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Jurgen

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One of the most-talked-about works of the 1920s, this compelling fantasy recounts the odyssey of a middle-aged pawnbroker who regains his youth for a year of amorous adventures. Jurgen's allegorical journey leads through a supernatural dreamscape to romances with Guenevere and The Lady of the Lake and confrontations with God and the Devil. This edition of Cabell's witty an One of the most-talked-about works of the 1920s, this compelling fantasy recounts the odyssey of a middle-aged pawnbroker who regains his youth for a year of amorous adventures. Jurgen's allegorical journey leads through a supernatural dreamscape to romances with Guenevere and The Lady of the Lake and confrontations with God and the Devil. This edition of Cabell's witty and irreverent landmark of modern fiction contains the full text of the revised and definitive version of 1926, together with 13 striking full-page illustrations by Frank Papé.


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One of the most-talked-about works of the 1920s, this compelling fantasy recounts the odyssey of a middle-aged pawnbroker who regains his youth for a year of amorous adventures. Jurgen's allegorical journey leads through a supernatural dreamscape to romances with Guenevere and The Lady of the Lake and confrontations with God and the Devil. This edition of Cabell's witty an One of the most-talked-about works of the 1920s, this compelling fantasy recounts the odyssey of a middle-aged pawnbroker who regains his youth for a year of amorous adventures. Jurgen's allegorical journey leads through a supernatural dreamscape to romances with Guenevere and The Lady of the Lake and confrontations with God and the Devil. This edition of Cabell's witty and irreverent landmark of modern fiction contains the full text of the revised and definitive version of 1926, together with 13 striking full-page illustrations by Frank Papé.

