Elric: Song of the Black Sword

The Michael Moorcock series continues with a look at his most famous character.

Raw Feed (1999): Elric: Song of the Black Sword, Michael Moorcock, 1961, 1963.Elric Song of the Black Sword

Introduction” — Moorcock talks briefly about some of the inspirations for Elric – who he never considered an anti-hero: Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, American Beats, French Existentialists. James Dean was also an inspiration as was the early Elvis Presley. Moorcock cites a fascination for how the heroic ideal can be used to manipulate people.  (The Bastable series by Moorcock, in a way, deals with this theme.) That is reflected in the Elric saga as he initially takes the steps down the road which will lead to the death of his family and friends, the destruction of his home and world, and, eventually, his own death by seeking to rescue his lover. I was surprised to learn Moorcock started working on Elric in the 1950s, a time, he notes, when J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert Howard were available only in small press editions.

Elric of Melniboné — This book is as compelling, as grim, as foreboding as it was the first time I read it more than 20 years ago. This book is a classic with the doomed Elric dependent on Stormbringer, the vampiric sword that sustains him at the cost of other’s souls. Continue reading

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Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Edgar Allan Poe’s Literary War”

edgar-allan-poe-300x183

An “indirect descendant” of Edgar Allan Poe, Harry Lee Poe, looks at the cultural war between the Bostonians and Edgar Allan Poe over the merits of Southern literature.

He shows how it contributed to the sabotage of his reputation after Poe’s death.

For me, though, the most interesting thing is that Poe, author of several, largely forgotten today, humorous tales criticized Northern writers as lacking in humor, a deficit not found in Southern writers.

Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Russell Kirk and the Haunting of Piety Hill”

Russell Kirk

I’ve been reading SD Tucker’s two part series on Russell Kirk in Fortean Times“. It’s part of his “Strange Statesman” series.

The installments mostly look into the strange occult beliefs of various politicians and political philosophers. Kirk, however, was more than a political philosopher. (Jerry Pournelle considered Kirk his political mentor though Pournelle definitely did not share Kirk’s anti-technology views.)

He was a noted a writer of weird fiction, fiction that demonstrated the synthesis of his political and occult beliefs. He was a friend of Ray Bradbury.

Kirk biographer Bradley J. Birzer looks at the professional and thematic relationships between Kirk and Stephen King and how Kirk’s paranormal experiences showed up in his fiction.

Hawkmoon

While I work through my backlog of pending reviews, we continue with old stuff and the Michael Moorcock series.

The Eternal Champion was volume 1 in White Wolf Publishing’s Moorock series. This is volume 3. I made no notes on volume 2, Von Bek, but I’d recommend it just on the basis of The War Hound and the World’s Pain being in it.

Raw Feed (1998): Hawkmoon, Michael Moorcock, 1967, 1992.Hawkmoon

Introduction” — Short piece where Moorcock says this series of four novels was written as popular entertainment with no profundity despite some allusions to “The Beatles or well-known politicians”.

The Jewel in the Skull — I liked the character of Hawkmoon with his emotional detachment, near catatonia, awakening to become an enemy of Granbretan. I liked the Black Jewel threatening to eat his mind. I liked the villains Granbretan (Great Britain of a far future Europe). The emotional reserve and fascination for eccentric behavior, animals, and heraldry of the British is here satirized by the Orders who constantly go about in animal masks. I liked the knight in Jet and Gold.

The Mad Gods’ Amulet — Hawkmoon’s fight against the Dark Empire continues with a classic fantasy ploy – the diversion to quest after a magical item necessary for the main fight/quest. Though here Hawkmoon is unaware, for a long time, that the Runestaff has manipulated him into seeking the Mad God’s Amulet. He thinks he’s pursuing his betrothed Yisselda. I liked the Mad God and his minions (particularly the army of naked woman). I also liked the ambitious villain D’Averc with his affected illness. Hawkmoon warily accepts him as an ally. I also liked the ethereal city of Soryandum. I also liked the far future setting of this series with is antique cites and forgotten cities. Continue reading

Tales from the Texas Woods

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Moorcock lived in Texas for a while — in Austin, of course, given his political proclivities.

