Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Stealer Of Souls!

Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone is a fascinating character, a hero for sure, but also a villain to many. He is a traitor to his own people in order to fulfill his own desire for vengeance on his enemy and as a result his beloved dies, and his ancient city falls. He becomes a nomad, and his people lose control of the ancient and sorcery-rich lands that had been theirs for countless generations.

I recently re-read the first few Elric "novels" in the first edition of the most recent series from Ballantine Books which offers up the texts as they originally appeared in magazine serial form in issues of Science Fantasy in the early 1960's. I can't say much for the John Picacio illustrations, which frankly left me rather cold, but the stories bristled with the youthful energy Moorcock was able to muster in these early outings of sword and sorcery. Elric is more in the wizened tradition of Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser rather (which Moorcock likes a lot) rather than Robert E. Howard's seminal Conan (which Moorcock likes somewhat less). The stories are sardonic in tone at times and Elric is a protagonist always, but often far from a hero in any sense we might casually understand that term.

The "Stealer of Souls" referred to in the title is a sword, a sword named "Stormbringer" and it is this sword, a black blade which contrasts so starkly with the albino white skin of Elric himself which completes the character Michael Moorcock created so very long ago. Inspired to some extent by the anti-villain Zeno the Albino from the adventures of Sexton Blake. Stealer of Souls really is made up of five connected novellas, each complete in itself but moving the Elric story along as he meets a supporting cast of sorts, in particular his partner Moonglum.

More cohesive as a novel is Stormbringer, which brings the Elric saga to a close and follows up on the themes established in the earlier collection. In this saga, again comprised of four linked novellas, the action is more focused in time and the action in each follows on pretty much immediately from its predecessor. In this story Elric battles the sorcerer Jagreen Lern who is using the forces of Chaos, which Elric also serves, to conquer the known world. The Lords of Chaos and of Order actually appear in these stories and do battle directly as Elric is thrown into their midst. Death is the commonplace in these stories as the intent is to bring the story to a finale.

But of course Elric proved too popular to finish, so though we see his end, we are still left with a broad and sprawling life to explore and Moorcock has been doing that ever since.

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  1. I’ve been picking up old copies of the DAW paperbacks as I find them at Half Price and reading them out of order. Stormbringer is the next one to read in my pile, though the last one I read was Sailor On The Seas Of Fate (which I really liked.) At some point I’ll either have to read them again (in order) – or buy myself a copy of the collected stories…

    1. When I read Elric for the first time (outside of comics) I read those vintage DAW books. The Whelan covers are so very sweet. The latest collections seem to want to gather not only Elric stories but other material associated with his world, including nonfiction stuff. It's more expansive than the DAW stuff.

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