Elric: The Stealer of Souls

The Michael Moorcock series continues while I’m off … well, not off writing up new reviews.

Raw Feed (1999): Elric: The Stealer of Souls, Michael Moorock, 1962, 1998.Elric The Stealer of Souls

Introduction” — Detail of fantasy influences on Moorcock and the circumstances that early Elric stories were written under. Elric remains Moorcock’s favorite character because

“He was working through many of his questions at the same time I was working through mine.”

The Sleeping Sorceress — Another of Elric’s battles with Theleb Kàarna. Elric meets another lover, Law sorceress Myshella, the Sleeping Sorceress of the title. The notion of a Beggar Court that derives its power through a natural aversion to disease and dirt was interesting. The third novella in this book is a retelling of an incident in Moorcock’s Corum: The Coming of Chaos where Corum, Elric, and Erekosë team up in a magical union of Eternal Champions to defeat a sorcerer. Erekosë wryly laments that he wishes the Eternal Champions could face a “small problem, a domestic problem” sometime. Theleb Kàarna kills Myshella, and provides still another reason for Elric to kill him.

The Revenge of the Rose — This, so far, is the latest novel written by Moorcock for his Elric series. As the early Elric stories reflect Moorcock’s youthful struggles with various political, social, and personal issues, this novel reflects, perhaps not for the good, the concerns and the style of the later, older Moorcock. As in another late Elric novel, The Fortress of the Pearl (though worse here), this novel’s style and structure jar with those of the earlier Elric stories though they would be just fine in another series where expectations are different. The spare, adventure-driven narrative of earlier novels, usually fixups is gone, replaced by a denser, allegorical narrative that was slower to read. (Moorcock says he wrote the earlier books at a time when, if it couldn’t be written in 24 hours, it wasn’t worth writing). Still, I liked several things about this novel. I liked the character of poet Ernest Wheldrake who, in this novel, has also spent time with John Dee in Elizabethean times. His poetry seems so apt for the saga of Elric that he either had a big influence on a young Moorcock or he’s a creation of Moorcock. [The poetry is Moorcock’s creation. Wheldrake is a persona invented by the poet Swinburne for reviews.] I liked the variation on the plot of a child reconciling or rescuing a parent. Here Elric wants to escape the influence of his father and all he represents and embarks on the quest for his father’s lost soul not out of love (though he is reconciled with his father at novel’s end) but out of fear his father will haunt him, be inextricably linked to his body and soul. I liked references to the Vadagh and the appearance of the Rose (another character with evidently multiple manifestations in the multiverse and depicted in Moorcock’s Blood series and Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comics). Prince Gaynor, a man who knew and betrayed the Cosmic Balance and who longs for death, appears here. His origins (murky in the Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic) are explained here. The most obvious political allegory is the H. G. Wells-like (as in The Time Machine) allegory of the constantly moving, bizarre Gypsy society on huge carts, the elite above enjoying art and riches, while propelled below by suffering masses serving their debts and punishments. All the while the carts move on a rode straight and bordered by near impassable mounds of their garbage, a society that literally would go off a cliff (a destroyed bridge, actually) than stop its tradition of movement. I suspect Moorcock meant this (he was a Laborite) as an allegory for modern capitalism. Power, notes Elric, is as randomly distributed as any physical trait. [There’s a whole lot of forms of power so a whole lot of traits to be randomly distributed to say nothing of developing those traits to exercise that power. Hardly a random or foreordained event.] I suppose he wants to show that sociewty locked into a sterile path it can’t deviate from – and won’t due to tradition. In some way, it also seems a critique of imperialism since Wheldrake finds it worse than the empires of Victoria and Elizabeth. Empire-building is also addressed in the scene where Elric meets his father in a dimension where the city H’hui’shan is. It is a city destroyed in the civil war where the imperialist Melniboneans defeated their non-imperialist cousins. The Three Sisters also represent a related race that renounced empire building.

The Stealer of Souls” — An enjoyable Elric story I’d read before. It’s dramatic high point is when Elric Womanslayer, destroyer of Imrryr, meets, for the first time, the remanents of his race who are surprisingly forgiving and fatalistic and working as mercenaries. Theleb K’aarna finally meets his end.

Kings in Darkness” — A creepy tale involving ghouls and the resurrection of dead kings. Elric also meets his wife Zarozinia and decides to settle down.

The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams” — Elric defeats a Mongol-type barbarian that threatens his marital tranquility. Dyvim Tvar and the remanents of the Melnibonean dragons puts in his appearance. At story’s end, Elric thinks he’s found herbs that can maintain his strength in place of Stormbringer.  He even thinks he’s finally managed to discard Stormbringer. He tells his wife Zarozinia that he’s “tired of swords and sorcery”. Sarozinia doesn’t have the heart to tell him that a screaming Stormbringer came back from battle before he did.

Stormbringer — It’s been more than 20 years, probably, since I read this book. And, though I couldn’t remember much about it other than Elric destroys the world, Stormbringer kills all of Elric’s friends, and, at novel’s end, only Stormbringer — revealed to be a demon – survives to declare that he was a thousand times more evil than Elric. I also remembered the gloomy, foreboding atmosphere. Well, all that was here on the second reading, but I also appreciated Moorcock’s skill (though he uses much the same novelette/novella structure as his other Elric stories (the reader’s guide to Elric in this omnibus reveals that the novel was originally published in pieces) in not only the prose but his ideas. Perhaps here, more than any other story I’ve read in Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle, he uses paradox to generate emotion and story interest. Elric, the Eternal Chamption fated to bring about a better world, does so by bringing death to those close to him and who he loves. This starts with his very birth killing his mother. Stormbringer, the evil hellblade necessary to Elric’s life is also necessary for defeating Chaos, though it itself is of Chaos origin.  (The Lords of Chaos seem to scheme against one another.) Here, it also takes the life, without Elric’s intent, of Rackhir the Red Archer (servant of Law and there when Elric first gets Stormbringer) and Kargan, an ally. His wife Zarozinia (horribly altered by Chaos) gives her life willingly to Stormbringer to sustain Elric. Moonglum, in the new world of Law, gives his life to Stormbringer so that Elric can blow the Horn of Fate a third time and complete the creation of a world of Law. Elric, sworn to Chaos, actually ends up serving Law, and his evil blade is necessary in the new world in order for it to avoid the stagnation of Law. Elric, always seeing events as random and no cause-or-effect relationship writ large in the universe, begins to wonder whether his actions are pre-destined by Fate, if he has any control. This is poignantly emphasized when Elric encounters the morose, fearful Sad Giant who peaceably gives up the Shield of Chaos since he has fearfully been waiting the prophecy that says he will be killed and the Shield violently taken. Elric agrees to this, but Moonglum kills the giant, telling Elric they cannot deviate at all from Elric’s prophecied fate. At story’s end, Moonglum, feeling he is predestined to be Elric’s companion, suggests giving his life for the final step of Elric’s fate. Of course, Moorcock turns one of the major clichés of sword-and-sorcery on its head. His hero is not fated to save the world but destroy it, albeit to make a better one. In the course of doing that, he doesn’t save any loved ones. He gets them all killed. Of course, the first time I read this book, I didn’t catch the allusion to Roland (I had not even heard of The Song of Roland much less read it) as an Eternal Champion. I think Moorcock made up the bit about his lover being a sorceress named Vivian. I don’t recall that in the poem and could find no reference to her. (The character of the dwarf Jermays the Crooked sounds familiar as if he was a character encountered before in the multiverse cycle, but I don’t know where.) Of course, the rules are a bit vague in parts of the book – as in most fantasy. A prime example is how Dyvim Slorn and Moonglum survive unaltered in the lands of Chaos even without Elric’s Shield of Chaos.  (I liked the fierce Elric taking vengeance of Jagreen Lern.) This one was even better on the second reading.


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