30 review for Jurgen

  1. 4 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    [9/10] I was curious to find out what was it about this author that was admired by such contemporaries as Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis, and influenced writers like Robert Heinlein, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Charles G Finney or Neil Gaiman. After reading Jurgen, such praise and consideration doesn't seem far fetched, in fact I am baffled he is not more widely discussed in the context of fantasy literature. To give a more easily accesible reference to his particular style of mixing irreverent sex [9/10] I was curious to find out what was it about this author that was admired by such contemporaries as Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis, and influenced writers like Robert Heinlein, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Charles G Finney or Neil Gaiman. After reading Jurgen, such praise and consideration doesn't seem far fetched, in fact I am baffled he is not more widely discussed in the context of fantasy literature. To give a more easily accesible reference to his particular style of mixing irreverent sexual comedy, satire and philosophy I would say James Branch Cabbell would have been a prominent member of the Monthy Python group, had he been born in the 1960's. Jurgen has a lot of the elements that I loved about The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian : wild imagination, lampooning of shallow chivalry, religious intolerance or puritanical morals, frequent sexual puns, surprising depth and seriousness behind the comedy. Jurgen is a mythical figure, an archetype of humanity, on a quest of self discovery disguised as a hunt for the eternal feminine principle, embodied succesively in a childhood sweetheart, Guinevere, The Lady in the Lake, Helen of Troy, a wood nymph, a seductive vampire and finally - his termagant of a consort: In the old days lived a pawnbroker named Jurgen; but what his wife called him was very often much worse than that. She was a high-spirited woman, with no especial gift for silence At the start of his Odyssey, Jurgen is a forty-something member of the middle class, who once considered himself a poet, and who still can use sophistic arguments to demonstrate that black is white in order to get out of sticky situations. In his own words, he is a "monstrously clever fellow", boastfull and full of pride. He is also dissatisfied with his lot in life, and often wonders what is it all about: The people whom he loved when at his best as a fine young fellow were so very soon, and through petty causes, to become nothing to him, and he himself was to be converted into a commonplace tradesman. And living seemed to Jurgen a wasteful and inequitable process. His cleverness lands him in the magical land of Poictesme, where gods and myths and literary figures mix freely, everything seems possible, including for Jurgen to regain his youth and vigor. While on a nominal quest to recapture his missing wife, Dame Lisa, Jurgen is easily distracted and led astray by the above mentioned impersonations of the feminine mystique. He takes to the magical land like a fish to water, and will succesively impersonate a duke, a prince, a king, an emperor, a pope, engaged in one outrageous adventure after another, because "I am willing to taste any drink once." But his quest is more than an attempt to recapture the enthusiasm of youth and to make up for lost opportunities. He is looking for answers: about the meaning of life, of love, of reality, of morality, and of everything in between. For Jurgen was content to dismiss no riddle with a mere "I do not know." Jurgen was no more able to give up questioning the meaning of life than could a trout relinquish swimming: indeed, he lived submerged in a flood of curiosity and doubt, as his native element. His frequent affairs never satisfy him for long, and he will follow his unnamed longings and unanswered riddles to the depths of Hell and the ramparts of Heaven. His travels may appear random and gratuitous in the beginning, but there is a clear progression and purpose in the telling, with each pit stop adding another layer of understanding or posing new questions to be chased. Other reviewers have noted the author's preference for sexual innuendo and double entendres. I have greatly enjoyed his puns and bedroom games, but this is hardly the stuff that would get a book banned. Everything is implied rather than explicite - Cabbell claiming in his defense that it is the reader who has a dirty mind. Like everything else in the book, the bedroom games serve a purpose in revealing Jurgen's character beyond the immediate jokes about mighty swords, proud spears, bejewelled sceptres, burning candles and cocks crowing at the innoportune moment. Certainly the Praxagorean system of mathematics is a fascinating study when applied to anatomy. "Seven candles! upon my word, sweetheart, you do me great honor, for this is a veritable illumination. To think of it, now, that you should honor me, as people do saints, with seven candles! Well, I am only mortal, but none the less I am Jurgen, and I shall endeavor to repay this sevenfold courtesy without discount." Frankly, Jurgen is a bit of a cad, and a mysogine to boot. His pronouncements make me laugh, but also make me squirm a little with my modern sensibilities about the equality of sexes: "She does not understand me, and she does not always treat my superior wisdom quite respectfully. That is unfair, but it seems to be an unavoidable feature of married life. Besides, if any woman had ever understood me she would, in self-protection, have refused to marry me. In any case, Chloris is a dear brown plump delicious partridge of a darling: and cleverness in women is, after all, a virtue misplaced." --- "From what you tell us, Emperor Jurgen," said they all, "your wife was an acidulous shrew, and the sort of woman who believes that whatever she does is right." "It was not a belief," says Jurgen: "it was a mania with the poor dear." "By that fact, then, she is forever debarred from entering Hell." "You tell me news," says Jurgen, "which if generally known would lead many husbands into vicious living." "But it is notorious that people are saved by faith. And there is no faith stronger than that of a bad-tempered woman in her own infallibility. Plainly, this wife of yours is the sort of person who cannot be tolerated by anybody short of the angels. We deduce that your Empress must be in Heaven." --- "My darling, you cannot deny we have been married all of three whole months: and nobody can maintain an infatuation for any woman that long, in the teeth of having nothing refused him. Infatuation is largely a matter of curiosity, and both of these emotions die when they are fed." --- Another aspect of note of James Branch Cabbell prose is his erudition, his classical references and his philosophical debates. While I admit I may have missed on some of the myths and heroes mentioned in the text, it did not detract in any way from the message or the meaning of the narrative. And anyway, at least half of the names Jurgen drops in conversation are invented, and it would be useless to check them on wikipedia (believe me, I've tried looking up King Penpingon Vreichvras ap Mylwald Glasanief) . All the alegories and the metaphors will be explained in the book, so the lack of a solid background in Greek or Celtic mythology should not be a problem in enjoying the story of Jurgen. I would like, for a re-read, to have an adnotated edition, like a DVD commentary track, but I'm not sweating over it. The edition put up on Project Gutenberg was adequate for me. The closer I got to the final shore in Jurgen's travels, the more philosophical the author gets, and like some other commentators have noticed, the book includes as much food for thought as a volume by Schoppenhauer or Hegel, but in a decidedly more entertaining package. I could easily imagine university students developing full blown disertations from any one of the chapters in the book. Cabbell's irreverent treatment of religion may have been condemned by some of his contemporaries, but there is more than meets the eye here. He doesn't accepts the dogma blindly, but he also doesn't reject divinity out of hand. He doubts, and he searches for answers, and he criticizes where he deems it appropriate, but he doesn't hate, doen't vilify believers. And this is important to me, as I'm seeing the more radical views take precedence today over the more tolerant branches of religious thougth. "God of my grandmother, I cannot quite believe in You; but remembering the sum of love and faith that has been given You, I tremble. I think of the dear people whose living was confident and glad because of their faith in You: I think of them, and in my heart contends a blind contrition, and a yearning, and an enviousness, and yet a tender sort of amusement colors all. Oh, God, there was never any other deity who had such dear worshippers as You have had, and You should be very proud of them. --- or more concise: good intentions ought to be respected, however drolly they may turn out. In conclusion, Jurgen was a memorable journey for me, one that I would recommend without reservations, and a book that merits a place in a literary Hall of Fame, be it one for fantasy or for general fiction. [edit for spelling]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    i've got a new crush, and it's on jurgen. i read it four times in a row. i took a break after the fourth and read a few different things while staying with friends, but now i'm back to longing for jurgen. i'm having trouble thinking of anything or anyone else. the book works on so many levels: there's crude yet witty comedy, satirical allegory, romantical fiction, philosophical musings and kernels of wisdom that make up the.. archaic? anachronistic? fantasy laced with intertextuality unfolding i i've got a new crush, and it's on jurgen. i read it four times in a row. i took a break after the fourth and read a few different things while staying with friends, but now i'm back to longing for jurgen. i'm having trouble thinking of anything or anyone else. the book works on so many levels: there's crude yet witty comedy, satirical allegory, romantical fiction, philosophical musings and kernels of wisdom that make up the.. archaic? anachronistic? fantasy laced with intertextuality unfolding in an amazing cosmology. what a package! how could a book nerd of my particular stripe even resist? this is the story of jurgen, a poet turned pawnbroker, forty-and-something. he is possessed of a superior wisdom; he is willing to taste any drink once; and women never understand him. he tells us all this, repeatedly -- but oh so winningly. the author, james branch cabell was a gentleman of leisure, inclined toward research and genealogy and it shows in his layered style, entwining his own mythos with many other traditions: greek, roman, norse, but also medieval romances, russian folklore, persian and welsh, and too many others to name, all remarkably synthesized. (there are no annotations in my copy. but this is really the kind of book that demands endnotes, and i did find a wonderful site that covers the references in jurgen in depth i very much recommend, here: http://home.earthlink.net/~davidrolfe... --i've had it open in my browser for three weeks! :) jurgen is on a journey. he is seeking for someone he has lost because, to put it simply, he showed sympathy for the devil. his pursuit immediately becomes circuitous -- he ends up returned to his youth, or perhaps in an alternate reality, in another version of what could have been. he wanders from adventure to adventure, now at the peak of his prowess but with all the knowledge of his years, finding other people he had lost in sometimes poignant and sometimes hilarious circumstances. sometimes there is a little of both but always, always he is followed by the shadow of the aged leshy/goddess of wednesday who gave him the gift. jurgen uses that gifts to score with the ladies, and he is blatant, and impulsive (he'll taste any drink once, remember?) as he seduces practically every pretty face that crosses his path. what charms! and what ladies! to wit: Then the door closed, the bolt fell, and Jurgen went away, still in considerable excitement. "This Dame Anaïs is an interesting personality," he reflected, "and it would be a pleasure, now, to demonstrate to her my grievance against the cock, did occasion serve. Well, things less likely than that have happened. Then, too, she came upon me when my sword was out, and in consequence knows I wield a respectable weapon. She may feel the need of a good swordsman some day, this handsome Lady of the Lake who has no husband." he ends up shacking up with her in cocaigne for two months before he moves on. jurgen was published in 1919 and by modern reckoning, the double entendres and their symbolism are hardly risqué, they're casual conversation. but back in 1919, the novel came under fire for being lewd and obscene by a censorious group called the american society for the suppression of vice, and they took jurgen and cabell to court. cabell won, as did literature in this skirmish, with the support of many of the more famous names of his day, running a gamut that included mencken and walpole, scott fitzgerald and one of cabell's most admired writers, mark twain. jurgen is the most famous of fifty books by cabell. i have now in my possession the silver stallion. i hope that jurgen is not the only book i enjoy, and that its infamous trial only insured that i find cabell eventually ... even though he has once again faded into obscurity, after a brief resurgence in the sixties and seventies, a writer's writer for certain writers (later writers influenced by cabell include charles g. finney -- my researches on finney i thank for sending me in cabell's direction) and neil gaiman (though his approach is markedly different). i never thought i'd be thankful for a bunch of crazy old prudes but i am. for jurgen continues to give me something new every time i read it, this magical book in the elaborate world it belongs to, the land of poictesme, and its neighbouring provinces. it is the place of cabell's conjuring, and to me, jurgen is nothing less than a irrepressible spell in the shape of a scamp chased by a shadow, the soul of antic, all the while so self-aware and sometimes sad: "Hah, madame," he replied, "but it amuses me to weep for a dead man with eyes that once were his. For he was a dear lad, before he went rampaging through the world, in the pride of his youth and in the armour of his hurt. And songs he made for the pleasure of kings, and sword-play he made for the pleasure of men, and a whispering he made for the pleasure of women, in places where renown was, and where he trod boldly, giving pleasure to everybody in those fine days. But for all his laughter, he could not understand his fellows..." me too! oh jurgen, i think you really understand me.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Wastrel

