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.

The Fortress of the Pearl — I liked this “new” (added after I completed the six volume Elric series in the 1970s) Elric adventure. Essentially, it’s an allegorical adventure continuing the theme, also in Moorcock’s Oswald Bastable books, of creating reality from dreams – a subject dear to not only novelists but political ideologues which Moorcock seems to be. The adventures of Elric and dreamthief Oone in the dream realm are allegories for the difficulties in converting dreams to reality (and there is speculation that the multiverse, or parts of it, may have been formed and ordered by dreams) and, also, the necessity for abandoning foolish childhood notions. I liked the allegorical realms that Oone and Elric must physically and psychically conquer to get to the Fortress of the Pearl. The Fortress has representations of the snares life holds for those wishing to mold the world according to a unique dream – which sounds fanciful until you realize that every physical and social invention must be a dream before it becomes a reality: the Land of Dreams-In-Common, the Land of Old Desires, the land of Lost Beliefs, the Land of Forgotten Love, the Land of Ambition, the Land of Madness (where the dreamer begins to suspect he is mad because of his dream). The effects of each on Elric reveal his character, his desires, his sorrow and melancholy, and his weaknesses. Often a stern word from Oone, who briefly becomes his lover, is needed to prod him on. The whole journey is a rescue operation to free Varadia, Holy Girl and repository of wisdom for a desert tribe. Varadia, a young girl retreating from the power she is to possess, unsure how to use it, unconsciously created the defenses around the Fortress which Elric and Oone overcome. Yet, she seeks rescue from her dilemma, evokes legendary figures to free her, but it is only the real figures of herself and Oone and Elric that free her. Dreams, Moorcock is saying, are all very nice but one can not expect fictions to replace reality (which seems to partially conflict with the notion of trying to dream a better world in the first place). The arching theme of this book is power. Oone hates that retreating or hiding from power succeeds only in preserving the self, it never creates a better world. Power and evil must be confronted to create a better world. Another manifestation is the wonderfully decadent city of Quarzhasaat. It is a wonderfully rich city, the only survivor of a former kingdom that warred with Melnibone long ago and, thorough a sorcerous accident, was reduced to a desert all around. It’s decadent inhabitants are inward looking, convinced that Melniboné (who they think was defeated in the war) is long gone, and the biggest prize any of their nobles can conceive is a seat on their city council. It is one such scheming nobleman that blackmails Elric into retrieving the Pearl at Heart of the World (itself created by the avaricious dreams of Quarzhasaat’s Sorceror Adventurers). Elric succeeds, and he and Stormbringer wreak a terrible vengeance on the city killing its army and noblemen. I liked the love and affection between Elric and Oone ( a coupling in the dream realm results in a real pregnancy), but Oone realizes that Elric will come to a bad end and that he’s kidding himself if he thinks he can achieve good with the help of his evil sword, Stormbringer.

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate — This is the second I read this collection of three novellas (I love the title) in which Elric finds himself increasingly a tool of Fate. I liked the first part where he encounters a pair of sorcerers (amoral gods feared even by Law and Chaos) from another dimension and Elric merging with Corum, Hawkmoon, and Ereköse (all manifestations of the Eternal Champion) to defeating him. I also liked the quest for the Jade Man’s eyes in which we start to get the first fearful signs that Elric can no longer control the growing power of Stormbringer when the sword kills Elric’s friend Duke Avon. It is with this that we start to get the full, fascinating Elric – guilty, self-proclaimed servant of Chaos and evil, melancholy, tortured, self-despising, a romantic cynic.

“The Dreaming City” — A pivotal Elric story. He leads a fleet of Young Kingdom sea raiders and destroys his former throne, the Melnibonean Dreaming City of Imrryr. In the battle, old friends of his are killed. Most of the fleet does not survive the last gasp of Melnibonean vengeance. Treacherous Yyrkoon is killed. But Stormbringer kills Elric’s beloved Cymoril. At last, Elric realizes, with horror, he and Stormbringer are now bound together. He tries, unsuccessfully, to throw the Black Sword in the sea, but it doesn’t sink. Despairingly he announces that

“men will have cause to tremble and flee when they hear the names of Elric of Melniboné and Stormbringer”.

While the Gods Laugh” — An allegorical adventure in which Elric goes on a quest for the Dead God’s Book which will supposedly answer Elric’s pondering whether he must “revel in chaos” because existence is pointless and meaningless or whether a benign god exists above the gods of Law and Chaos. When Elric finds the book, he doesn’t find answers. The book is a pile of meaningless dust.

The Singing Citadel” — This story sets up, I believe, the sorcerer villain Theleb K’aarna who (if I remember correctly) appears in three other stories.

 

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