Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Top Five Michael Moorcock Books

I mentioned in the post below that Michael Moorcock's book Letters From Hollywood would make it into my top five of the man's work, and then said I'd have to give some thought to what the other four would be. I have taken the time to do some thinking and here's the list as it stands today.

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate

This is my favorite Elric book. Not the first or the last, but one of the middle books. Either this one or Weird of the White Wolf was the first Elric I read. I can't recall for sure, because I think I read both within a couple of days, but anyway I have always liked this one best. It takes place during the period when Elric was out exploring the Young Kingdoms in an attempt to learn more about the race of man. His greatest tragedies were yet to come. This was also the first time I had a hint of Elric's doppelgangers, the other Eternal Champions who are in reality all the same being. Elric meets several of them in the first third of the book. Plus, I just really liked the Michael Whelan cover on the DAW paperback. Something about the ship in the mist with all the warriors gathered at the prow.

The War Hound and the World's Pain

To my mind the best melding of Moorcock's literary style with his sword & sorcery. There's plenty of action and magic and monsters, but also quite a bit of fine writing and complex ideas. The plot itself is the sort of thing only Moorcock would attempt. It seems that Lucifer has decided he wants to reconcile with God and he needs a mortal's help to carry this out. Lucifer has selected Ulrich Von Bek, a mercenary and not the nicest of fellows, to seek the Holy Grail, the cure for the world's pain. By doing so, Von Bek can also save his own soul.(Wait a second, this IS the recent Solomon Kane movie.) Anyway, an impressive book.

The Silver Warriors (Phoenix in Obsidian)

The middle book of the John Daker Eternal Champion sequence. Daker, the only EC who can remember all his other incarnations and who knows he's the Eternal Champion, finds himself in the form of Count Urlik Skarsol, a burly Warrior of the far future when the Earth is dying a slow death. He is pitted against the silver warriors, presumably beings from the moon which has at this point crashed into the Earth. But as so often happens in the Daker books, nothing is what it seems and the silver warriors aren't the real threat. Sort of a tribute to Jack Vance but at the same time a pivotal book in the saga of the Eternal Champion where much is explained about Daker's lot. A warning. This one doesn't end well.

Letters From Hollywood

Begun as actual letters to J.G. Ballard during Moorcock's self imposed exile in Hollywood, this eventually became a memoir of Moorcock's rather strange journey across La La Land. I think it would make a good movie itself. Mike has comical adventures with directors and screenwriters, gets a tattoo, meets his current wife, and sadly, has to watch the extended death by illness of an old friend. Hard to come by, but highly recommended.

The Singing Citadel

Partly because this is the book that brought me back to reading Moorcock, almost by accident, and partly because I consider The Singing Citadel to be a little gem of a lesson for plotting a fantasy novella. The story is beautifully constructed, and I'd use it as an example were I teaching a class. It's also a very good story, as are the three others included in this slender volume.
As to the accident thing, about six years ago I was browsing in a used bookstore and I saw a battered copy of the Singing Citadel. I had recently read an issue of Alan Moore's Tom Strong comic book that had been guest written by Michael Moorcock, and not having read any of Moorcock's prose in a couple of decades, I picked Citadel up on a whim. That's what got me back into reading Moorcock.

So there you go. The first four titles leapt to my mind as I sat down to write the list, but the fifth was a tougher choice. I almost said The Weird of the White Wolf because that's the DAW Elric book which contains the Singing Citadel, so it covers some of the same territory. And I almost said Death is No Obstacle, but that's a non-fiction book, mostly a series of interviews with Moorcock. However it does contain an interesting discussion about how Moorcock writes his sword & sorcery books so for a writer it's very much worth reading. I also considered the King of Swords, which is my favorite of the Corum books. But in the end, I stuck with The Singing Citadel for the reasons stated above.
I would advise anyone just starting out reading Michael Moorcock to try a good cross section of his books because he has written so much and some books are so different from others that you many love some and not care for others. Elric is generally considered Moorcock's signature character and those are my favorites of his books, but I like the six Corum books a lot as well.


Alex said...

The Von Bek and Elric books are rather amazing - Moorcock is one of the best and most prolific Fantasy authors of all time - but I have to say that the Dancers at the End of Time novels are my favourites. Of all his works that I've read, it's the series with the biggest heart and sense of fun, and every time I read it, it makes me deliriously happy - glad-to-be-alive happy. I don't know how many other books I can say that about, but they come along rarely in a lifetime.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Alex, I enjoyed the End of Time Books as well, and they show yet again how multi talented Moorcock is. They're nothing like his sword & sorcery, yet every bit as amazing. And I definitely agree about them being 'feel good' books.

Miguel Martins said...

My favorite novel by MM is "War Hound." Indeed, it was probably Bassett's main inspiration. The man seems to worship Moorcock (and doesn't care for REH's themes).

"Gloriana" comes second.


Charles R. Rutledge said...

Miguel, the feeling seems to be mutual. Mike really liked Solomon Kane, so who knows, maybe we'll be seeing Bassett directing a Moorcock film one day.