    It is not easy for the perceptive critic to doubt [the literary permanence of James Branch Cabell]. One might as sensibly deny a future to Ecclesiastes, The Golden Ass, Gulliver’s Travels, and the works of Rabelais as to predict oblivion for such a thesaurus of ironic wit and fine fantasy, mellow wisdom and strange beauty, as Jurgen. – Burton Rascoe, Literary Editor at the New York Herald Tribune, 1921 Well, I’ve run into a bit of a problem with this review. The thing is… it’s a bit too long. So I’ It is not easy for the perceptive critic to doubt [the literary permanence of James Branch Cabell]. One might as sensibly deny a future to Ecclesiastes, The Golden Ass, Gulliver’s Travels, and the works of Rabelais as to predict oblivion for such a thesaurus of ironic wit and fine fantasy, mellow wisdom and strange beauty, as Jurgen. – Burton Rascoe, Literary Editor at the New York Herald Tribune, 1921 Well, I’ve run into a bit of a problem with this review. The thing is… it’s a bit too long. So I’m going start out instead with a short flow-chart summary, which may save you from having to wade through the full review: - Are you interested in the history of the SF&F genre? If so, you should read this book. Cabell may be forgotten today, but he’s one of the truly seminal figures in the genre and this is his most famous novel. Neil Gaiman has called Cabell his favourite author; Robert Heinlein and Jack Vance began their careers by unabashedly trying to emulate him; James Blish, Lin Carter and Poul Anderson contributed articles to a journal devoted to studying him (Roger Zelazny sent in letters). Michael Moorcock and Ursula Le Guin agree, for once, in praising him. Fritz Leiber, Gene Wolfe, John Brunner and Terry Pratchett are just a few other writers believed to have been influenced by him. - Are you interested in the history of American literature, or the history of 20th century literature? If so, you should read this book. Cabell was routinely considered one of the half dozen or so titans of American literature throughout the first three decades of the century. H.L Mencken called him the greatest living American writer; F. Scott Fitzgerald put him third in his personal canon after Joseph Conrad and Anatole France. Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis are just two examples of writers who boasted of Cabellian influences, and when Lewis became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and mentioned in his speech the other American writers of his era who might have been equally deserving, Cabell was the third name to come to his mind. Quality aside, the court case surrounding Jurgen was the literary cause célèbre of its day, making it, and Cabell, icons for a generation. Oh, and he was the author Mark Twain chose to read on his deathbed. - Are you looking for a hilarious light read? If so, do you find writers like P.G. Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett funny? If so, read this book. - Are you looking for an insightful study of the nature of human existence, or at least human existence as it might appear from a very particular personal perspective? If so, read this book. It wasn’t the icon of a generation for nothing. - Are you interested in the Mediaeval Romance, or in Victorian Revivalism? In Malory, and Rabelais, and Bunyan, and Scott, and Tennyson, and William Morris, and T.H. White? But you don’t mind them being made fun of a little? If so, read this book. - Are you interested in cultural and sociological modern history, and would appreciate satire directed at early-20th century American society? If so, read this book. - Do you like beautiful prose? And do you like the prose of Wilde, and Chesterton? If so… well, it’s not a must-read, but if you have the time I’d certainly recommend it. - Do you need your books to have a strong driving plot, with no time for diversions and amusing episodes? Well, don’t worry too much, since it’s not a long novel – but it may not be perfect for you. - Do you need gritty, authentic realism? Must everything be dry and serious? Does everything have to happen next to a kitchen sink, and should more dialogue be conducted through grunts than through speeches? Then this may not be the book you want. - Do you want your books to have a clear, wholesome sense of moral certitude and respect for upright conventional mores? Then the fact that this novel was banned and the author prosecuted for indecency might be a clue that this one may not be entirely up your alley. - Are you now strongly tempted to go and read Jurgen? If so, go and read Jurgen. Go! Like I say, it’s not a gigantic book, and this is a very long review, so you’re probably better off just reading the novel right now. You can always come back for my thoughts about it later. If you aren't immediately likely to have time to read the book, but you are considering maybe one day getting around to adding it to your TBR pile, then do, please, feel free to read this review… Full review - but fair warning, it's long - can be found over on my blog

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alissa

    3,5 stars, the extra half star because I spent half the time on Wikipedia brooding over the gaps in my classical education and it's no fault of the book. The story is witty, cynical, irreverent, full of double entendres, bittersweet and totally fun. A veritable tale of Faith, Desire and Visions (uh, and Cocaigne "(yes, that cocaine)"). I read the Dover edition and the introduction is quite apt. Recommended to young people who are mature in life and above. Behold Jurgen, from elderly pawnbroker to 3,5 stars, the extra half star because I spent half the time on Wikipedia brooding over the gaps in my classical education and it's no fault of the book. The story is witty, cynical, irreverent, full of double entendres, bittersweet and totally fun. A veritable tale of Faith, Desire and Visions (uh, and Cocaigne "(yes, that cocaine)"). I read the Dover edition and the introduction is quite apt. Recommended to young people who are mature in life and above. Behold Jurgen, from elderly pawnbroker to a fabled Pope -and back again-, in his quest for understanding justice in things as they are! Replied the ghost of King Smoit: “ I will explain. Just sixty-three years ago to-night I murdered my ninth wife in circumstances of peculiar brutality, as you with rather questionable taste have mentioned.” Then Jurgen was somewhat abashed, and felt that it did not become him, who had so recently cut off the head of his own wife, to assume the airs of a precisian. “Of course,” says Jurgen, more broad-mindedly, “ these little family differences are always apt to occur in married life.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kat Hooper

    ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature. Jurgen, an aging pawnbroker who considers himself a poet and a “monstrous clever fellow,” sets off to find his missing loquacious wife — not because he likes her, but rather because his family and friends say it’s the manly thing to do. While searching for Lisa, he enters a strange land and charms Mother Sereda into temporarily giving him back his youth and good looks. Then he uses his renewed vigor to lie and philander his way across a magical landscape, ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature. Jurgen, an aging pawnbroker who considers himself a poet and a “monstrous clever fellow,” sets off to find his missing loquacious wife — not because he likes her, but rather because his family and friends say it’s the manly thing to do. While searching for Lisa, he enters a strange land and charms Mother Sereda into temporarily giving him back his youth and good looks. Then he uses his renewed vigor to lie and philander his way across a magical landscape, “dealing fairly” with all the women he meets, as he half-heartedly searches for his wife. Along the way he meets dozens of historical and mythical creatures and people (including Queen Guenevere, shown in the picture), first introducing himself as a duke, then promoting himself to prince, king, emperor, pope, and eventually, for a moment, even God. Despite being a vain and hypocritical rogue, Jurgen has a sentimental heart (though he can’t seem to be faithful). But he is never content, even when he’s married to the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, or even when he’s sitting on God’s throne. Thus, the story of Jurgen is about man’s quest for meaning, pleasure, and purpose. Jurgen is full of human insight and amusing social satire and, for a novel written in 1919, is oh so impolite. Much of the symbolism and metaphor is crude and puerile double entendre of the “big upright lance” and “remarkable powers of penetration” type. Yet, James Branch Cabell (rhymes with “rabble”) writes in a sardonic voice which is beautiful and genuinely clever and funny, especially when Jurgen talks about women: * I am looking for my wife, whom I suspect to have been carried off by a devil, poor fellow! * Love’s sowing is more agreeable than love’s harvest. * You talk and talk: no woman breathing equals you at mere volume and continuity of speech: but you say nothing that I have not heard seven hundred and eighty times if not oftener. * “You have a wife, then!” says Jurgen, who was always interested in such matters. “Why, but to be sure! Either as a Christian or as a married man, I should have comprehended this was Satan’s due. And how do you get on with her?” “Pretty well,” says Grandfather Satan: “but she does not understand me.” “Et tu, Brute!” says Jurgen. “And what does that mean?” * For the devils, he found, esteemed polygamy, and ranked it above mere skill at torturing the damned, through a literal interpretation of the saying that it is better to marry than to burn. * When Jurgen asks if it’s possible to get divorced in Hell, the devils say no because “we trafficked in them for a while, but we found that all persons who obtained divorces through our industry promptly thanked Heaven…” I also found it amusing that Jurgen, a pawnbroker with a paunch, backs up his arguments with fake scholarly citations and uses the study of mathematics to seduce intelligent women. Even a well-educated reader will miss most of the allusions in Jurgen unless armed with a source such as David Rolfe’s Notes on Jurgen. These notes also point out references to Cabell’s previous novels about his fabricated world of Poictesme. Fortunately, understanding of all of these allusions isn’t required for enjoyment of the story, but they elicit chuckles when discovered and could be a source of much diversion for those who like to spend time studying these kinds of things. Back in its day, Jurgen was deemed offensive by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which tried to get it banned. This, of course, only increased Jurgen’s popularity. The Vice squad lost their case because, superficially, Jurgen seems harmless enough and, according to Cabell and his publisher, complaints about the recurrent references to Jurgen’s big staff, majestic scepter, upright lance, and amazing sword (which seem to meet a lot of veils, sheaths, clefts, and other dark places along the way) prove only that Cabell's detractors have dirty minds. Perhaps the real issue behind the outcry against Jurgen, however, is its disrespect of Christianity and, in particular, the Roman Catholic Church. For, when Jurgen is sent to Hell, he meets Grandfather Satan and learns that Hell is merely a construct developed by men who think so highly of themselves that they feel that their bad deeds were so influential that they cannot be forgotten and must be punished for eternity. The devils that Jurgen meets are hard-pressed to keep up with people’s demands for torture, lament that Hell’s population is increasing, and look for ways to stop the influx. When Jurgen gets bored of Hell, he talks his way into Heaven and finds that it’s just a figment of his grandmother’s imagination. His discussions with St. Peter cast an ill light on Catholic bishops and popes. Jurgen is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free at Project Gutenberg. I downloaded the mobipocket version and stuck it right on my Kindle. Besides being free, Jurgen is an interesting and thoughtful novel which is worth reading not just for entertainment, but as part of the history of fantasy literature.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Greg Bates

