01/11/2008. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 460 page illustrated enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (US), $17.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49863-2.
check out website: www.delreybooks.com
Although billed as the second volume of Elric's chronicle, this book is not exclusively concerned with that albino kingslayer. After an interesting introduction by the author, Michael Moorcock, the opening story features the Eternal Champion, to be sure, but it is a different manifestation of that entity. This time it's 20th century man John Daker who becomes ErekosÚ, resurrected by a King's prayer to fight for humanity against the Eldren using a radioactive sword that kills them with its slightest touch. The Eldren are a tall, lean race of sorcerers not unlike the MelnibonÚ and in looks but completely unlike that merciless race in character. The Eldren are not only civilised but rather nice. The humans, on the other hand, are cruel and treacherous so ErekosÚ soon becomes a bit of a reluctant champion to those who raised him. He turns out to be a hero of questionable morality, like many Moorcock characters.
In the titular story 'To Rescue Tanelorn', Narjhan, a Chaos Lord, leads an army of beggars across the Sighing Desert to pillage that place of peace, Tanelorn, which he and his ilk detest. Realising that supernatural help is needed, the people of Tanelorn dispatch Rakhir the red archer and his hermit sorcerer accomplice, Lamsar, to seek the help of the Grey Lords who serve neither Law nor Chaos. I was reminded of the Grey Council in 'Babylon 5' which sits between light and darkness. Moorcock was first, though, in 1962. Rakhir and chum must pass through several dimensions to get to the Grey Lords. The story achieved a sort of detached, dreamy, unreal mood that made it memorable.
Alexander the Great was certainly not an Eternal Champion yet has a novelette here. The premise is that he was possessed by Ahriman, the dark god of Zoroastrianism and the forces of light, working for the God Ormuzd, must fight him. Seeing Alexander as a tyrannical murderer is an original viewpoint and a true one really. Distance lends enchantment to conquerors (Caesar gets the same treatment) but history never refers to Hitler the Great. Wait twenty centuries and maybe it will. The story was pretty good.
'Phase 1: A Jerry Cornelius Story Retells The First Elric Story, ' The Dreaming City' in a modern setting. I suppose it's an experiment of some kind as Mister Moorcock certainly has enough imagination to come up with new plots. It probably works better if you don't know the ending.
It is followed by a couple of original Elric stories, 'The Singing Citadel' (good), 'The Jade Man's Eyes' (excellent ), 'Elric At The End Of Time' (fun but not entirely serious) and 'The Black Blade's Song' (cosmic, man!). I enjoy the Elric stories and appreciate that he is, allegedly, Moorcock's most popular character but he is also a selfish, self-pitying whiner and an amoral wretch. If you had a sword that kept you alive but killed all your friends would you hang on to it? I sometimes fancy it is Moorcock himself that gives Elric number one status and the readers might prefer other heroes. I like decent chaps like Hawkmoon and Count Brass, for example, while my brother is a big fan of Corum.
The stories are all page-turners, being mostly of that forgotten and sorely missed genre, the novella. Fifty print pages is an excellent length for a ripping yarn but publishers don't seem to think so and there is no market for them now, unless you're a big name like Moorcock. The plots move fast and the prose is lush, as befitting epic fantasy. Sometimes it seems Moorcock has two big wheels with nouns on one and adjectives on the other which he spins randomly to produce a striking image. The stories are filled with yellow claws, red wings, black marble, green helmets and so on. Sometimes the landscape is so colourful you think Elric's got stuck in a kaleidoscope.
This sort of reprint volume gives publishers a chance to make money, Mike Kaluta an opportunity to do some excellent illustrations and earn a few bob and old codger's like me a chance to wallow in nostalgia. Younger readers, too, could do worse than scan these classics yarns. In fact, I recommend the book to just about anyone.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA