Monday, October 27, 2008

Pulp Fantasy Gallery: Elric


Michael Moorcock's doomed albino sorcerer, Elric VIII of Melniboné, made his first appearance in the novella "The Dreaming City," published in Science Fantasy magazine in June 1961. Moorcock was only 22 years old when he created his "anti-Conan" and the character -- and its take on fantasy -- has been influential ever since. Moorcock provided many with an alternative to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, as well as the prototype for the many antiheroes that came to dominate fantasy in the 60s and 70s.

I don't always agree with everything Moorcock has said, least of all about Tolkien, but the man definitely knows the history of fantasy, so he's earned my respect. I still have very mixed feelings about the Elric stories, but it's impossible to deny their importance. D&D owes a lot to them, so anyone interested in the history of the hobby ought to read at least a couple of them to see what all the fuss is about.

18 comments:

  1. What I really like about the Elric stories, and mind you I'm only talking about the first 5, is their ideas. The books IMHO are not really written very well, at least to me the style seems amateur but maybe that's because they are his earlier work. But his ideas are great. I remember how mesmerized I was with those books when I first read them In Jr High, then I went back and reread them a few years back and still found the ideas to be stimulating. The world he created was definitely one ripe for use in gaming, but then when you go further along and the "Eternal Champion" stuff is explored more I lose interest. I've also read the Corum books, with a similar array of feelings.

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  2. Wow. Who's that artist??---I think it says "Brian Lewis" but I can't tell for sure. Quite the Aryan and rather hale-looking Melnibonean, eh? ;)

    Allan.

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  3. Below are the first publications of the original Elric stories:

    "The Dreaming City" (Science Fantasy #47, June 1961)

    "While the Gods Laugh" (Science Fantasy #49, October 1961)

    "The Stealer of Souls" (Science Fantasy #51, February 1962)

    "Kings in Darkness" (Science Fantasy #54, August 1962)

    "The Flame Bringers" [later renamed "The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams"] (Science Fantasy #55, October 1962)

    Here is a quote from Michael Moorcock found on pages 9-10 of Elric at the End of Time: 'The Last Enchantment was meant to be the final Elric story. It was written in 1962, only a short while after the first had appeared in magazine form and before I wrote what was to become Stormbringer. I gave the story to Ted Carnell for his magazine Science Fantasy but he didn't want a "last" Elric story. He persuaded me to write some more novellas...' (Therefore "The Last Enchantment didn't get published until 1978.)

    The first installment of Stormbringer appeared in Science Fantasy #59, June 1963.

    For me, the canonical Elric consists of the stories written in 1961 and 1962. The Elric stories of 1963 and later I consider apocryphal.

    Elric was a prime influence on Carcosan sorcerers being able to wear any armor and use any weapon as well as fighting-men.

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  4. geoffrey, thanks for the info, do you have any idea how to track down those issues?

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  5. www.multiverse.org is MM's fan site, and there's a thread there that tracks interesting MM books on eBay

    You may also want to consider www.bookfinder.com, which queries against several OOP book services, and also The Fantasy Centre, which is the last F&SF specialist bookshop in London (and they do mail order world-wide). I met Ted & Eric via John Davey, head of the Nomads of the Time Streams (MM's fan society), on our trip to the UK in December 2006, and they're great guys.

    Allan.

    Allan.

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  6. If I had anything unkind to say about Elric, I don't think I could say it more effectively than this illo does. He looks like one of Charlton Heston's golf buddies dressed up as a Roman legionnaire for gay pride.

    Now I'm trying to imagine Heston having gay friends.

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  7. Dan - there's a new multi-volume compliation of the Elric stories that's come out in the last year or two, which has all the original stories along with an introduction by Moorcock and some old illos (including that one) from the magazines. Definitely worth picking up if you can find it. It's called "Elric : The Stealer of Souls (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melnibone Series #1)".

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  8. Dan, I'm afraid I don't have any insight on how to track down those issues. Also, my list is based on nothing other than internet research. Thus, some errors might be in there. So be careful before you spend any money! :)

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  9. Although I think that illustration is crap and that most Moorcock is ripetitive, Elric was my favorite reading back then.

    The original six stories are really great,the rest -starting from "the Fortress of the Pearl"- you can happily do without.

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  10. geoffrey said, with grodog's emphasis:
    For me, the canonical Elric consists of the stories written in 1961 and 1962. The Elric stories of 1963 and later I consider apocryphal.

    I've heard you state that a few times in a few places, geoffrey, and I'm curious what you mean by it?

    Allan.

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  11. I largely agree that the Elric stories are not very well written. They gained popularity on the strength of Moorcock's ideas, not his prose and it's largely on this basis that I can't quite dismiss them, even if I think he wasn't as good a writer as, say, REH or even Tolkien.

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  12. As someone already noted, the artist is Brian Lewis. I've never heard of him before, so I'm afraid I know nothing of his background or if he's done much illustration since.

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  13. Allan, I just mean that when I think of Elric, I think of only the first six Elric stories as being the "real" Elric. All the stories that were written afterward (starting with the Stormbringer novel) I simply ignore. :)

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  14. The early Elric stories (the 5 Geoffrey listed above that were published as a collection under the title The Stealer of Souls by Lancer Books in 1967, plus the novel/collection Stormbringer) have a very specific appeal to adolescent/teenage boys who are first beginning to feel rebellious and iconoclastic and to realize that the world is by and large ugly and unfair. When I was ~14 years old the Elric stories spoke to me like no other fiction I'd ever read (mainly because I hadn't yet discovered J.D. Salinger).

    Alas, eventually we all grow up. I re-read these 2 books a couple years ago. The first one held up fairly well -- I liked readinf just the original stories without all the later-written filler crammed between them -- but Stormbringer felt completely over-the-top and mildly embarrassing ("I really liked this book?!").

    I've got the Hawkmoon/Runestaff books sitting on my shelf waiting to be read (mostly because Gygax mentioned them by name in the famous DMG Inspirational Reading List) but I'm mildly afraid to read them, thinking I may have missed the window for appreciating them, and that I should've read them 20 years ago...

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  15. Dan - there's a new multi-volume compliation of the Elric stories that's come out in the last year or two, which has all the original stories along with an introduction by Moorcock

    Cool, thanks!

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  16. T., I actually think the Hawkmoon novels are better than the Elric material, in my mind. At least, taken as the three-novel arc they describe, I enjoyed them more than any sort of "story" attempted by the Elric material.

    In short, go for it - I find them quick, fun, good-quality reads.

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  17. As someone who has lived long among and knows the English, both bohemians (Moorcock) and rural upper middle class (Tolkien), I think Moorcock's hostility to Tolkien is heavily rooted in particular English class dynamics and Tolkien's revered status* among the class Moorcock loathed. Or, to put it another way, New Wave radicals vs traditionalists. I wouldn't worry about it too much.

    Personally, as a young man I shared Moorcock's opinion. Older now, I have that sense of trasience and loss that enables me to appreciate Tolkien.

    *Tolkien intended his work to be a new mythology for the Anglo-Saxons, and with the southern English small town & rural upper middle classes (such as some of my relatives), he succeeded.

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  18. S'mon,

    That's a very intriguing insight, one I often forget to consider, since I don't live in the UK and don't fully grok the social dynamics there. Thanks for sharing it.

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