    An utterly engrossing and hilarious satire of religion, politics and the mid-life crisis, James Cabell's "Jurgen" is like the unholy fusion of Jack Vance's witticism-filled adventure style and Kurt Vonnegut's black comedy social critiques, only written decades before either of the two started writing. A pawnbroker and "monstrous clever fellow," Jurgen is sent on a fantastic adventure as a reward for being the first person in history to speak well of the Devil (in one of the novel's most amusing An utterly engrossing and hilarious satire of religion, politics and the mid-life crisis, James Cabell's "Jurgen" is like the unholy fusion of Jack Vance's witticism-filled adventure style and Kurt Vonnegut's black comedy social critiques, only written decades before either of the two started writing. A pawnbroker and "monstrous clever fellow," Jurgen is sent on a fantastic adventure as a reward for being the first person in history to speak well of the Devil (in one of the novel's most amusing and quotable passages). He travels through a series of fantasy kingdoms (in which King Arthur and Achilles are alive and well) and through a series of allegorical vistas Gulliver would be envious of. Throughout all, the book contains more hilarity, clever allegorical puzzles (some of which i'm not ashamed to admit sailed right over my head), and more of The Unvarnished Truth than most "mainstream" novels dare print. I can't fathom why Cabell isn't a figure as large as Mark Twain in the American literary tradition.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wreade1872

    Like our eponymous hero, James Cabell is also 'a monstrously clever fellow'. Kinda like a meta-fictional 'High Fidelity'. A mid-life crisis questioning the meaning of existence and the disappointment of maturity versus the hopes of youth; via an insane journey through time, space and myth. This really is a very complete story, it has a really good symmetry to it and great use of language. Its quite lyrical and makes good use of repetition. There are a lot of references in this from greek myth and Like our eponymous hero, James Cabell is also 'a monstrously clever fellow'. Kinda like a meta-fictional 'High Fidelity'. A mid-life crisis questioning the meaning of existence and the disappointment of maturity versus the hopes of youth; via an insane journey through time, space and myth. This really is a very complete story, it has a really good symmetry to it and great use of language. Its quite lyrical and makes good use of repetition. There are a lot of references in this from greek myth and arthurian legend, to more specific things like the 'Devil and Tom Walker', 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came' and the land of 'Cockaigne'. There are complete annotations online http://home.earthlink.net/~davidrolfe..., although i didn't find them necessary to the enjoyment of the story they are quite interesting in their own right. Fans of Terry Pratchett, especially his book 'Eric', will see a heavy inspiration from Jurgen. However this is no kids story, a LOT of this book is about sex although it's all written using innuendo and double entendre which adds to the humour of the story. In fact this is a very funny book, with a sort of constant low grade background humour which i loved. Towards the end i felt the sex jokes were getting a bit repetitive but just as i felt that, the author seemed to feel it too and cut back on them for the remainder so i can't call that a fault. I'm sure there are some who will say this is not a perfect book 'and certainly I cannot go so far as to say they are wrong: but still, at the same time—!' :) .

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    James Branch Cabell, a geneologist by trade, was one of the more risque "mainstream" writers of my grandmother's generation. Because of his level of notoriety in the twenties and thirties, copies of his books often appear in used bookstores--sometimes as volumes in more than one collection of his works. Sadly, with only a few exceptions, most of his work is unread nowadays. Jurgen is the great exception and, fortunately, it is all right as a start. being representative of much of his work. It rea James Branch Cabell, a geneologist by trade, was one of the more risque "mainstream" writers of my grandmother's generation. Because of his level of notoriety in the twenties and thirties, copies of his books often appear in used bookstores--sometimes as volumes in more than one collection of his works. Sadly, with only a few exceptions, most of his work is unread nowadays. Jurgen is the great exception and, fortunately, it is all right as a start. being representative of much of his work. It reads as a reworking of a mediaeval legend. There is even a scholarly introduction discussing the provenance of the tale: was it perhaps a Solar Myth? But, one may--or may not--note that fictitious places are mixed with actual ones, real events with pure, authorial invention. If you like the mixing of the real and the unreal in the phantastical combinations of Lovecraft or Borges, you may find Cabell a delight.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fonch

