Vintage Treasures: Zimiamvia: A Trilogy by E.R. Eddison

Vintage Treasures: Zimiamvia: A Trilogy by E.R. Eddison

Zimiamvia a Trilogy E R Eddison-small Zimiamvia a Trilogy E R Eddison-back-small

There’s an awful lot of bestselling fantasy on the market these days, and sometimes it seems it’ll be around forever. But I know from hard experience that the vast majority of it will be gone in five years. It’s the rare fantasy indeed that remains in print for a decade — much less 20, 30, or 50 years.

E.R. Eddison’s Zimiamvia trilogy has been in print, off and on, for an astonishing eight decades, since the first volume appeared in 1935. J.R.R. Tolkien called Eddison “The greatest and most convincing writer of invented worlds that I have read,” and in the decades that followed his reputation has only grown among serious students of fantasy. The three volume in the trilogy are:

Mistress of Mistresses (1935)
A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941)
The Mezentian Gate (1958)

Eddison was also the author of the fantasy classic The Worm Ouroboros, to which the Zimiamvia trilogy is a loose sequel.

[Click the images for bigger versions.]

I first encountered Eddison’s masterpiece in a Ballantine paperback edition from 1967, with a gorgeous set of matched covers by Barbara Remington. In October of 2015, Harper returned all four books to print with a handsome set of interlocking cover images.

The Mezentian Gate-small The Worm Ouroboros-small
A Fish Dinner in Memison-small Mistress of Mistresses-small

But my favorite edition of these venerable fantasy classics is the single-volume, 985-page omnibus edition published by Del Rey in 1992, pictured at top. In addition to being a handy and compact edition of the novels, it includes an extensive 30-page intro by Paul Edmund Thomas that explains some of the mythological and historical references that may be a bit obscure to modern audiences. I wasn’t smart enough to pick it up when it first came out, but fortunately copies are relatively plentiful online. I bought an unread copy in pristine condition on eBay for about half the original cover price — and last I checked there were still half a dozen copies available, starting at $7.12 (including shipping).

Our previous coverage of E.R. Edisson includes:

Discover the Prototype for Lord of the Rings: The Zimiamvia Trilogy by E. R. Eddison
“It Is Neither Allegory Nor Fable But A Story To Be Read For Its Own Sake”: E.R. Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros, and Zimiamvia, by Matthew David Surridge

Zimiamvia: A Trilogy was published by Del Rey books in September 1992. It is 985 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback. The cover artist is uncredited, but it sure looks like a Hildebrandt.

See all of our coverage of Vintage Treasures here.

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Tiberius

I ordered the trilogy via eBay some years back from none other than Darryl Schweitzer (cough name drop). Alas they, an ace double and some magazines went MIA in international post, so to this day I haven’t picked up a replacement set to read. I can believe a follow on from Worm as that was left open ended, which of course is what the title of the book implies. Anyhow, I must get these! The omnibus version looks like a good way to go, thanks John.

James McGlothlin

I got these when I was collecting the Ballatine Adult Fantasy series a few years back.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballantine_Adult_Fantasy_series

In those versions, I read all three of these, greedily! There’s something timeless about these books, but I find hard to put my finger on it. You feel like you’re reading something like Homer and Virgil.

Thomas Parker

I remember that while Lin Carter thought the Worm the greatest of all fantasy novels, he didn’t like the Zimiamvia books. He compared the Worm to Homer, but said the others were like Machiavelli. Sounds pretty good to me, actually!

James McGlothlin

@Thomas Parker: What would Carter have thought of Martin’s Ice and Fire series? Those books make any Eddison comparison with Machiavelli look silly!

Thomas Parker

Actually, I do wonder what Carter would have made of a lot of current “gritty” fantasy. He was a stickler for proper “fantasy diction” (in other people’s books, anyway) and I think Martin’s would have been a bit loose for him. And Glen Cook would have given him apoplexy!

Tiberius

James,
You know I never consciously put the two together, Virgil and Eddison. But now you say it, it starts to fall in place, no wonder I found a certain affinity for Worm, though I last read the Aenid (English penguin classic – my Latin is alas, ceteris paribus, limited to a few phrases) many years back the relationship I never before saw is definitely there.

Ken Lizzi

I brought my copy of the omnibus edition with me to basic training — oh so many years ago. When we were finally allowed to access personal belongings, Zimiamvia transported me far from Ft. Jackson, bellowing drill sergeants, and oh-dark-thirty PT. I re-read Worm a couple of years ago. Perhaps it’s time to plunge back in?

Adrian Simmons

I have heard this “The Worm Ouroborus” referenced many times through the years. I may have to check this trilogy (or quatrogy) out.

Thomas Parker

It’s an amazing book, certainly. I don’t know if I would agree with Lin Carter that it’s the greatest of all fantasy novels, but it’s in my top 5. Fast Food Fantasy, it isn’t – more like lark’s tongues in aspic.

Eugene R.

I love the Barbara Remington covers for the Ballantine editions of Eddison. But, a neighboring town public library has the Dell annotated editions, and I have been slooowly working my way through Mistress of Mistresses when I stop by, there.

Ken Lizzi

Ken — I can imagine this book would make quite a change from basic! What made you bring this one? And did you have much time to read while you were in uniform?
Comment by John ONeill – April 8, 2017 11:57 am

John, I could very few items with me (I was provided a packing list.) If I was to bring only one book it might as well be a hefty one. And a world removed from WWII-era barracks in South Carolina. I found time to read: late night fire watch, Sundays, etc. Where there’s a will…

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