This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
First of all, it's worth getting out of the way that I absolutely loved reading the rest of Ralph's adventures in this, volume II. It's unfortunate that this edition had to be broken up into 2 parts, but ultimately it didn't subtract anything from my enjoyment of it. For the most part, though, everything I discussed in the critique of the first volume is still applicable, so I'm not going to retread any of that. Instead, I will go over some of my favorite parts and various thoughts of volume II.
One thing that did strike me as odd was how, in Volume I, Ralph dreams that that young woman he is tracking down is named Dorothea. In Volume II, though, her name is Ursula, and there's no explanation for why the discrepancy. It's not super important, but it seems odd.
In general, the best parts of Volume II were all centered on Ralph's return journey. From when he learns that the Queen of Goldburg has fled the city so that she might attempt to recover from her love for him (see page 118), to the numerous reunions with family and friends, Ralph and Ursula's return journey is wonderful. I love how, because of how nobly and honestly he treated everyone he met on his way out to the Well, he suddenly had an army of followers by the time he made it back to Upmeads. It was so fun to see his group of companions slowly build larger and larger until success against their Burgers was guaranteed (even if they were still outnumbered in the end). It even felt nostalgic as the reader to meet the old characters, such as Bull Nosey and Redhead again.
The scene when Ralph confronts the King of Cheaping Knowe (page 120) is great as well. It is the first time you really get a clear sense of how powerful Ralph has become in the eyes of those around him now that he is a Friend of the Well.
Another great moment is when Ursula expresses some doubts about her lineage, in respect to Ralph, now that they have entered lands where he is known, and he responds:
\"What! is it all so soon forgotten, our deeds beyond the Mountains? Belike because we had no minstrel to rhyme it for us. Or is it all but a dream? and has the last pass of the mountains changed all that for us? What then! hast thou never become my beloved, nor lain in one bed with me? Thou whom I looked to deliver from the shame and the torment of Utterbol, never didst thou free thyself without my helping, and meet me in the dark wood, and lead me to the Sage who rideth yonder behind us! No, nor didst thou ride fearless with me, leaving the world behind; nor didst thou comfort me when my heart went nigh to breaking in the wilderness! Nor thee did I deliver as I saw thee running naked from the jaws of death. Nor were we wedded in the wilderness far from our own folk. Nor didst thou deliver me from the venom of the Dry Tree. Yea verily, nor did we drink together of the Water of the Well! It is all but tales of Swevenham, a blue vapour hanging on the mountains yonder! So be it then! And here we ride together, deedless, a man and a maid of whom no tale may be told. What next then, and who shall sunder us?\"
I think I enjoyed this part so much because it is one of the few examples of humor and sarcasm, as well as showing just how amazing the feats are that the two have been able to accomplish thus far. Clearly she is as worthy of his love as he is of hers.
The last moment I want to mention is a far sadder moment. On page 147, when Ralph has killed the madman outside the cave where the Lady was killed, we learn that he was in fact the great Champion who Ralph followed from their first meeting outside the church where he called out "The First Time". Here, we read his dying words as "The Last Time!" I loved their meeting at the beginning, and it was one of the things that kept me reading when I was having such a hard time with the language, so this was a really sad moment for me.
Something I mentioned in the critique of the first volume was how this was a "quest" story, and that the thing Ralph would learn would be more important than the object of the quest itself. While this was true in the sense that he found Ursula, and knew that he must return home to be truly happy, it also wasn't as big of a deal as I imagined. Instead, it was more of a fact which, as it was revealed over time, became obvious rather than insightful. This does not make it any less worth observing, but it wasn't a secret that you had to delve deeply into the text to discover. Ralph, like any young man, learned that while there is a time for adventuring, and seeking out great things in the world, and that when that time ends one must return home. There, life is precious and must be protected.
I absolutely loved this book, and I can't wait to read more by Morris, as well as read some of the work that discusses the influence this novel had on the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Some of the connections (such as the journey home after the completion of the quest) are obvious, but I look forward to discovering some of the more subtle connections.
"Now was the night worn to the time appointed, for it was two hours after midnight, so he stepped out of his tent clad in all his war gear, and went straight to the doddered oak, and found Redhead there with but one horse, wherby Ralph knew that he held to his purpose of going his ways to Utterbol: so he took him by the shoulders and embraced him, rough carle as he was, and Redhead kneeled to him one moment of time and then arose and went off into the night."William Morris the First Line of The Well at the World's End Volume II