|Why does this lady have this face?|
I like weird Dover reprints of weird old books, so I picked this up somewhere a while back and it's been on the TBR pile. It's one of those fantasy stories written before Tolkien came along and everybody kind of standardized into the modern genre -- the era of Lord Dunsany and E. R. Eddison. So I thought it would be fun, and a good RIP title, but I was wrong. It was completely meh.
Jurgen was first published in 1919, and somebody promptly tried to ban it, which made it enormously popular.* This is the "revised and definitive" 1926 version.
Set in a sort of early modern folktale setting, the story features Jurgen, a pawnbroker and poet, whose bitter, naggy wife Lisa disappears into a cave and is presumably taken by a...devil? Maybe? (It's rather unknown until the end.) Jurgen ventures in and meets a cast of characters, most notably Mother Sereda (Time), and he is so flattering to her that she gives him a year of youth -- or possibly it's a punishment. He spends it in meeting his first love and various other charming ladies -- I think he gets married three times, not to mention the innumerable girlfriends.
There is a good deal about the charm of first love, and a lot of innuendo, and some rather funny bits when Jurgen is not being tiresomely amorous. I did enjoy the part where the ghost of his great-grandfather needs help haunting two places at once, and there was a great piece where Jurgen has gotten together with a girl who turns out to be mythological. After a while she sadly tells him he has to leave:
For in becoming the consort of a nature myth connected with the Moon Jurgen had of course exposed himself to the danger of being converted into a solar legend by the Philologists, and in that event would be compelled to leave Cocaigne with the Equinox...On the whole, though, this is a great big Don't Bother. The back cover blurb says it's a "tightly structured symbolic journey of many levels" and I'm sure it knows better than I do, plus also it's supposed to be an influential classic of comic fantasy, but to me it mostly felt like a shapeless mass to slog through for little reward.
*Don't forget, next week is Banned Books Week, so don't forget to read something for that! Not Jurgen though. Try for something more interesting. Harry Potter, maybe.