Wednesday, October 27, 2010

read Jurgen

Compared to many RPG fans I know I don't read a lot of fiction normally pidgeonholed as sci-fi or fantasy.  But this week I started in on James Branch Cabell's Jurgen.  It was originally published in 1919, whichs fits my normal criteria for taking a blind shot at a new fantasy author: the work has to be written before Tolkien and Howard became the eclipsing forces of the field.

I'm ninety pages in and absolutely delighted.  Gives this one a shot if you appreciate the opulent roguery of Vance's The Dying Earth, the haunting dreaminess of Dunsany and the jocular bathos of "Farmer Giles of Ham".  Jurgen is a turning out to be a picaresque fairy tale of the first water.


  1. Anonymous11:25 AM

    It was denounced by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who attacked it for being too obscene. The case went on for two years before Cabell and his publishers won. The alleged "indecencies" were double entendres that also had a perfectly decent interpretation. Ironically, what actually offended the prosecution the most was the suggestion of papal infallibility.

    As an aside, the writers of Battlestar Galactica's reboot seemed to include many allusions to religion. Their chief architect was named Cavel (rhymes with rabble, which is how Cabell pronounced his name - not Ca-Bell). Cabell was rumoured to have an illicate affair with a student and author named Ellen. In BSG, Cavel had a relatinship with Ellen Tyrell, one of the mothers of his cylon-kin. Art imitates art.

    Probably reading too much into it.

    I need more tea...


  2. I'm actually currently reading Jurgen; I found a first edition (albeit 12th printing) some months ago in a bookstore, and was intirgued.

  3. Good call. That's a great book. He wrote a whole series of novels set in Poictesme (which would make a good campaign setting). My other favorite is The High Place (1923). Just watch out for the great tumblebug!

  4. Anonymous1:08 PM

    I, too, am a fan of his crazily high fantasy setting. Enjoy.

  5. Hey, and it's public domain too! Here's a link:

    Thanks for the tip Jeff!

  6. Anonymous3:57 AM

    thanks for this discovery.
    i never heard about this author before, and yesterday i made a search, i must admit this book inspires me so today i booked a copy from the library.

    thanks :)

  7. You should read ALL of Cabell's books. Don't limit yourself to Jürgen. You should read the whole Storisende books or, as I prefer calling them, the biography of the lives of Don Manuel.
    It will change your life and enlighten you to a point that you start doubting every emotion and every fact.

  8. Figures of Earth, while written after Jurgen, takes place before the other novel, and tells of the life of Dom Manuel. It's a moving picture of how life kills all of us, but remains just as fun and witty as Jurgen.

    I kinda wish someone would bring Cabell back into print.

  9. I've only read Jurgen and Figures of Earth (a couple times each,) but I've long thought that Cabell is a sadly overlooked literary genius. Jurgen was written in 1919, but it's very modern in feel, wittier and more sophisticated than many current books. Especially modern fantasy books.

    I should really start reading his other books.

  10. Anonymous1:52 PM

    Years ago I grabbed a copy of Jurgen from an ENWorld member for a quarter + shipping. The book arrived in excellent condition and was published in 1927. While gingerly handling the book at first, I dove in and bought a lot more Cabell books after reading this one.
    Cabell is so good he is one of the few authors whose books are not returned when I lend them out (although I never will loan out the 1927 book).

  11. I love Cabell.

    Del Rey did paperbacks of a few of his Poictisme books which you can still find if you look around. I've got all but one of them.

    The titles I've got are: Something About Eve, The High Place, Domnei, The Silver Stallion, and Figures of the Earth. I'm missing The Cream of the Jest.

    Jurgen is particularly good but the others don't disappoint!

  12. Anonymous7:10 PM

    It's also at Project Gutenberg:

    in HTML, plain txt, and some e-book formats.

  13. Thanks for the tip!
    Dying Earth style from a century ago sounds intriguing. Certainly if BSG writers read it too :-)