Raw Feed (1998): Tales from the Texas Woods, Michael Moorcock, 1997.Tales from the Texas Woods

Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock reveals, surprisingly, (I saw no clue of this before reading his collection Fabulous Harbors), a long standing fascination with the American West and tales of it. Indeed, some of his first sold writing was pulp Westerns.

The Ghost Warriors” — A tale featuring a new Moorcock hero, the Masked Buckaroo (mentioned in Moorcock’s Fabulous Harbors and The War Amongst the Angels), Count Ulrich aka Monsieur Zenith, his nemesis Sexton Begg, and some marauding Apaches. The disguised Ulrich leads a band of Ghost Warriors in an elaborate ruse to get the trumpet note (supplied by a pursuing military party) needed to magically open the pathway to the Grey Fees or Realm Below and the multiverse beyond. Besides the story’s wit, I liked the deliberate echoes of the Ghost Dance in the Ghost Warriors and their quest for a land of “lost dreams” where herds of buffalo still roamed, justice prevailed, and virtue is rewarded. I also like that, though the Masked Buckaroo is willing to let Count von Bek escape unpursued, that indefatigable force of Law, Sexton Begg, is not about to give up the chase just because Ulrich went to the Grey Fees.

About My Multiverse” — Short explanation of how mathematician Mandelbrot’s chaos theory and fractal sets lent coherence to Moorcock’s conception of the multiverse, its use as a political propaganda metaphor for the “Happy Mean” (which seems to resemble the unconvincing “Third Way” between capitalism and communism), and Moorcock’s belief that popular culture is where authority can be attacked. Continue reading

“Seaton’s Aunt”; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: “Seaton’s Aunt”, Walter de la Mare, 1922.Seaton's Aunt

This week’s Deep Ones’ story strikes some of the same notes as E. F. Benson’s “The Room in the Tower“: old English school chums reunited in a country home with strange things going on.

That’s where the similarity ends.

There’s been a lot of discussion and diagramming and classifying of weird fiction and its relation to cosmic horror, “regular” horror, the ghost story, and stories of the supernatural.

Whatever taxonomy or diagrammatic schema you use, this story belongs solidly in the category where the weird is not obvious or surrealistic, yet the tone is of menace, the story unsettling and mysterious. Continue reading

The War Amongst the Angels

The Michael Moorcock series continues with a look at the concluding book in the Second Ether Trilogy.

Raw Feed (1998): The War Amongst the Angels: An Autobiographical Story, Michael Moorcock, 1996.War Amongst the Angels 

Moorcock, when venturing outside the straightforward fantasy novel format of his Elric and von Bek series with their straightforward plots, grows on you with his psychedelic, initially incomprehensible plots in this, the culmination of the trilogy beginning with Blood then Fabulous Harbors and in his Multiverse comic book series which retells and expands on the trilogy.

A cynic would view Moorcock’s multiverse with its theoretically endless variations on certain characters, archetypes, plots, symbols as a lazy excuse to constantly recycle the same stories or an inability to collapse the story potentials of an idea via the act of observation, i.e. writing, into an artistic statement.

However, after awhile, the variations (complicated by the non-linearity of time in Moorcock’s Multiverse) become hypnotic. Continue reading

Fabulous Harbors

The Moorcock series continues with what is sort of the middle book, even though it’s a collection, of the trilogy, the so-called Second Ether Trilogy, that started with Blood.

Raw Feed (1998): Fabulous Harbors, ed. Michael Moorcock, 1995.Fabulous Harbors

Introduction” — Mock introduction to the collection. Moorcock claims these stories were related to him by Edwin Begg and that these stories tell of a “slightly better world”. On the other hand, Moorcock, in a serious vein, says our “visions reveal our motives and identities.”

The Retirement of Jack Karaquazian” — Fragment mentioning, in the title, a character from Moorcock’s Blood. I still don’t really understand Moorcock’s multiverse, but I like it. Many characters with the same name or similar names pop up. They seem to be manifestations of the same personality across the multiverse or, sometimes, the same character. Of course, the balance between Law and Chaos – not to be confused with good and evil, is of paramount importance. I’m not sure how the Holy Grail and the Bek’s, particularly Rose von Bek, figure in all this. The multiverse also seems to operate on many different scales of time and space. This story mentions the “Masked Buckaroo” which Moorcock has written of elsewhere as well as his creator.

