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Posts Tagged ‘Elric of Melnibone’

The current re-packaging and re-release of pretty much the entire Michael Moorcock fantasy oeuvre is, obviously, a fine and much-welcome thing, for reasons I’ve touched upon in the fast. However – and this is just the tiniest of grumbles – it might have possibly have been an idea to include some sort of recommended reading order for those planning an assault on the entire collection.

I know the idea of a Moorcock chronology is in essence a slightly silly one, given that the stories don’t follow a linear progression but consist of a number of mini-sequences, starting and finishing in wildly different times and places – usually different universes – and only occasionally touching upon and banging into one another. (The order in which the books were written isn’t much of a guide, either.) But, if it could be managed, it would avoid the reader coming unsuspecting upon the climax of the Count Brass volume and being introduced to Elric, Corum, and Erekose – not to mention the true nature of the Runestaff and Stormbringer – prior to meeting them in their own stories.

Not that it really matters, I suppose, as one of the underlying tenets of the whole edifice is that they’re all fundamentally the same character anyway. Only the incidental details change. Nevertheless, Moorcock’s got more milage out of some of them than others, and here – of course – I’m thinking of one of his most famous creation, Elric. Elric gets a bunch of these new books more-or-less to himself, including the eponymously-titled Elric of Melnibone.

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This is more of a grab-bag of different material than the other books in the current collection. The two main components are Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer, a comics script detailing the education of Elric in various elemental truths, and the titular Elric of Melnibone, one of your actual novels.

Both of these are set early in Elric’s life and concern his rivalry with his cousin Yyrkoon, his relationship with his other cousin Cymoril, the succession of the Ruby Throne of the Dragon Isle, and all that sort of thing. Put together they basically comprise Elric’s origin story – by the collection’s end he has formed an alliance with Arioch (somewhat against his better judgement), and has the fabled Black Sword in his possession. Even when this was originally published, the astute reader of Moorcock would have known exactly where this was going, but the author doesn’t quite turn this into that sort of dripping-with-foreshadowing prequel: they would work quite well as an introduction to the character.

It’s quite hard to judge Making of a Sorcerer without seeing the associated artwork intended to complement, but the story is sturdy enough to stand alone. (Speaking of standing alone, you have to look quite hard to find any references to the Eternal Champion or the wider multiverse in this volume: the most intrusive is what seems to be a peculiar intimation as to the ultimate fate of Jerry Cornelius’s brother Frank.) Elric of Melnibone is – well, if I call it Moorcock on autopilot that has a sort of negative connotation, and that’s not the impression I want to give. Moorcock can write resonant, evocative epic fantasy in his sleep (or at least at the rate of 15,000 words a day), and that’s the least he’s doing here.

Also in the collection is a short story, Master of Chaos, presumably included here because it occurs earlier in the history of Elric’s world, and a number of essays and commentaries by Moorcock on the nature and state of the epic fantasy genre (also discussing the influences that led to the creation of Elric as a character). Fellow bearded titan Alan Moore contributes a piece on the nature and influence of Elric, both as an isolated character and a component in the Eternal Champion mythos. These are interesting, but hardly what you’d call essential; I get a sense of a book being bumped up in size to justify the price tag rather than to meet any clear vision of what it should be.

Well, perhaps that’s unfair. If you want to get a comprehensive sense of who Elric is and where he came from, both fictionally and in real-world terms, then Elric of Melnibone covers this in pretty much exhaustive detail. The thing is, though, that you don’t have to. The really great Elric stories (and I’m thinking here of Stormbringer above and beyond all others) tell you everything you need to know about him anyway. Does that mean the whole volume is, in fact, inessential? Perhaps – if you’re looking for one and only unforgettable Elric story, this isn’t really the book you want. If you’re just after a solid piece of epic fantasy with some associated cultural gubbins, then Elric of Melnibone will make you happy enough.

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