The Well at the World's End

The Well at the World's End is a high fantasy novel by the British artist, poet, and author William Morris. It was first published in 1896 and has been reprinted a number of times since, most notably in two parts as the 20th and 21st volumes of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, in August and September 1970.

The Well at the World's End
The Well at the Worlds End 1-2
Covers of The Well at the World's End (1970), vols. 1–2, Ballantine Books
AuthorWilliam Morris
CountryEngland
LanguageEnglish
GenreFantasy novel
PublisherThe Kelmscott Press
Publication date
1896
Media typePrint (hardback)

Plot summary

Using language with elements of the medieval tales which were his models, Morris tells the story of Peter, King of Upmeads, and his four sons, Blaise, Hugh, Gregory, and Ralph. These four sons decide one day that they would like to explore the world, so their father gives them permission, except for Ralph, who is to remain at home to ensure at least one living heir. From that point on, the plot centers on the youngest son, Ralph, who secretly departs contrary to his father's orders.

Ralph's explorations begin at Bourton Abbas, after which he goes through the Wood Perilous. He has various adventures there, including the slaying of two men who had entrapped a woman. That woman later turns out to be the Lady of Abundance, who later becomes his lover for a short time.

In one episode Ralph is staying at a castle and inquires about the Lady of the castle (the so-called Lady of Abundance), whom he has not yet seen. Descriptions of her youth and beauty suggest to him that she has drunk from the well at the world’s end. "And now in his heart waxed the desire of that Lady, once seen, as he deemed, in such strange wise; but he wondered within himself if the devil had not sown that longing within him ..." A short time later, while still at the castle, Ralph contemplates images of the Lady and "was filled with the sweetness of desire when he looked on them." Then he reads a book containing information about her, and his desire to meet the Lady of Abundance flames higher. When he goes to bed, he sleeps "for the very weariness of his longing." He fears leaving the castle because she might come while he is gone. Eventually he leaves the castle and meets the Lady of Abundance, who turns out to be the same lady he had rescued some weeks earlier from two men.

When he meets her this time, the lady is being fought over by two knights, one of whom slays the other. That knight nearly kills Ralph, but the lady intervenes and promises to become the knight’s lover if he would spare Ralph. Eventually, she leads Ralph away during the night to save Ralph’s life from this knight, since Ralph had once saved hers. She tells Ralph of her trip to the Well at the World’s End, her drinking of the water, the tales of her long life, and a maiden named Ursula whom she thinks is especially suited to Ralph. Eventually, the knight catches up to them and kills her with his sword while Ralph is out hunting. Upon Ralph’s return, the knight charges Ralph, and Ralph puts an arrow through his head. After Ralph buries both of them, he begins a journey that will take him to the Well at the World’s End.

As he comes near the village of Whitwall, Ralph meets a group of men, which includes his brother Blaise and Blaise’s attendant, Richard. Ralph joins them, and Richard tells Ralph about having grown up in Swevenham, from which two men and one woman had once set out for the Well at the World’s End. Richard had never learned what happened to those three. Richard promises to visit Swevenham and learn what he can about the Well at the World’s End.

Ralph falls in with some merchants, led by a man named Clement, who travel to the East. Ralph is in search of the Well at the World’s End, and they are in search of trade. This journey takes him far to the east in the direction of the well, through the villages of Cheaping Knowe, Goldburg, and many other hamlets. Ralph learns that a maiden, whom the Lady of Abundance had mentioned to him, has been captured and sold as a slave. He inquires about her, calling her his ‘sister’, and he hears that she may have been sold to Gandolf, the cruel, powerful, and ruthless Lord of Utterbol. The queen of Goldburg writes Ralph a letter of recommendation to Gandolf, and Morfinn the Minstrel, whom Ralph met at Goldburg, promises to guide him to Utterbol.

Morfinn turns out to be a traitor who delivers Ralph into the hands of Gandolf. After some time with the Lord of Utterbol and his men, Ralph escapes. Meanwhile, Ursula, Ralph’s "sister", who has been enslaved at Utterbol, escapes and by chance meets Ralph in the woods beneath the mountain, both of them desiring to reach the Well at the World’s End. Eventually their travels take them to the Sage of Swevenham, who gives them instructions for finding the Well at the World’s End.

On their journey to the well, they fall in love, especially after Ralph saves her life from a bear's attack. Eventually they make their way to the sea, on the edge of which is the Well at the World’s End. They each drink a cup of the well's water and are enlivened by it. They then backtrack along the path they had earlier followed, meeting the Sage of Swevenham and the new Lord of Utterbol, who has slain the previous evil lord and remade the city into a good city, and the pair returns the rest of the way to Upmeads.

While they experience challenges and battles along the way, the pair succeeds in all their endeavors. Their last challenge is a battle against men from the Burg of the Four Friths. These men come against Upmeads to attack it. As Ralph approaches Upmeads, he gathers supporters around him, including the Champions of the Dry Tree. After Ralph and his company stop at Wulstead, where Ralph is reunited with his parents as well as Clement Chapman, he leads a force in excess of a thousand men against the enemy and defeats them. He then brings his parents back to High House in Upmeads to restore them to their throne. As Ralph and Ursula come to the High House, Ralph's parents install Ralph and Ursula as King and Queen of Upmeads.

Reception and influence

On its publication, The Well at the World's End was praised by H. G. Wells, who compared the book to Malory and admired its writing style: "all the workmanship of the book is stout oaken stuff, that must needs endure and preserve the memory of one of the stoutest, cleanest lives that has been lived in these latter days".[1]

Although the novel is relatively obscure by today's standards, it has had a significant influence on many notable fantasy authors. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien both seem to have found inspiration in The Well at the World's End: ancient tables of stone, "King Gandolf," a "King Peter," and a quick, white horse named "Silverfax," an obvious inspiration for "Shadowfax," are only a few. Lewis was sufficiently enamored with Morris that he wrote an essay on that author, first read to an undergraduate society at Oxford University called the Martlets and later published in the collection of essays called Rehabilitations.[2]

The Ballantine one-volume paperback edition has what appears to be a quotation from C. S. Lewis on the back cover: "I have been more curious about travels from Upmeads to Utterbol than about those recorded in Hokluyt. The magic in The Well at the World's End is that it is an image of the truth. If to love story is to love excitement, then I ought to be the greatest lover of excitement alive!" This passage is actually a pastiche of phrases from Lewis's essay "On Stories" (anthologised in several collections, including Of This and Other Worlds, William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., Glasgow, 1982: pp. 25–45), and distorts Lewis's original meaning. He does not say that "the magic in the book" is an image of the truth, but that he is "not sure, on second thoughts, that the slow fading of the magic in The Well at the World's End is, after all, a blemish. It is an image of the truth" (p. 45).

The same title was used by Scottish writer Neil Gunn for his book, The Well at the World's End, Folk Tales of Scotland, Retold by Norah and William Montgomerie published in 1956 by the Hogarth Press. A later edition , retitled The Folk Tales of Scotland. The Well at the World's End and Other Stories, Retold by Norah and William Montgomerie, was published in 2005 by the Mercat Press.

Notes

  1. ^ Harold Bloom (editor), "William Morris" in Classic Fantasy Writers. Chelsea House Publishers, 1994 ISBN 0791022048 (pg. 153).
  2. ^ Morris, William (1979). Rehabilitations. St. Clair Shores, Michigan: Scholarly Press, Inc. pp. 35–55.

External links

1896 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1896.

1896 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1896 in the United Kingdom.

Ballantine Adult Fantasy series

The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series was an imprint of American publisher Ballantine Books. Launched in 1969 (presumably in response to the growing popularity of Tolkien's works), the series reissued a number of works of fantasy literature which were out of print or dispersed in back issues of pulp magazines (or otherwise not easily available in the United States), in cheap paperback form—including works by authors such as James Branch Cabell, Lord Dunsany, Ernest Bramah, Hope Mirrlees, and William Morris. The series lasted until 1974.