The White Pirate” — An entertaining, playful fantasy that does a twist on the Wandering Jew tale. Moorcock gives us the Wandering Gentile, unjustly cursed by Christ and an immortal wanderer about the Earth, a miserable man with a tinge of Hitler about Him. (His name is Manfred von Bek and, at one point, he says “Mein Kampf! Mein Kampf!”). Only finding the Wandering Jew can remove the curse. Finally, after a 2,000 year search, he finds him – and he’s infuriated. The Wandering Jew, sensibly, has made the best of his lot (as he remarks being cursed with immortal life’s not a bad thing). He leads a rich, rewarding life of study, surrounded by riches and adoring families and friends. The Wandering Gentile can’t accept he’s wasted so much of his life on despair and bitterness, and he strikes off again. Moorcock even works in a bit of an attack on the idea of political ideologies. Continue reading

Blood

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): Blood:  A Southern Fantasy, Michael Moorcock, 1994.Blood

This was probably the strangest, most obscure novel I’ve read of Moorcock’s though, in skimming over his The Warhound and the World’s Pain [incidentally, one of my favorite Moorcock novels, but I made no notes on it], I realized they both share Moorcock’s typical preoccupation with the contest between Chaos and Law. That struggle is not to be confused with contending Good and Evil. Neither Law or Chaos can be allowed to win. Life can only exist through their struggle and all its many symbolic connotations (justice and tyranny, life and evolution versus entropy).

Usually, in the novels set in Moorcock’s multiverse (virtually all of them as far as I can tell), there is a struggle about maintaining the balance between Law and Chaos or, as in his Stormbringer, a loss of that struggle.

This novel’s plot is more ambitious in that the Rose and Captain Billy-Bob Begg (the von Bek and Begg families seem to be nearly ubiquitous in Moorcock novels and show up here as does a Renark – a protagonist in Moorcock’s The Sundered Worlds) seek to fashion – and seem to be at least temporarily successful – a new order in the multiverse, an order less inimical to human life and needs. Continue reading

The Eternal Champion

Well, I’ve been putting off this series for a while because I’ve read a lot of Michael Moorcock, and there’s a lot of Moorcock I haven’t read because there’s a lot of Moorcock.

Moorcock is a very uneven writer.

He’s given to constantly revising his work.

And most of his work fits in a series called the Eternal Champion and deals with the eternal conflict between Law and Chaos in the multiverse. Or you could cynically see this as a marketing ploy. Buy one Michael Moorcock book and you have to buy them all. Not an opinion, I share. You can read most of the series independent of each other.

I think I first came across him in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords #4 anthology with a story that was incorporated into Moorcock’s The Sailor on the Seas of Fate which is part of the long Elric saga.

I eagerly devoured all the Elric books, when there were only six, in the DAW editions with the Michael Whelan covers. (I even have a limited edition print of Whelan’s Stormbringer.)

Moorcoock’s work has found its way into music and comic books too.

White Wolf Publishing put out omnibuses of most of the Eternal Champion books in the 1990s.

Raw Feed (1995): The Eternal Champion, Michael Moorcock, 1994.Eternal Champion

Introduction” — An interesting introduction to the first volume of the saga of the multiverse hero, the Eternal Champion aka many other names including Elric of Melnibone. Moorcock explains that his Eternal Champion in his many manifestations allows him to create and explore many ethical situations and show the eternal tension and battle (the Eternal Champion very often wars to establish a balance between the two) between Chaos and Law — not, he says emphatically, to be confused with Good and Evil. I find it revealing, given his outspoken political views, that one of Moorcock’s favorite books is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Moorcock also reveals a dislike for hard sf (which explains his public statement about Larry Niven boring him) and a love of romantic sf, in particular C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Charles Harness, Phillip K. Dick, Alfred Bester, and Jack Williamson. Moorcock’s sf and fantasy was an attempt to re-evoke a type of wonder in sf. Continue reading