticipate it. Even so, it is clear from his writing that he was an idealist and had a lot of respect for people: rich and poor, male and female.

In 'The Wood Beyond the World' a young man leaves home to escape the disappointment of his loveless marriage and to find adventure abroad. He follows a sort of 'vision' that comes to him very early in his travels, and arrives at an enchanted wood where he finds both love and peril. He's ensnared by 'the mistress' of the wood and falls in love with her slave. It's a tricky situation but fortunately for Walter, the slave is almost as powerful as the mistress, so even though escape is difficult, they do have a chance.

In 'The Well at the World's End' the youngest of four princes leaves home despite the wishes of his parents that he should stay. He falls in love twice in the course of his many adventures and almost every woman he meets falls in love with him. He and his second love seek the well at the world's end, the water of which extends life and youth. They have to overcome several very daunting obstacles before they can get to the well, but they're young, brave and strong and the mere appearance of impossibility cannot deter them.

Both stories are enjoyable but some readers might find the writing style a bit of a challenge. Morris used an archaised form of English - "Yea, yea; what though willest ..." - and that sort of thing. I got used to it pretty quickly and found it added to my enjoyment. Others may feel differently so it's only fair to mention this unusual style for those who might find it less attractive. I recommend these books/this volume to everyone who likes fantasies and who can enjoy (or at least not mind) the archaic style of writing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 28 Jun 2012
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This review is from: On the Lines of Morris' Romances: Two Books that Inspired J. R. R. Tolkien-The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World's End (Paperback)
For anyone that enjoys fantasy this book is great. A bit of a challenge to get to grips with because of the archaic English but after a while it really flows.
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