Envisioned by the husband-and-wife team of Ian and Betty Ballantine, and edited by Lin Carter, it featured cover art by illustrators such as Gervasio Gallardo, Robert LoGrippo, David McCall Johnston, and Bob Pepper. The agreement signed between the Ballantines and Carter on November 22, 1968 launched the project. In addition to the reprints comprising the bulk of the series, some new fantasy works were published as well as a number of original collections and anthologies put together by Carter, and Imaginary Worlds, his general history of the modern fantasy genre.The series was never considered a money-maker for Ballantine, although the re-issue of several of its titles both before and after the series' demise shows that a number of individual works were considered successful. The Ballantines supported the series as long as they remained the publishers of Ballantine Books, but with their sale of the company to Random House in 1973 support from the top was no longer forthcoming, and in 1974, with the end of the Ballantines' involvement in the company they had founded, the series was terminated.After the termination of the Adult Fantasy series, Ballantine continued to publish fantasy but concentrated primarily on new titles, with the older works it continued to issue being those with proven track records. In 1977, both its fantasy and science fiction lines were relaunched under the Del Rey Books imprint, under the editorship of Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey. Carter continued his promotion of the fantasy genre in a new line of annual anthologies from DAW Books, The Year's Best Fantasy Stories, also beginning in 1975. Meanwhile, the series' lapsed mission of restoring classic works of fantasy to print had been taken up on a more limited basis by the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library, launched in 1973.

Beyond the Shrouded Horizon

Beyond the Shrouded Horizon is the twenty-first studio album by English guitarist and songwriter Steve Hackett.

Fantasy

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often without any locations, events, or people referencing the real world. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became literature and drama. From the twentieth century it has expanded further into various media, including film, television, graphic novels and video games.

Fantasy is distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the absence of scientific or macabre themes respectively, though these genres overlap. In popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist form. In its broadest sense, however, fantasy consists of works by many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians from ancient myths and legends to many recent and popular works.

Fantasy literature

Fantasy literature is literature set in an imaginary universe, often but not always without any locations, events, or people from the real world. Magic, the supernatural and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds.It is a story that child and adults can read.

Fantasy is a subgenre of speculative fiction and is distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the absence of scientific or macabre themes, respectively, though these genres overlap. Historically, most works of fantasy were written, however, since the 1960s, a growing segment of the fantasy genre has taken the form of films, television programs, graphic novels, video games, music and art.

A number of fantasy novels originally written for children, such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Hobbit, also attract an adult audience.

Fantasy tropes

Fantasy tropes are a specific type of literary tropes that occur in fantasy fiction. Worldbuilding, plot, and characterization have many common conventions. Literary fantasy works operate using these tropes, while others use them in a revisionist manner, making the tropes over for various reasons such as for comic effect, and to create something fresh (a method that often generates new clichés).

Fantasy world

A fantasy world is an author-conceived world created in fictional media, such as literature, film or games. Typical fantasy worlds involve magic or magical abilities, nonexistent technology and sometimes, either a historical or futuristic theme. Some worlds may be a parallel world connected to Earth via magical portals or items (like Narnia); a fictional Earth set in the remote past or future (like Middle-earth); or an entirely independent world set in another part of the universe (like the Star Wars Galaxy).Many fantasy worlds draw heavily on real world history, geography, sociology, mythology, and folklore.

Gandalf

Gandalf is a fictional character and one of the protagonists in J. R. R. Tolkien's novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He is a wizard, member of the Istari order, as well as leader of the Fellowship of the Ring and the army of the West. In The Lord of the Rings, he is initially known as Gandalf the Grey, but returns from death as Gandalf the White.