    Perhaps of my readings of Goodreads of 2017 "Jurgen" was the borest of my readings. "Jurgen" is the 7th novel of the cycle The Life of Manuel. The reason because i read this novel is that i would want to investigate one thing, and this novel was not "The Golden Compass" was written by Philip Pullman. This novel is very influenced of the european literature of the 17th century, and the 18th century. I thought in the german novel "The adventurer Simplex Simpliccissimus" was written by Grimelhausen Perhaps of my readings of Goodreads of 2017 "Jurgen" was the borest of my readings. "Jurgen" is the 7th novel of the cycle The Life of Manuel. The reason because i read this novel is that i would want to investigate one thing, and this novel was not "The Golden Compass" was written by Philip Pullman. This novel is very influenced of the european literature of the 17th century, and the 18th century. I thought in the german novel "The adventurer Simplex Simpliccissimus" was written by Grimelhausen, without transcendence and high moral register of the german novel. I was thinking in the Voltaire,s novels "Candide", and "Zadig" the novel of fantasy journey. I was thinking in the "Faust" was written by Goethe. The main character has contact with the devils and the magic and he recovered the lost youth, and he has an affair with Helen of Troy. The main character Jurgen (he wants to escape of his wife Lise, who eliminate his capacities a overnatural creature kidnaps her, and Jurgen starts an Odissey to recover her, without glad). The main chacter has the chance to have an affair with Guinevere, Ainatis (The maid of the Lake), Cloris (a Driad), Helen of Troy, a vampire Florimer, while he travels around several magical realms between them the Inferno and the Heaven. The main character is a phantom as the Baron of Mulchausen, and he invented stories. Jurgen rises in the status scale he become emperor and the inexisted Pope John XX. The novel is very misoginist (indeed their strikes against the marriage reminded me the skecth of the spanish producer Jose Luis Moreno Wedingiad). James Branch Cabell is very influenced by one o his masters Mark Twain, certainly the women who read this novel will not be very staisfied, especially femens. The only passage who entertained to me because as Ceravantes and Pliny said there are not a bad book, which has something good. In this case the passage of the main character striking the puritanism, and defending Poe, Whalt Whitman, and Mark Twain the inferno is a parady of the Dante`s book "Divine Comedy" (no, it is not the "Da Vinci`s Code" or "Inferno" of Dan Brown :-)). The novel is a hard strike against the christianity we can look in his passage by the inferno and Heaven (without this novel would have been forgotten, because this novel get old really bad, and it is very bored). The main problem is that James Branch Cabell is heavy i interrump the reading because i slept reading it, and when i continue the reading i have to pass several paragraps running, because i want to finish inmediatly to pass other book. The author want to become Mark Twain, but he is not as funny as the genius american writer, neither he is George MacDonald he drank of pures spring the german romanticism for this reason their world are more believable, and he is not Lord Dunsany. Only for the mixture of Greek, Celt, Athurian, and Jew myth and to typewrite several words did not convert in the king of the Epic Fantasy (Tolkien, not George R.R. Martin), besides i do not understand why in a fantasy world he mixed element of mythology. He employs really bad the mythology, he reminded me to Salman Rhusdie in "Children of midnight". James Branch Cabell is a uriosity, but very bored, and he is not the Wavian`s predecessor this honor is for Edwin Abott, Lewis Carroll, and George MacDonald. I hope to pass more interesting books. ............................................................................................................................................................................ Quizás de los libros, que he leído en Goodreads este haya sido el más aburrido de todos. Parece ser, que "Jurgen" es la séptima novela del ciclo la Vida de Manuel. El motivo, por el que lo leí es que quería comprobar una cosa, y finalmente pude comprobar lo que buscaba, pero pese a alguna sátira o burla "Jurgen" no es la "Brújula dorada" de Pullman. Es una novela, que bebe mucho de la literatura del siglo XVII, y el siglo XVIII. Pensaba en el parecido con "El aventurero Simplex Simplicissimus" de Grimelhausen. También pensé mucho en las novelas de Voltaire, como el "Cándido" o el "Zadig", y tiene también algo del "Fausto de Goethe", porque igual que el héroe de la novela de Goethe el protagonista Jurgen (quiere librarse de una mujer que lo anula Lisa, y le ha impedido triunfar y un personaje demoníaco se la lleva, y emprende una odisea para recuperarla sin mucho entusiasmo), y tiene la oportunidad de cortejar Ginebra, Ainatis, Cloris, Helena de Troya, y una vampiresa, mientras viaja por diversos mundos en busca de su esposa. El protagonista es un fantasma, que como el Barón de Mulhausen se inventa historias, y va ascendiendo llegando a ser emperador y Papa (el inexistente Juan XX). La novela es muy misógina (de hecho sus ataques contra la vida matrimonial me recordaron, pero sin su gracia a las matrimoniadas de José Luis Moreno). James Branch Cabell bebe mucho de uno de los maestros de Branch Cabell, que es Mark Twain. Ciertamente no saldrán muy satisfechas las mujeres que lo lean, sobre todo las feministas. El único pasaje, porque como dicen Plinio y Cervantes no hay libro tan malo que no tenga nada bueno es el pasaje de los Filisteos, dónde ataca el puritanismo, porque la novela tiene mucho de crítica contra las religiones organizadas, sobre todo el cristianismo, lo que se ve en los pasajes de Jurgen por el Cielo, y el Infierno (Creo, que sin eso esta novela habría acabado en el olvido). Lo único bueno la defensa del autor a Poe, Whitman, y Twain contra el puritanismo de la época. El problema es que el autor libertino Branch Cabell es aburridísimo. Yo tuve, que interrumpir la lectura y reanudarla meses más tarde, y después cuando continué su lectura había pasajes en los que me aburría. El autor quiere ser Twain, y no es tan divertido como Twain, ni tampoco es George MacDonald con su evocación de mundos, ni Lord Dunsany, y no tiene la prosa bella de los ilustrados franceses y alemanes. Por mucho, que mezcles como Rhusdie en "Hijos de la medianoche" mitología en este caso mitología griega, celta, Artúrica y judía no te convierte en el nuevo Tolkien, porque Cabell no tiene esa habilidad. Así que Branch Cabell es una curiosidad, pero muy aburrida, y no el precursor Waviano, porque antes que él estaban Abott, Carroll, y George Macdonald. Ojala pueda pasar hacia conquistas/libros más interesantes.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Buhs

    Did not age well. JBC's Jurgen was wildly popular when it came out, and has proven very influential. It is a high fantasy picaresque tale, combining elements of Cervantes' Don Quixote and Dante's Divine Comedy with (more) modern forms of the 19th century's so-called "New Romantics," such as H. Rider Haggard and Bulwer-Lytton. JBC, though, eschews portentousness and opts for opera buffa. It is almost impossible to overstate the book's influence. Aleister Crowley loved it, though it mocked his pagan Did not age well. JBC's Jurgen was wildly popular when it came out, and has proven very influential. It is a high fantasy picaresque tale, combining elements of Cervantes' Don Quixote and Dante's Divine Comedy with (more) modern forms of the 19th century's so-called "New Romantics," such as H. Rider Haggard and Bulwer-Lytton. JBC, though, eschews portentousness and opts for opera buffa. It is almost impossible to overstate the book's influence. Aleister Crowley loved it, though it mocked his paganism. Robert Heinlein wrote two books explicitly based around similar themes, at least, one of them his well-known Stranger in a Strange Land. It's impossible to read Jurgen and not hear "The Princess Bride." Perhaps because Jurgen has been so anatomized and taken up by later fantasists, a lot of what might seem groundbreaking now seems passé. The story follows the titular character as he does the "manly thing" and tries to find his (very shrewish) wife, who seems to have been abducted by the devil. What follows is a loosely connected set of adventures, as Jurgen meets a centaur, is taken into a cave that acts as a magical portal to other worlds. A goddess grants him youth, and a chance to romance the one woman he most loved--and lost--for a day. He meets Guinevere; he mets the Lady of the Lake, who is a pagan queen, and with her goes to the Land of Cockaigne--Henry Miller's "Land of Fuck." He is taken to another fantasy land, where he is with a hamadryad--a pagan world at war with the Philistines. He meets wizards and is given a magic spell. He visits Hell and Heaven. He meets Satan and God. And, in a gnostic twist, he meets the true creator of the world, the one who made it as it is, not as people want it to be. In the process, of course, JBC has plenty of time to mock various pieties. In a discourse with a monk, he puts in a good word for evil (it allows to us to be good). He finds the devil bored--he is just there to ease the conscience of prideful humans who feel they are very important and thus deserving of punishment. God and heaven are the creations of old women's imagination: all very boring. Meanwhile, the real prime mover just tries to keep everything running as well as it can. When Jurgen meets him, he is trying to sort out an astronomical mangle that has the stars in the wrong places. Despite all its impieties, the book ends up in a very sentimental place--and a very modern one, too. Jurgen realizes he is better off an "old man" (he's in his forties!), with his shrewish wife, whom he believes he belongs with, though they don't really understand each other. There's nothing to do with conscience, Jurgen concludes, just accept the world as it is and try to make the best of it. All of which is fine enough. The real problem is that the book drips with misogyny. One can try to excuse it as a product of the times, but that doesn't give due credit to lots of people in the 1910s who weren't that way. And besides, it is corrosive to the story--making the characters motivations just weird. Jurgen--like James Bond--desperately hates women, think them unreasonable and unimaginative and stupid. But he desires them. The book is full of Jurgen's sexual exploits, though couched as double entendres. (Still not hidden enough, at least at first, as the book was banned on first publication. JBC added a foreword that placed him as in the company of Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain, but he is not of that same quality at all. His characters are too weak, even if he does posses a big imagination.) Jurgen is also just . . . unpleasant. It's as though the Princess Bride were told from the perspective of Vizzini. He's clever, but not nearly as clever as he thinks. He is always putting everyone else down. Vizzini is a fun character, but spending over three hundred pages in his mind . . . wears the reader down. Worse, combined with the dripping misogyny, it's spending those pages looking at a fantastic world through the eyes of the offspring of Vizzini and Heddy Youngman. ("Take my wife, please!") Despite all of this, the book probably bears an even closer read. JBC is very smart, no doubt, and I suspect I barely caught most of the references. The other comparison one might draw is Goethe's Faust--Walpurgia's Night plays a big role in both--and just as Goethe tied together a loose narrative with a million little references, all drawing the story tighter and tighter, I figure JBC is doing the same. One can imagine an annotated version--one that traces the book's references both backward in time and forward through those influenced by it. I won't be doing that work, though. One fortnight with Jurgen was enough.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Randolph

