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.
“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.
The Eternal Champion — I liked this well-done fantasy of 20th century man being transported to another Earth in another time to be Erkosë, that universe’s version of the Eternal Champion. The prose was moody and evocative at times. I liked the grim – though the hero isn’t that bothered – ending where John Daker aka Erkosë wipes out humanity as the result of making a rash promise to a woman he doesn’t really love but he tries to convince himself that he does. I think Erkosë is a little hard on his ex-friend Roldero who makes some excellent arguments (I think Moorcock includes them to muddle the moral waters) that, while the Eldern may individually be nice people, they are not human and, de facto, they are not threats to man’s interest. (Erekosë has supposedly been summoned to this world to annihilate the Eldern.) Erkosë sides with the Eldern and takes a rather harsh attitude towards humans. The Eldern, for their part, profess no self-interest. Still, they are not to unhappy about letting him break banned, ancient weapons out of their armory so man can be exterminated. I think Moorcock is quite right to say that one of the novel’s primary themes is betrayal of our notions of a morally simple world.
The Sundered Worlds — This space opera was written, according to Moorcock’s notes, in a 36 hour session when he was 21. It shows some of the author’s speed and youth in not only its headlong pace, uninspired prose (Moorcock seems to have thought mystery is created by pairing contradictory adjectives), dialogue filled with clumsy explication, and poorly developed themes (specifically the theme of abandoned lovers). Still, I liked two things. First, the Blood Red Game of mental warfare via disgusting/loathsome/terrifying images was neat. Second, I liked this slant on the Eternal Champion story with Count Renark von Bek sacrificing himself at the end of the first part, seemingly so that his driven, noble, obsessive spirit can be spread about the “multiverse” (perhaps as the Eternal Champion though that is not said). I liked the earnest, pulpy speeches about man having a destiny to fill by overcoming the limits of nature and the multiverse.
Phoenix in Obsidian — I enjoyed this second John Daker sword-and-sorcery story. Essentially this delightfully gloomy and decadent (though I would have liked more explicit details on the decadent life of Rowernarc, a city waiting for the world to die in ice) novel recapitulates the themes of The Eternal Champion and Moorcock’s Elric series. As in the first Daker novel, he is summoned to save a world (here from the onslaught of the Silver Warriors and the death of the sun) by individuals (the Silver Queen here) who later regret it. Daker kills the Queen to provide the blood for the Black Sword to restore the sun. Here, though, no race is annihilated. Rather Daker rescues the Silver Queen from Bishop Belphig so the Silver Warriors no longer have to fight for him. The central motif of the Elric series – a doomed hero who is “Destiny’s Champion, Fate’s Fool” and who wields a fearsome, soul-drinking, demonic sword that will kill friend or foe of its own will but who can’t be denied – is repeated with Daker aka Ulrik and his Black Sword.
“To Rescue Tanelorn” — Nice, short novellette of Rackhir the Red Archer of the Elric series saving Tanelorn, the city of adventurers seeking quite contemplation, with help from the dimension of the Grey Lords, gods who serve neither Law or Chaos. The realms of Law are the most terrifying – proving Moorcock’s contention that Law, in its work, is not synonymous with Good. Law’s realm is barren because Law “without something to decide between … is bereft of justice”. Tanelorn is an ideal that will always exist, we are told, as long as man does. Tanelorn comes from an 1868 poem by Ernest Wheldrake.