Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Evening with Elric

Just finished a re-read of 'While the Gods Laughed', the middle novelette in Michael Moorcock's Weird of the White Wolf, the third 'novel' in the original series of six Elric books. I use quotation marks because Weird, like the other Elric books, isn't actually a novel, but a collection of novellas or novelettes. The Elric books, as they were printed in the mid 1970s, tended to be about 60,000 words and generally were made up of three 20,000 word sections or sometimes four 15,000 word segments.
Anyway, this is the story where Elric first meets his sidekick Moonglum, the little man with the twin swords, the red hair, and the big mouth. Elric is on a quest for the Dead Gods Book, a tome that might hold the key to his escaping his dependency on the demon blade, Stormbringer. If you're not familiar with Elric, he's an albino, sickly and weak in his normal state, who is given superhuman power by a symbiotic relationship with his rune carved black blade. Stormbringer drains the souls of anyone it kills, and unfortunately the vampiric sword is just as happy to kill friends as enemies.
I consider Michael Moorcock to be one of the true originals of the sword & sorcery field, because rather then writing about a Conan clone, as many of the other S&S writers were content to do, Mike created a sort of 'anti-Conan'. Where Conan is huge and powerful, Elric is slight and weak. Where Conan hates and fears sorcery, Elric is a powerful mage. The stories of Elric take place in a dark world, similar to Conan's Hyborian age, but closer perhaps in spirit to the world of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword or possibly Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Moorcock, who claims to hate world building sketches in the details of The Young Kingdoms as he goes.
'Gods' is a fast paced story with plenty of action, monsters, and the touches of strangeness that are particularly Moorcockian. If you haven't read the Elric stories in a while, dig em up. They remain some of the best heroic fantasy yarns available. And if you don't have copies handy, don't worry. Starting in February of 2008 Del Rey books will begin reprinting all the Elric material in a series of illustrated trade paperbacks patterned after the recent Robert E. Howard volumes. These will contain lots of nifty features such as articles, interviews, comic book scripts and all kinds of previously unpublished material. I'm looking forward to getting them.

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