    Cabell's most notorious novel because of its obscenity association. Beyond that an exposition of accepting things just because that's the way they are. The story involves Jurgen, the last person in Poictesme to see Dom Manuel (with the grim reaper), or did he? Anyway, he has gotten on in age to eight and forty years and wishes he could do it all over again, this time rightly. He gets his wish, but does it all the same again and settles in the end content for the way things are. Along the way we Cabell's most notorious novel because of its obscenity association. Beyond that an exposition of accepting things just because that's the way they are. The story involves Jurgen, the last person in Poictesme to see Dom Manuel (with the grim reaper), or did he? Anyway, he has gotten on in age to eight and forty years and wishes he could do it all over again, this time rightly. He gets his wish, but does it all the same again and settles in the end content for the way things are. Along the way we visit heaven and hell and most places in between along with a bunch of new and recurring characters from the Biography of Dom Manuel. Coth, Jurgen's father and a Knight of the Silver Stallion, meets Jurgen in hell (he's only there because he was burdened with a conscience in life) and does not recognize his own son. He constantly taxes the demons that torment him with the need for new and more painful tortures because he is not content with the way things are in hell. This gives you just a flavor of Cabell's irony. This and so much more as Jurgen plies his lance, sword, and scepter in the dark to find a woman more beautiful than his wife Lisa or his boyhood love Countess Dorothy. Bawdy and picaresque Jurgen deals with one of Cabell's three philosophies, that of gallantry (chivalry and poetry being the others). There are more than 25 slightly connected works in the Biography of Dom Manuel, so there is much more Cabell to savor beyond Jurgen.

  12. 4 out of 5

    James

    After learning that this book was the inspiration for at least two of Robert Heinlein's classics, I was curious to read it. I started the Kindle version but could not get into it, abandoning it less than a chapter in. One of my quirks (I have many) is my inability to leave a book unfinished after I start it, so I decided to purchase the audiobook and force my way through it during my daily commute. The audiobook was narrated by Robert Blumenfeld, who sounds like Sideshow Bob's brother, Niles fro After learning that this book was the inspiration for at least two of Robert Heinlein's classics, I was curious to read it. I started the Kindle version but could not get into it, abandoning it less than a chapter in. One of my quirks (I have many) is my inability to leave a book unfinished after I start it, so I decided to purchase the audiobook and force my way through it during my daily commute. The audiobook was narrated by Robert Blumenfeld, who sounds like Sideshow Bob's brother, Niles from "Frasier." To my complete surprise, Mr. Blumenfeld's narration was just the thing to make this book come alive for me. Rather than a slog, it was a pleasure I looked forward to each day, often having to force myself to stop listening so I could go into the office. The book is everything it is supposed to be - completely hilarious, bawdy and even unexpectedly wise in parts. Again, kudos to Mr. Bkumenfeld for his marvelous interpretation of this book. I heartily recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor and a high tolerance for double entendres.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Talkinhorse

    A fantasy classic from 1919. It's the tale of Jurgen, a pawnbroker of medieval France and a "monstrous clever fellow", who inadvertently converses with a supernatural being and thus enters into a strange personal odyssey. The novel became notorious for its suggestive passages, as the old guard tried to suppress it and the young crowd snatched it up. So Jurgen was famous (or infamous) for all the wrong reasons, but it's nevertheless great, and one of my very favorites. Behind the magical metaphors A fantasy classic from 1919. It's the tale of Jurgen, a pawnbroker of medieval France and a "monstrous clever fellow", who inadvertently converses with a supernatural being and thus enters into a strange personal odyssey. The novel became notorious for its suggestive passages, as the old guard tried to suppress it and the young crowd snatched it up. So Jurgen was famous (or infamous) for all the wrong reasons, but it's nevertheless great, and one of my very favorites. Behind the magical metaphors, Jurgen is an insightful and biting satire of the culture, in the same sense that Gulliver's Travels is a satire of its time. It's also a lament for humanity's pursuit of satisfaction that will inevitably elude us. This is a theme we can all relate to, and must address one way or another as we seek a philosophical framework that will carry us forward through this troubled life. (Don't let the foregoing comment imply that Jurgen is sour and humorless; it's actually filled with wit and is, in its way, oddly uplifting.) Jurgen has never gone out of print, and you'll find no shortage of editions. This particular edition I've linked has footnotes, and I had a hand in its preparation -- but I get no money for this; I'm just pushing it because I think the notes are useful. Jurgen was highly influential in its prime, and your favorite authors have probably read it. For example, in Robert Heinlein's books, you'll find several not-so-subtle tributes to Cabell and Jurgen. Opening line: "It is a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, saying: In the old days lived a pawnbroker named Jurgen; but what his wife called him was very often much worse than that. She was a high-spirited woman, with no especial gift for silence. Her name, they say, was Adelais, but people by ordinary called her Dame Lisa." If that makes you smile, then check out Jurgen.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I'm rereading this - since I'm on a fantasy kick, I need something reliable on my shelf. This is a different sort of a read, where the book is a bag to hold amusing sentences and passages. Here is Jurgen eating lunch at the shore: "'This is indeed an inspiring spectacle,' Jurgen reflected. 'How puny seems the race of man, in contrast with this mighty sea, which now spreads before me like, as So-and-so has very strikingly observed, a something or other under such and such conditions!' Then Jurgen I'm rereading this - since I'm on a fantasy kick, I need something reliable on my shelf. This is a different sort of a read, where the book is a bag to hold amusing sentences and passages. Here is Jurgen eating lunch at the shore: "'This is indeed an inspiring spectacle,' Jurgen reflected. 'How puny seems the race of man, in contrast with this mighty sea, which now spreads before me like, as So-and-so has very strikingly observed, a something or other under such and such conditions!' Then Jurgen shrugged. 'Really, now I think of it though, there is no call for me to be suffused with the traditional emotions. It looks like a great deal of water, and like nothing else in particular. And I cannot but consider the water is behaving rather futilely.'" Presently, the silly waters get deep - or deeply silly - as two characters from JBC's other books show up to debate the nature of their universe and its creator. I wish Jurgen wrote a blog. . .

