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And another book review

'The Dreaming City', 'While the Gods Laugh', 'The Stealer of Souls' and 'Kings in Darkness', Michael Moorcock



These four short stories are perhaps better known by their lead character - Elric of Melnibone.

A long time ago, someone put me off reading Michael Moorcock - someone who had a pretty negative view of him as a writer. Bizarrely, I have absolutely no recollection who this was. Because of this person, I spent the first 37 years of my life not having read any Michael Moorcock. And I'm now thinking that was a mistake.

These four short stories are the first Elric stories, dating back to 1961 and 1962, which puts them pretty early in terms of modern fantasy - six or seven years after Lord of the Rings. They are very different to LotR, but curiously quite similar to other parts of Tolkien's work that at that time were unpublished - notably the stories of Turin. Apparently both Moorcock and Tolkien's stories were influenced by the same tale from Finnish mythology, as indeed was Poul Anderson, but more on him in another review. A genuine coincidence it would seem.

Of course I knew about Elric before reading the books - If you've been exposed to as much fantasy role-playing as I have, he's hard to avoid. In a Games Workshop Q&A session at an RPG convention in the 80s, I once asked why GW seemed to be so obsessed with the concept of 'chaos' and the panel replied simply because they were all Michael Moorcock fans. Anyway, Elric - angst-ridden albino anti-hero with demonic super-sword. But for some reason I had it in my head that Moorcock wrote pulpy rubbish.

I was completely wrong. Even in these early books, I would say he stands above most fantasy authors in terms of his writing style. These stories are thrilling and exciting. I can see why they made a stir and why fantasy readers who gave up on LotR after Tom Bombadil would have got on rather better with Elric, exiled last Emperor of Melnibone and his evil soul-eating sword Stormbringer. Of course, it is possible to like both. It's probably true that angst-ridden anti-heroes have become more common in fantasy literature since the early 60s, but few can have been done as well as Elric.

The Elric stories also form part of Moorcock's 'Eternal Champion' cycle which features characters in different settings who are more-or-less incarnations of a central 'Eternal Champion'. I love this idea. After reading these first four Elric short stories, I went out and bought a lot of Moorcock works (mostly second-hand - some of them are difficult to get hold of new). Many of these books were Eternal Champion books. More reviews to follow!

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
pellegrina
May. 25th, 2010 07:07 am (UTC)
I've tried reading a couple of Moorcocks - one of the Eternal Champions and Gloriana - and could not get more than a few pages into them. Waiting for Jo Walton's "where do I start" series on Tor.com to get to M.
philmophlegm
May. 25th, 2010 08:21 am (UTC)
Gloriana is one of the ones I bought but haven't read yet.

After Elric, the place I started was 'The Warhound and the World's Pain', the first von Bek story. And that was brilliant. Review to come later. That's an Eternal Champion one.
philmophlegm
May. 27th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
"Waiting for Jo Walton's "where do I start" series on Tor.com..."

When it does, could you post the link?
lil_shepherd
May. 27th, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)
She's up to D, I think, so it may take a while to get to M.
lil_shepherd
May. 25th, 2010 08:29 am (UTC)
As it happens, you've started with one of the only four Moorcocks that I actually think worth reading.

Read Stormbringer (from the same period), and then stop. I didn't stop until The Quest for Tanelorn which makes it clear that he is deliberately writing the same characters and the same storyline in every fragging book and then I yelled, "I don't have to read any more of this!" and didn't.

Edited for bracket fail.

Edited at 2010-05-25 08:30 am (UTC)
philmophlegm
May. 27th, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC)
Is "bracket fail" the point at which Dr Evadne Hinge realised that her career in variety was over...?
lil_shepherd
May. 27th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
Yes.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )