The Michael Moorcock series continues.
Raw Feed (2001): The Dreamthief’s Daughter: A Tale of the Albino, Michael Moorcock, 2001.
The struggle between Chaos and Order in Moorcock’s vast multiverse is too vague to give much weight to his allegorical musings. (He imprinted on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress at a young age) .
The two sides can stand in for any number of opposites: male and female, anarchy and totalitarianism, reason and mysticism, violence and pacifism, fascism and democracy. [This is a false dichotomy and lazy reductionism — there’s a whole lot of ways of politically organizing a society. Also, at this point in time, I’m not sure if that was my laziness or Moorcock’s.] But the vagueness seriously undercuts any political points Moorcock is trying to make about just societies other than oblique references to Ronald Reagan and, perhaps, Margaret Thatcher. (He’s not a fan of either).
However, as a dramatic device, a serious version of the old Commedia dell’Arte, it is very effective. Moorcock, despite the frequent, almost deus ex machina invocations of various magical spells and objects, has a narrative drive that pulls you along as familiar archetypes play their traditional roles but usually with some new variation brought on by the desire, and sometimes conscious will, to alter the role they play in the various incarnations of the multiverse. Chaos and Law take on new meanings, new methods of balancing them are evoked.
There is little point in trying to, given the infinity of scales and branching alternatives, to pick the stories apart for consistency of the various Eternal Champions chronologies or find consistent allegorical functions for the heroes and villains. Most of the gang from Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle, Blood series, and Multiverse comic book (all part of the vast Multiverse) get mentions.
The hero and narrator is Ulric, Graf von Bek, an alternate version (both have spent time in Nazi concentration camps) of the von Bek in Moorcock’s Dragon in the Sword. Elric is here as alter ego and, perhaps, ancestor to von Bek. Paul von Minct aka Gaynor the Damned shows up in his traditional role of the ultimate power seeker, here a character who tries to double cross, to his own doom, both the Gods of Law and Chaos. Reynard the philosophical Fox shows up briefly as do Rackhir the Archer, Moonglum, Oswald Bastable and, most importantly, one Oona, the titular dreamthief’s daughter (and the daughter of Elric) whose name echoes Una Persson of the Bastable adventures and mentioned in some Jerry Cornelius stories (and a Cornelius is briefly mentioned).
The book effectively mixes adventures in other realms (including the underground realm of Mu Ooria whose name, probably not coincidentally, echoes Lemuria) with the Nazi Germany of the late 30s and 1940, including an original attack by Elric on a massive German air fleet with his dragons. The Nazi elite, including Hess who comes in for the most sympathetic treatment of all the Nazis (depicted simply as a deluded, romantic madman) want the Holy Grail in order to assure victory. Gaynor wants it and other magic artifacts, particularly other versions of Stormbringer, Ravenbrand, and a white sword, its opposite, for his own ambitious schemes.
Moorcock effectively loops his story back, in the middle, to explain how Elric has to become a ghostly avatar to help von Bek in the beginning part of the novel so von Bek can free him from a sorcerously induced coma.
Most of the books power lies in how Moorcock adds to his previous mega-novel that is his Multiverse work.
The philosophical, introspective, calculating, rational von Bek is merged, for a while, with the impulsively violent, cruel, sorcerer Elric. Elric has chosen to forget his adventures in other worlds outside of his own plane (except in dreams), but von Bek remembers their merging and gains a great appreciation for Elric’s pain in being torn between his own ethics (which cause him to destroy his own empire Melnibone and express genuine affection for his daughter, Oona) and his upbringing in a cruel, callous but learned culture.
Moorcock also effectively makes the Grail an ambiguous symbol.
It brings piece, reconciliation between warring sides, but it may very well require, as Klosterheim (who, in most of the Multiverse stories seems to serve Chaos) and Gaynor claim, the blood of innocents, a seeming allegory for good coming from the carnage of war.
Moorcock is less convincing in his portrayal of Nazi evil choosing to take the hackneyed line of Hitler and his followers as cowards afraid of life, small men riding a wave of luck and drunk on romantic ideals. It’s a typically liberal view of evil that can’t seem to imagine evil as the product of strong, amoral [or a very different moral code] men more concerned with their own desires than ethics and the lives of others.
However, Moorcock is right that romantic ideals can be very destructive when coupled with a will to power and the need to impose the vision on the world.