Golden Type

The Golden Type is a serif font designed by artist William Morris for his fine book printing project, the Kelmscott Press, in 1890. It is an "old-style" serif font, based on type designed by engraver and printer Nicolas Jenson in Venice around 1470. It is named for the Golden Legend, which was intended to be the first book printed using it. The original design has neither an italic nor a bold weight, as neither of these existed in Jenson's time.

Morris's aim in the Kelmscott Press was to revive the style of early printing and medieval manuscripts, and the design accordingly is a profound rejection of the harsh, industrial aesthetic of the contemporary Didone typefaces used at the time in general-purpose printing, and also of the relatively pallid "modernised old style" designs popular in books. Instead, the design has a relatively heavy "colour" on the page. The design is a loose revival, somewhat bolder than Jenson's original engraving, giving it something of the appearance of medieval blackletter writing, and it has been criticised for ponderousness due to this heavy appearance. (A particularly extreme response in the twentieth century was that of Stanley Morison, who while polite about its innovation and legibility described its design privately as "positively foul".) Morris decided not to use the long s and some ligatures found in early printing but discarded since, feeling that they made texts hard to read.To prepare the design, Morris commissioned enlarged photographs of Jenson's books from the artist Emery Walker (which survive), from which he prepared drawings; Walker was interested in the history of printing and his interest may have inspired Morris to venture into printing. The design was then cut into metal in a single size by Edward Prince and cast by the company of Morris's friend Talbot Baines Reed.The Golden Type sparked a trend of other typefaces in a similar style commissioned for fine book printing in Britain, including that of the Doves Press, which was co-founded by Walker. Several of these typefaces were also cut by Prince. Other early copies were made in America. Many similar Jenson revivals, including Cloister Old Style, the Doves Type, Centaur, Adobe Jenson and Hightower Text have been created since, most more faithful to Jenson's original work. It also influenced some of the work of Frederic Goudy.The Golden Type has been digitised by ITC. The original punches and matrices, along with all of Morris's other typefaces, survive in the collection of Cambridge University Press.

High fantasy

High fantasy or epic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, defined either by the epic nature of its setting or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, or plot. The term "high fantasy" was coined by Lloyd Alexander in a 1971 essay, "High Fantasy and Heroic Romance" (originally given at the New England Round Table of Children's Librarians in October 1969).

List of fantasy novels (S–Z)

This page lists notable fantasy novels (and novel series). The books appear in alphabetical order by title (beginning with S to Z) (ignoring "A", "An", and "The"); series are alphabetical by author-designated name or, if there is no such, some reasonable designation. Science-fiction novels and short-story collections are not included here.

List of high fantasy fiction

This list contains a variety of examples of high fantasy fiction. The list is ordered alphabetically by author or originator's last name.

Medievalism

Medievalism is a system of belief and practice inspired by the Middle Ages, or by devotion to elements of that period, which have been expressed in areas such as architecture, literature, music, art, philosophy, scholarship, and various vehicles of popular culture. Since the 18th century, a variety of movements have used the medieval period as a model or inspiration for creative activity, including Romanticism, the Gothic revival, the pre-Raphaelite and arts and crafts movements, and neo-medievalism (a term often used interchangeably with medievalism). The words medievalism and Medieval are both first recorded in the 19th century. Medieval is derived from Latin medium aevum ("middle of the ages").

The Roots of the Mountains

The Roots of the Mountains: Wherein is Told Somewhat of the Lives of the Men of Burgdale, Their Friends, Their Neighbors, Their Foemen, and Their Fellows in Arms is a fantasy romance by William Morris, perhaps the first modern fantasy writer to unite an imaginary world with an element of the supernatural, and thus the precursor of much of present-day fantasy literature. It was first published in hardcover by Reeves and Turner in 1889. Its importance in the history of fantasy literature was recognized by its republication by the Newcastle Publishing Company as the nineteenth volume of the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library in April, 1979.