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    One of the funniest serious books about American culture I've ever read. Of course it takes place in a fantasy realm where Jurgen is rewarded by the devil and must try to get out of his reward through his own understanding of the universe. This one I even got on tape.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Charles Crain

    The writing was a little dated, but the prose well versed. The overall message showed the timelessness of man's search for meaning during a midlife crisis, knowing that it is closer than ever thought. I would highly recommend everyone read this book, just for the innuendo and double entrandres.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Myth-breaking fantasy mixed with bawdy Restoration wit and pure picaresque folly!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mir

    "And is the road to this garden roundabout?" "...inasmuch as it circumvents both destiny and common-sense."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Robert Read

    This is my favorite book. Of all time. If you read the other reviews, you can understand what it is at the first level: the story of a man's middle age seen through a prism of fantasy. It is also poignant to the point of pain, deeply funny, a satire of America, a satire of the Judeo-Christian Universe, a mockery of the devil, an apology for evil, an attack on mankind's overweening pride, the story of a lost love, and regained loves, and lost youth, and regained youth, and foolishness, and truth. T This is my favorite book. Of all time. If you read the other reviews, you can understand what it is at the first level: the story of a man's middle age seen through a prism of fantasy. It is also poignant to the point of pain, deeply funny, a satire of America, a satire of the Judeo-Christian Universe, a mockery of the devil, an apology for evil, an attack on mankind's overweening pride, the story of a lost love, and regained loves, and lost youth, and regained youth, and foolishness, and truth. The funniest meeting between a father and a son ever written. A hodgepodge of hamadryads and magic. Nobility against a hopeless universe. Rebellion and submission. A jaunty joke carried to the mouth of Hell. A moment of perfect happiness refused. A trifling with women. An exegesis of male foolishness. An argument for never having a bad word for anyone, and for trying any drink once. The style is very ornate. It uses a number of literary allusions and tricks that are indeed hard for many readers. These include prose poems, anagrams, subtle uses of Greek, Norse, Russian, and Persian mythology, metafiction, and metaphor and symbology out the wazoo. I know this will sound foolish, but the part where Jurgen meets the Brown Man with Queer Feet is a capsule of a philosophy that can stand against the chill of outer space itself. When Jurgen is about to turn back the sheet to reveal the naked body of Helen, and then doesn't, plays on my male heartstrings like a violin. The conversation Jurgen has with his father is dangerously funny---it comes from the same place as the best of Monty Python. And meeting your teen-age sweetheart in the place where only imaginary creatures exist---what is better and worse than that? And when Koschei is about to blast him into oblivion but figures it doesn't really matter---well, that kind of stings, doesn't it? To be followed by the shadow of old woman back into your youth, to flee your mother's imagination of yourself, to know you are damned by your father's inability to imagine any other fate for you---not everybody is ready to understand why these things matter.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Brooke

    I read, and enjoyed, a few of Cabell’s fantasies when younger but missed out on the most famous (and infamous) of them, ‘Jurgen.’ That’s because it wasn’t reissued as an inexpensive paperback in the 70s, as were so many of his other books. The story teeters somewhere between high fantasy and avant-garde literary fiction, reflecting both a surrealistic modernism and a very learned, rather old-fashioned, and frequently quite funny sort of symbolism. It’s obviously not everyone’s cup of literature a I read, and enjoyed, a few of Cabell’s fantasies when younger but missed out on the most famous (and infamous) of them, ‘Jurgen.’ That’s because it wasn’t reissued as an inexpensive paperback in the 70s, as were so many of his other books. The story teeters somewhere between high fantasy and avant-garde literary fiction, reflecting both a surrealistic modernism and a very learned, rather old-fashioned, and frequently quite funny sort of symbolism. It’s obviously not everyone’s cup of literature and there’s no denying that a certain sophistication is useful if one wishes to fully grasp Cabell’s sly wit and allegories (some which I’m quite certain I miss), but the story is entertaining taken at face value. Although Jurgen’s world is one where ‘almost anything is rather more than likely to happen,’ it is not a world of whimsy. Everything here has a purpose; everything means something. Trying to figure it all out can, at times, get to be a bit much. Fortunately, the book is short enough to avoid becoming tedious. The romantic and the cynical mingle on the pages of ‘Jurgen’ in a surprisingly easy, and sometimes quite happy, coexistence. As, it is suggested, they do in the real world. But then, it’s hard to say just what is the ‘real’ world here, if it even exists but is only part of what we imagine. Is it a great book or, at least, the major fantasy novel some claim it to be? It’s seeming flippant attitude, its archness, might make some think otherwise. Yet, with echoes of George MacDonald and foreshadowings of Peter S. Beagle, it (and Cabell’s books in general) is certainly important and influential work. It’s also fun to read. Be warned, though, even by today’s standards it is more than a bit naughty.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brian Cubbage

    This book has the honor of being one of the strangest and impossible to summarize that I have ever read. Jurgen, a dissatisfied, middle-aged pawnbroker in the land of Poictesme with a rather difficult wife, loses his wife one day. She doesn't die; she is just lost. He goes in search of her, but in the process is granted a year in which to relive his youth. He wanders the mythological realms, taking up with Guenevere, the Lady of the Lake, a wood dryad in the realm of Queen Helen, and with severa This book has the honor of being one of the strangest and impossible to summarize that I have ever read. Jurgen, a dissatisfied, middle-aged pawnbroker in the land of Poictesme with a rather difficult wife, loses his wife one day. She doesn't die; she is just lost. He goes in search of her, but in the process is granted a year in which to relive his youth. He wanders the mythological realms, taking up with Guenevere, the Lady of the Lake, a wood dryad in the realm of Queen Helen, and with several other women besides. He even takes a tour through both heaven and hell, finding them quite hilariously otherwise than one would have supposed, until he finally meets Koshchei the Deathless, he who made all that was, is, or shall be, who sets everything back to where it was before he even started. That's just the bald framework of the matter. The book is a hilarious--if glibly misogynistic-- meditation on being a middle-aged man. At times it is comically perverse--the book was the subject of an actual obscenity trial after its publication, due to its several erudite but veiled dick jokes. Fans of Neil Gaiman may recall that Cabell gets mentioned multiple times in his Sandman series. It was interesting to note that the influence of Cabell on that series is quite real. The version of Hell Gaiman presents us with in Season of Mists owes a great deal to the Hell of Jurgen's journeys, so much so that Lucifer, in that book, has speeches that almost directly quote this one. It's interesting to see an author's influences at work like that.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Stoner

    This book is a work of great brilliance. Cabell is fascinating (apparently he was Mark Twain's favorite author towards the end of his life). Widely praised in his time, but mostly forgotten now. On the surface, this is a picaresque, wryly funny tale about a man with a very high opinion of himself whose wife is carried away by a devil, and who goes on a long, rambling journey through fantastic and mythical realms to find her, populated by figures from his own past, ancient greece, arthurian legen This book is a work of great brilliance. Cabell is fascinating (apparently he was Mark Twain's favorite author towards the end of his life). Widely praised in his time, but mostly forgotten now. On the surface, this is a picaresque, wryly funny tale about a man with a very high opinion of himself whose wife is carried away by a devil, and who goes on a long, rambling journey through fantastic and mythical realms to find her, populated by figures from his own past, ancient greece, arthurian legend, etc. Classical references are legion. Google is your friend. Or at least it was my friend. Cabell is also fond of anagrams, so we end up with a classical city under attack by the forces of logical Philistia, worshipping a god called "Vel-Tyno" ("Novelty"). And it is *funny.* But there's just so much there. I think Jurgen has a lot to say about men's changing relationship with women over the course of their lives, at least from an early 20th century perspective. A lot of it still relevant today. Also just about masculinity in general. Also about spirituality, myth, progressive vs. regressive thinking. It covers an amazing amount of ground. It also has tons of dick jokes, and was the subject of an obscenity prosecution. So that's sort of aweseom. I guess I think these sort of picaresque treatments are some of the best and most interesting ways to think about life. Cabell is able to address so many subjects without directly addressing them. Certainly a lot I did not pick up on first reading. I will definitely read again.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Betty Cross

