Lots and lots of things might lay claim to being the “worst story ever written.” But the reigning champion, according to huge swathes of fandom, is probably The Eye of Argon, first published in a fanzine in 1970. You can read the whole thing online.

I mentioned The Eye of Argon earlier today in a writing column about dealing with criticism. And then it occurred to me, maybe not everybody has experienced this masterpiece of badness? It’s basically the Plan 9 of prose fantasy.

As John Gaines at LibraryPoint explains:

The Eye of Argon was written in 1970 by sixteen-year-old Jim Theis and published in the sci-fi magazine OSFAN. It can best be described as a pastiche of concepts originally made popular in Robert E. Howard’s Conan series: muscular barbarian heroes, beautiful women, swordfights, magic, and evil creatures. Many authors have created compelling imaginary worlds with these concepts, including Howard himself. There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept and story of The Eye of Argon. The great flaw of the story—and the thing that makes it so memorably bad—is the writing style itself.

Often fantasy authors use colorful writing that deliberately emphasizes adjectives and adverbs to illustrate their world. Instead of being merely “colorful,” Argon is laughably flowery, with characters speaking lines such as, “Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian!” and “The engrossed titan ignored the inquiries of the inquisitive female.” It is very difficult to keep a straight face while reading the story, a fact which made Argon quite popular at science fiction conventions. It has become so popular that rules for its reading have been created. The main challenge is to read as much of the story as possible without laughing.

Here’s how this indispensible work of fantasy literature begins:

The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the dust racked climes of the baren land which dominates large portions of the Norgolian empire. Age worn hoof prints smothered by the sifting sands of time shone dully against the dust splattered crust of earth. The tireless sun cast its parching rays of incandescense from overhead, half way through its daily revolution. Small rodents scampered about, occupying themselves in the daily accomplishments of their dismal lives. Dust sprayed over three heaving mounts in blinding clouds, while they bore the burdonsome cargoes of their struggling overseers.

“Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian”, gasped the first soldier.

“Only after you have kissed the fleeting stead of death, wretch!” returned Grignr.

A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive barbarians hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust forth, sending a steel shod blade to the hilt into the soldiers vital organs. The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid.

The enthused barbarian swilveled about, his shock of fiery red hair tossing robustly in the humid air currents as he faced the attack of the defeated soldier’s fellow in arms.

Read the rest (if you dare!) right here.