According to Graham Seaman, "The Roots of the Mountains seems to be the story that inspired the subplot of the Dunedain, wanderers of a fading heroic past defending the frontiers of the Shire against the Orcs, and the loves of Aragorn, Eowyn, Faramir, and Arwen in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings."This work and its predecessor, The House of the Wolfings, are to some degree historical novels, with little or no magic. Morris went on to develop the new genre established in these works in such later fantasies as The Wood Beyond the World, Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair, The Well at the World's End, The Water of the Wondrous Isles and The Sundering Flood.

The Story of the Glittering Plain

The Story of the Glittering Plain (full title: The Story of the Glittering Plain which has been also called the Land of Living Men or the Acre of the Undying) is an 1891 fantasy novel by William Morris, perhaps the first modern fantasy writer to unite an imaginary world with the element of the supernatural, and thus the precursor of much of present-day fantasy literature. It is also important for its exploration of the socialist themes that interested Morris.

His earlier fantasies The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains were to some degree historical novels. Like these The Story of the Glittering Plain is set in a world similar to the distant past of northern Europe. Morris would go on to develop the new genre established in this work in such later fantasies as Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair, The Wood Beyond the World, The Well at the World's End, and The Water of the Wondrous Isles.

The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow

The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow is a 2002 book written and illustrated by A. J. MacKinnon about the author's 1997 journey from North Shropshire to the Black Sea in a small Mirror dinghy.

The book describes a voyage that starts off as a trip from North Shropshire to the coast in a small (3.3m long) dinghy. When the author gets there, he decides to keep going through canals to London. Along the way he decides to continue the trip across the channel and then across canals to the Black Sea, ending up travelling around 4,900 kilometres.

Reviewers praised the book for its good-natured, humorous, self-deprecating tone.

In 2010, McKinnon published a second work in a similar vein, The Well at the World's End, describing his travels from Australia to Iona, Scotland without flying.

William Morris

William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, while he played a significant role propagating the early socialist movement in Britain.

Morris was born in Walthamstow, Essex to a wealthy middle-class family. He came under the strong influence of medievalism while studying Classics at Oxford University, there joining the Birmingham Set. After university, he trained as an architect, married Jane Burden, and developed close friendships with Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and with Neo-Gothic architect Philip Webb. Webb and Morris designed Red House in Kent where Morris lived from 1859 to 1865, before moving to Bloomsbury, central London. In 1861, Morris founded the Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co decorative arts firm with Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Webb, and others, which became highly fashionable and much in demand. The firm profoundly influenced interior decoration throughout the Victorian period, with Morris designing tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and stained glass windows. In 1875, he assumed total control of the company, which was renamed Morris & Co.

Morris rented the rural retreat of Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire from 1871 while also retaining a main home in London. He was greatly influenced by visits to Iceland with Eiríkr Magnússon, and he produced a series of English-language translations of Icelandic Sagas. He also achieved success with the publication of his epic poems and novels, namely The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870), A Dream of John Ball (1888), the Utopian News from Nowhere (1890), and the fantasy romance The Well at the World's End (1896). In 1877, he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to campaign against the damage caused by architectural restoration. He embraced Marxism and was influenced by anarchism in the 1880s and became a committed revolutionary socialist activist. He founded the Socialist League in 1884 after an involvement in the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), but he broke with that organization in 1890. In 1891, he founded the Kelmscott Press to publish limited-edition, illuminated-style print books, a cause to which he devoted his final years.

Morris is recognised as one of the most significant cultural figures of Victorian Britain. He was best known in his lifetime as a poet, although he posthumously became better known for his designs. The William Morris Society founded in 1955 is devoted to his legacy, while multiple biographies and studies of his work have been published. Many of the buildings associated with his life are open to visitors, much of his work can be found in art galleries and museums, and his designs are still in production.

Wood between the Worlds

The Wood between the Worlds is a pond-filled forest in The Magician's Nephew (1955), the sixth book in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Each pond is a portal that provides instant transportation to a different world, such as Earth, Narnia or Charn.

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