    I don't remember exactly where I read this book, but I remember the decade, so I put the default date of January 31, 1975. I read this book on my father's recommendation. He said Cabell's books were a big hit for a brief period in the 1920s, but he's forgotten today. The conversation was prompted by my desire to write fantasy fiction, inspired by my reading of Tolkien's great trilogy. He suggested I read Jurgen, and then said if I wrote a successful book in the same genre it would probably be for I don't remember exactly where I read this book, but I remember the decade, so I put the default date of January 31, 1975. I read this book on my father's recommendation. He said Cabell's books were a big hit for a brief period in the 1920s, but he's forgotten today. The conversation was prompted by my desire to write fantasy fiction, inspired by my reading of Tolkien's great trilogy. He suggested I read Jurgen, and then said if I wrote a successful book in the same genre it would probably be forgotten in a few years. He wanted me to aim high, to write something future generations would still talk about and read. It's a worthy ambition, but a writer has to write the kind of books he/she wants to write, so I remained in Science Fiction and Fantasy. My copy of "Jurgen" was my dad's copy, given to him as a gift a half-century before. It would be a collectible today, worth a good deal of money if I could lay my hands on it. I read the book with enjoyment and respect. The protagonist is a witty rogue from a fictitious Medieval French town (or province) called Poictesme who goes in search of his missing wife, not so much out of love as of some sense of social obligation. The magical alternate reality which he enters is witty, amusing, full of surprising twists, and written in an inimitable style. I would reommend it for fantasy readers who are curious to know about the pre-Tolkien roots of the modern fantasy publishing field.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Richard Scott

    Published in the 1920s, this is a book I come back to time and time again. I have recently picked it up for the fourth or fifth time. It is not an easy book to find, and some copies--even paperback--are showing up for more than $50 each. You can find cheaper copies (I paid less than $10 for this well-kept used copy). There is something about the writing style that speaks to me. While the form of Cabell's writing is not simple, it reads as though it is. His use of language, story, and especially Published in the 1920s, this is a book I come back to time and time again. I have recently picked it up for the fourth or fifth time. It is not an easy book to find, and some copies--even paperback--are showing up for more than $50 each. You can find cheaper copies (I paid less than $10 for this well-kept used copy). There is something about the writing style that speaks to me. While the form of Cabell's writing is not simple, it reads as though it is. His use of language, story, and especially subtle humor are engaging. Publishers of the time hated the book, and many wanted to see it banned for its suggestive nature (a nature that is laughably tame by today's standards). The language, pace and flow of Cabell's writing is an excellent bedside book for a writer who wants to produce a work that entertains and instructs. Why did I have to purchase a copy of this if I liked it so much? Because I used to lend out my copies in an attempt to share. It's taken years to learn. I recommend Jurgen and any of James Branch Cabell's other novels highly.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Dehoff

    A humorous novel set at least partially in the land of Poictesme, location of many of Cabell’s stories. It’s officially located within France, but is frequently used as a satire of Cabell’s native United States. I guess I had mixed feelings about the book; I’m not entirely sure I got the majority of the comedy, but it was mostly entertaining. Jurgen is a pawnbroker and poet who regains his lost youth and sets out on a quest for romance and justice, entering into worlds of Arthurian legend and tr A humorous novel set at least partially in the land of Poictesme, location of many of Cabell’s stories. It’s officially located within France, but is frequently used as a satire of Cabell’s native United States. I guess I had mixed feelings about the book; I’m not entirely sure I got the majority of the comedy, but it was mostly entertaining. Jurgen is a pawnbroker and poet who regains his lost youth and sets out on a quest for romance and justice, entering into worlds of Arthurian legend and traditional mythology, then to Hell and Heaven, before finally speaking with Koshchei the Deathless. Although named after a nasty character from Russian folklore, this Koshchei is the creator of the universe. Along the way, the protagonist flirts with women and debates philosophy, often bluffing his way out of situations by making up supposed quotes from philosophers, and all the time proud of his own cleverness. A weird tale, to be sure, but pretty amusing, perhaps particularly in its observations on religion.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Brown

    I can just imagine Jurgens gravestone eulogy: Here lies Pawnbroker/Duke/Prince/King/Emperor/Pope Jurgen, a monstrously clever fellow who would try any drink once, and wants you to remember that nobody noes what goes on in the dark. Notable Quotables: You may be right in all matters, and certainly, I cannot presume to say you are wrong, but still, at the same time…NO. Hell was hilarious, with it being run by a (demo)cracy and all. Funny that all the younger demons wanted Satan to surrender and be bo I can just imagine Jurgens gravestone eulogy: Here lies Pawnbroker/Duke/Prince/King/Emperor/Pope Jurgen, a monstrously clever fellow who would try any drink once, and wants you to remember that nobody noes what goes on in the dark. Notable Quotables: You may be right in all matters, and certainly, I cannot presume to say you are wrong, but still, at the same time…NO. Hell was hilarious, with it being run by a (demo)cracy and all. Funny that all the younger demons wanted Satan to surrender and be bound by God so they wouldn’t have to work, cause apparently all the damned in hell were given such consciences that they wanted to be tortured for their sins, and once Satan was bound no one would die. Wasn’t a fan of the description of heaven as an old woman’s illusion made up so she can talk to dead relatives, so lost a star. Also, some monstrously clever innuendoes sprinkled throughout.

  27. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    I chose to read this book because I've been seeking out early examples of Science Fiction and Fantasy. "I'll try any drink once." Apparently Cabell and this book has been an influence on many authors including Neil Gaimon. I believe it was a huge hit back when it was published. The book was singled out for obscenity and there was a two year court battle which I'm sure helped sales. The double entendre regarding Jurgen's "sword" and "lance" is pretty obvious. I felt the book was a mix of Dante's I chose to read this book because I've been seeking out early examples of Science Fiction and Fantasy. "I'll try any drink once." Apparently Cabell and this book has been an influence on many authors including Neil Gaimon. I believe it was a huge hit back when it was published. The book was singled out for obscenity and there was a two year court battle which I'm sure helped sales. The double entendre regarding Jurgen's "sword" and "lance" is pretty obvious. I felt the book was a mix of Dante's Inferno, Baron von Munchausen, and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. There was some great humor and some very funny dialog but not on the same level of funny as Douglas Adams, which may just be a case of change in writing styles over time. At times the book really bogs down and I wouldn't say the book is coherent as a whole, but I did enjoy reading it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Norman Cook

    It took me a while to understand the humor style of this book, but once I let go of a need for a coherent plot, I was quite entertained by this satire. I can see where authors such as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams were probably influenced by Cabell's use of wordplay, puns, and double entendres to make fun of the political, religious, and sexual mores of the time. Although I probably missed many of the jokes, I found this book to be a delightful and funny romp. Much of the satire is as applic It took me a while to understand the humor style of this book, but once I let go of a need for a coherent plot, I was quite entertained by this satire. I can see where authors such as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams were probably influenced by Cabell's use of wordplay, puns, and double entendres to make fun of the political, religious, and sexual mores of the time. Although I probably missed many of the jokes, I found this book to be a delightful and funny romp. Much of the satire is as applicable to today's world as it was when the book was published.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Clever and erudite, it appears to be a straightforward fantasy tale at first, but it is really a funny exploration of a man's struggle to adapt to middle-age. The writer shows a depth of knowledge of myth and esoterica, and at the time some of the word-play was considered risque. Well ahead of its time, and doesn't feel outdated at all.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Had to read this to see the inspiration for Heinlein's "Job: A Comedy of Justice".

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