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    The book you hold in your hands is the first great fantasy novel ever written: the first of them all;
    all the others. Dunsany, Eddison, Pratt, Tolkein, Peake, Howard, et al., are successors to this great
    original.

    By fantasy, I mean the tale of quest, adventure or war set in an invented age and worldscape of the
    author's own imagination.
            -Lin Carter (Introduction to The Wood Beyond the World)

I like the definition of fantasy that Carter provides there and William Morris is certainly an early practitioner of the genre, but I think you've got to give pride of place to George MacDonald [see Orrin's review of The Princess and the Goblin (1872) (George MacDonald 1824-1902) (Grade: A)]

At any rate, William Morris is one of the more interesting and influential characters of Victorian England.  Repelled by the changes that the Industrial Revolution had brought to Britain, he yearned for more pastoral times.  By profession a Medievalist, he translated Norse sagas and printed them in beautiful editions.  An artist and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, he designed many of the flowery tapestries and wallpapers that we associate with the Victorian drawing room.  Politically he was a utopian Socialist.  And, as Carter says, as a writer he helped to create the fantasy novel.  In all of these pursuits he harkened back to an idealized past, no where more so than in his writing.

The language, style and story of this novel lend it an aura of antiquity, as if it too was merely a translation of some medieval romance.  The hero of the story, Golden Walter, flees his home upon realizing that his new bride hates him.  Sailing forth on one of his merchant father's ships, his fate becomes intertwined with a mysterious trio: a splendid lady, her evil dwarf servant and a young maiden whom the lady has enslaved.  Walter pursues the trio beyond the reaches of his own world to The Golden House, governed by the lady, known only as The Mistress.  There he will battle the dwarf, free the maiden, with whom he has fallen in love, and together they will flee the Mistress.

Though Morris may have intended to recall a lost past, he truly does create a unique world of his own.  It is a world in which the reader can lose himself for hours and it makes for a wonderful and unusual reading experience.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: "william morris"
    -William Morris Page
    -William Morris Society of Canada
    -William Morris Gallery
    -IMAGES: Morris, William
    -William Morris, 1834-1896, English Socialist and Artist Manuscript Collection on the Internet
    -The William Morris Internet Archive (marxists.org)
    -William Morris
    -William Morris (1834-1896)( Bob Speel)
    -John Ruskin, William Morris and the Gothic Revival (Electronic Labyrinth)
    -William Morris: from design to socialism
    -The Pursuit  Of The Ideal: The Life And Art Of William Morris (An Exhibition at the University of Michigan  Special Collections Library)
    -World Wide Web version of "William Morris and His Circle" (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, UT Austin)
    -William Morris Overview (Victorian Web, Brown U)
    -C.S. Lewis and Related Authors (Taylor University)
    -ETEXTS: William Morris: The hard working free spirit (Grand Inspiritors)
    -REVIEW: of THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF WILLIAM MORRIS    Volume One: 1848-1880. Edited by Norman Kelvin (William S. Peterson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of  THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF WILLIAM MORRIS Volume Two: 1881-1888. Edited by Norman Kelvin  (Peter Stansky, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Richard Dorment: The Perfectionist, NY Review of Books
        William Morris: A Life for Our Time by Fiona MacCarthy
        The Collected Letters of William Morris edited by Norman Kelvin
        Vol. I, 1848-1880
        Vol. II, Part A, 1881-1884
        Vol. II, Part B, 1885-1888
        Vols. III and IV forthcoming
    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM MORRIS A Life for Our Time. By Fiona MacCarthy (William S. Peterson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Lewis Mumford: A Universal Man, NY Review of Books
        William Morris: His Life, Work and Friends by Philip Henderson
        The Work of William Morris by Paul Thompson
        William Morris as Designer by Ray Watkinson
    -REVIEW:  Geoffrey Grigson: Mining Morris, NY Review of Books
        William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary by E.P. Thompson
        William Morris and the Art of the Book edited by Paul Needham
    -REVIEW: of REDESIGNING THE WORLD. William Morris, the 1880s, and the Arts and Crafts. By Peter Stansky (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of REDESIGNING THE WORLD William Morris, the 1880s, and the Arts and Crafts. By Peter Stansky (Quentin Bell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Tim Hilton: Unhappy Utopian, NY Review of Books
        Redesigning the World: William Morris, the 1880s, and the Arts and Crafts by Peter Stansky
        The Collected Letters of William Morris Volume I, 1848-1880 edited by Norman Kelvin
        William Morris and the Middle Ages edited by Joanna Banham and Jennifer Harris
    -REVIEW: of THE KELMSCOTT PRESS A History of William Morris's Typographical Adventure. By William S. Peterson (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of SELECTED ESSAYS ON THE HISTORY OF LETTER FORMS IN MANUSCRIPT AND PRINT By Stanley Morison (Samuel N. Antupi, NY Times Book Review)
 

GENERAL:
    -REVIEW: Janet Adam Smith: Big Little Books, NY Review of Books
        Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature by Humphrey Carpenter
    -REVIEW: Janet Adam Smith: Does Frodo Live?, NY Review of Books
        Master of Middle-earth: The Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kocher
        The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
        The Lord of the Rings, Vol. I: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
        The Lord of the Rings, Vol. II: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
        The Lord of the Rings, Vol. III: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
    -REVIEW:  Julian Symons: The Heavy Fantastic, NY Review of Books
        The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. LeGuin
        Fantastic Worlds: Myths, Tales and Stories edited and with commentaries by Eric S. Rabkin
    -ESSAY: What Possessed A.S. Byatt? (Mira Stout, NY Times)

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