Monday, December 11, 2017

James Branch Cabell and E.R. Eddison

When Ballantine reprinted James Branch Cabell’s Domnei in the Adult Fantasy series in March 1972, the rear cover sported a new blurb by E.R. Eddison, who had died in 1945. Where did the blurb come from?  It turns out that it came from a letter Eddison wrote to Cabell in 1926, and it related not to Domnei but to Jurgen.

When Albert & Charles Boni published the first American edition of The Worm Ouroboros in May 1926, they included in the front matter of the book a facsimile letter dated 21 November 1925 from James Branch Cabell to the publishers.  It reads, as follows:


In reply to your letter of the twelfth, it has now for three years stayed a puzzle to me that The Worm Ouroboros is not better known. The book, to be sure, is not for everyone. So many persons, indeed, to whose attention I have introduced it, have gotten from the volume only boredom that I have at last, through a series of depressing failures to communicate my enthusiasm, been reduced to concluding that a reader finds perforce in this book exceeding joy or else nothing at all,—in either case, quite unpredictably.

To me, in any event, The Worm Ouroboros remains a rather majestic example of romance,—of really pure romance, untitivated, in our modern way, with satire or allegory, or even with humor,—of the romance, in fine, which purchases, through its own unadulterate magic, and for no utilitarian ends whatsoever, the momentary “suspension of disbelief” in many very beautiful impossibilities.

Yours faithfully,

James Branch Cabell

Eddison wrote to Cabell on 19 June 1926:

Dear Sir

I have just received copies of the American edition of my Worm Ouroboros, and read for the first time your generous comments on my book. I must write this line to thank you. Also to thank you for the pleasure I have had from Jurgen; and most of all, from Queen Anaïtis, with whom I have hopes that someday, in Elysium, I too may voyage to that island in Cocaigne. In that passage (end of Ch. XX and CH. XXI) you have, in my humble judgment, touched perfection. It has that quality of really great writing, to be better always at the last time of reading than at the time before; and its delightful humour is without all topical or extraneous adulteration which, growing out of fashion, could rob it of its freshness with the lapse of time.

I am proud to have your name on my books, and to know that you like it.

Yours faithfully,

E.R. Eddison

These letters were published in a 1968 issue of Kalki, the journal of the James Branch Cabell Society, where Lin Carter saw them and later applied Eddison's comments to Domnei. (Carter even recommends reading Kalki and joining the Cabell Society in his introduction to Domnei.)

After Eddison’s novel Mistress of Mistresses (1935) was published, Cabell reviewed it favorably in the January 1936 issue of The American Mercury. Some of Cabell’s review was reworked into the discussion of literature in the twenty-fourth chapter of Cabell’s novel Smire (1937).