01/08/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
Elric: Swords And Roses (Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melnibone: Volume 6) by Michael Moorcock and illustrated by John Picacio. pub: Del Rey/Ballantine. 495 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: $16.00 (US), $18.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49867-0.
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com
This is another volume of Elric paraphernalia including one novel, one short story, one screenplay and assorted essays and fillers. These will be addressed in descending order of importance to me.
'The Revenge Of The Rose' is a 240 page Elric novel dating from 1991. This quantity of pages is short by modern fantasy standards but quite long by Moorcock's, as he tends to squeeze a lot of plot into his wordage. The novel is split into three 'books' like so much of his best sword and sorcery stuff and this is certainly up there with his best. Elric has to go on a quest to save the soul of his father, Sadric. This brings him to strange realms and engenders comradeship with a variety of companions. The Rose of the title, a nifty swordsperson to match any Red Sonya and a sorceress to boot. Then there is Wheldrake, a short poet from Putney who declaims verse on any pretext and must have been fun to write. There is also a family of psychics called the Phatts to add to the fun. Highlights include a gigantic gypsy tribe on wheels going round and round their world on the same road; a tremendous encounter with Chaos Lords Duke Arioch and Count Mashabak and the changing fortunes of Prince Gaynor the Damned, ally and enemy by turns. This is the best Elric novel I've read in ages and maybe the best ever.
'Black Petals' is a short story in which Elric, trying as ever to rid himself of slavery to that beastly black sword, goes in search of a rare flower that blooms once every hundred years and which might provide him with enough sustenance to live free. He is accompanied by Moonglum, some pretty girls, some Melniboné exile soldiers and other assorted scallywags on a trek up a jungle river plagued by cannibals. This is pure pulp fiction at its best.
'Stormbringer: First Draft Screenplay' is a screenplay (surprise, surprise!). Not my favourite form of reading but it was not without interest. Despite the title pointing Elric-wards, it seems to be the story of the Eternal Champion, wafted off to another realm to fight for the human race against an elder race. In fact, this seems to be Moorcock’s 1970 book 'The Eternal Champion' in another guise. Erekosë has become Urlik and has a sword called Stormbringer. Clearly disparate elements have been bought together to make a new story summing up the essence of the saga for Hollywood. Elric movies are forever being mooted but such sagas are actually better suited to the mini-series format, as proved by the recent 'Game Of Thrones'. We can only hope other good fantasies get an airing, too.
'Aspects Of Fantasy (Part 4)' is the last in a series of essays about what it says in the title. For my money, Mister Moorcock is a bit harsh on Science Fiction, calling it a self-defeating, self-limiting form, only any good in those aspects it has borrowed from fantasy. At the time he wrote this, SF was all-conquering and fantasy was a quiet backwater of the publishing industry. Now the situation is reversed somewhat, so he should be less bitter. SF certainly is a branch of fantasy, which has much older roots but SF is also, arguably, the fiction most relevant to an era of fast-paced technological change. Robert Heinlein argued that but Moorcock is certainly no fan of Heinlein. In this essay, he praises the guys he usually praises, Fritz Leiber, Mervyn Peake and so on. They deserve his acclaim but I'll keep reading SF even so.
'Elric: A New Reader's Guide' by John Davey is interesting but not very useful. It lists the multiple editions in which the albino has appeared and tells you how they have been re-issued or re-vamped in various ways but that just leads to confusion. What is needed for new readers is a list of what books to buy to get all the stories without duplication. This may be impossible but was worth trying. In fact, this series of volumes from Del Rey, ‘’The Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melniboné, could be the best bet.
Moorcock's own introduction sums it up quite nicely. Fans say he says that 'The Revenge Of The Rose' is the best Elric novel since 'Stormbringer' and it is. It may be even better than that magnificent work. He also states the 'Black Petals' is the kind of story that might have appeared in the old ‘Weird Tales’ alongside Conan and he's dead right there, too. The other bits and pieces, essays and so forth, are welcome adornments to these core pieces of first class fiction. Much of the introduction is a devoted and touching tribute to Jim Cawthorn, an old friend of Moorcock's lately passed away who was the first to illustrate the Elric stories.
All in all, an excellent collection and a great addition to this first class series from Del Rey. Nobody does it better than Moorcock at his best.
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