Wednesday, November 03, 2010
How I Met Elric of Melnibone
Recently Michael Moorcock has been writing new stories about his best known character, Elric of Melnibone. These 'new' adventures are designed to fit into the established Chronology between the 'classic' Elric books Elric of Melnibone and Stormbringer. The most recent, the novella Red Pearls, appeared in the anthology Swords and Dark Magic, which I reviewed here a while back.
Unlike some of my book purchases, which have faded and run together in my memory over the years, I remember my discovery of Elric pretty well. I was fourteen, perhaps the best age to first encounter the moody albino prince, and my cousin Rick and I were scouring the bookshelves at the B. Dalton store in Cumberland Mall. Cumberland was one of two Malls that my parents frequented back in the day, and those were the only places to find chain bookstores at the time. Since I couldn't drive yet, I had to wait for my parents or grandparents to make a run to the mall. I'd spend most of the time we were there in the bookstores. B.Dalton was upstairs and Waldenbooks was downstairs. B. Dalton seemed to have a better stock of fantasy (I bought Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books there and Lin Carter's Thongor books as well) but Waldenbooks had a better collection of art and comics related books. That's where I found Steranko's History of Comics.
So anyway, Rick and I were looking through the books, searching for anything that resembled Conan and I spotted a cover with a garish red background. In the foreground a man with long white hair was jabbing a sword into the prone form of what looked like an ogre of some sort. Glowing purple energy writhed around the sword. The title of the book was The Weird of the White Wolf and the author was someone named Michael Moorcock. Down at the bottom of the cover a small blurb said, The Third Novel of Elric of Melnibone. Third volume? So it was a series. Maybe something like Fritz Lieber?
The bookstore had three more volumes in the series, though not the first or the last. I bought the four they had. I think Rick did too. Though he and I swapped a lot of books back and forth, we generally wanted our own copies of series sword & sorcery.
I'd like to pretend that I had good taste in my selection of books, but truthfully I think it was the Michael Whelan covers that originally sold me on Elric. They were colorful and pulpish and the scenes depicted promised adventure galore. Of course the books themselves didn't disappoint. I learned pretty quickly that Elric wasn't much like Conan. Instead of a brawny adventurer, he was a sickly albino who got his strength and vitality by stealing it from others by killing them with his cursed sword, Stormbringer. In some ways I think that is a large part of the appeal of Elric, especially to adolescents. You don't have to be big and strong or fast and athletic to be the most dangerous hombre around. You just need that magic sword.
And Elric was moody and depressed and angst ridden. Once again, perfect hero for a teenager. I was very taken with the books and read the four I'd purchased back to back. Book distribution being what it was in the 1970s, I had trouble getting the missing two and it was actually a few years before I got a copy of the first one. (It wouldn't have occurred to me back then that the bookstore could order it specifically for me.) I re-read those four Elric books several times over the summer. And I still like to re-read the series every year or so.
I was musing the other day how I wished the new Elric novellas could be collected in a paperback with a Michael Whelan cover so I could put it on the shelf beside the original six books. Unlikely, I guess, but gee, that would be fun. Just like old times.