Tue
Mar 9 2010 3:18pm

The Illusion of Understanding Michael Moorcock

OK, quick, from memory, which Moorcock books have you read? More importantly, what have you not (yet) read? I’ve been a devoted fan for 20+ plus years and have probably read, rough estimate here, maybe a third of his output.  (I’m not even counting the music at all. Doesn’t sound like my sort of thing).  Probably closer to a quarter. Probably less. Possibly a lot less. Close to nothing, maybe, relatively speaking.

I’ve read the Corum books, all six of them (there are only six, right?).  Ditto Hawkmoon; also six.  I have a good handle on the Corum and Hawkmoon books.  I’ve read two of the Erekose books: the one with the elves, and the one with the ice.  I think there was a third but I could never find it.  Mother London and King of the City and Behold the Man and Blood and Fabulous Harbors and mumble-mumble-something-the-third-one. I read the Elric books, of course—but here I start to get nervous.  I read what I think of as the real versions, i.e. the ones that I read as a teenager, albeit not in the prehistoric before-I-was-born short story format but collected as novels, up to and including the closer Stormbringer (its cover was a weird and unsettling shade of green); and also (some?) of the subsequently published novels, i.e. Fortress of the Pearl and the one with the Nazis; but then I recently read one of the Elric new collections they’re doing these days and it bears almost no resemblance to any of the stories I remember, which is both disturbing and fascinating.  Is my memory at fault or are there somehow two Elrics?  And let’s not even get started on Jerry Cornelius. . .

I still have the editions of the Corum and Hawkmoon books I had when I was, I don’t know, let’s say fourteen. The inside flap has a list of “other works by Michael Moorcock.”  I’m not looking at it; I remember it very clearly.  It fills the page, two or three columns across, with the sort of tiny crammed paper-preserving lettering a monk might use for a mediaeval bestiary; an extraordinary number of weirdly suggestive titles, far too many to be the output of one man, more like the product of the hip cultural scene of a moderately-sized European city, like maybe the whole of 1960s Vienna. This was before the invention of Amazon and eBay, and those titles drifted in and out of print, and most of them were basically impossible to find, though I did my best to look for them, god did I ever, because any one of those missing and for-all-I-could-tell possibly imaginary titles could be the one that was the key to the strangeness of the books that actually did exist, like the one book in the Library of Babel that must (it’s a mathematical certainty) be the book that contains the catalog of all other books. This seems to me to be the quintessential Moorcock-reading experience.  

It’s not a matter of volume; there’s nothing that impressive about just churning out a lot of words.  It’s more a matter of vastness, or perhaps plenitude is a better word (the etymology of vast suggests emptiness, which couldn’t be more wrong here). It’s the way Moorcock creates a feeling of texture and realness and significance through the suggestion of infinite complexity, in a way that I can’t actually analyze or explain so I will try to create the illusion of understanding it by referring to other, clearer blog posts, which in this case unfortunately don’t in fact exist. It’s a bloody good trick if you can get it to work.


Felix Gilman is the author of Thunderer, Gears of the City and The Half-Made World (coming in September 2010).  He was born in London and now lives in New York.

Celebrating Michael Moorcock: ‹ previous | index | next ›
7 comments
Christopher Turkel
1. Applekey
I've read all of the original Elric books, the Corum books and the Hawkmoon books.

Believe it or not, Corum is my favorite. I still re-read the original trilogy. It's that good. Corum gets overlooked sometimes, which is a shame.
Michael Grosberg
2. Michael_GR
I was always intimidated by the large number of titles in Moorcock's Eternal Champion cycle so I skipped them altogether. But a couple of weeks ago - literally - I read my first Moorcock: _Dancers at the End of Time_ .And it was superb. I just don't know which book I should read next. I understand DatEoT is not a typical Moorcock novel.
Blue Tyson
3. BlueTyson
Close to an hundred at last count, and yes, quite a few Elric versions...
Ken Walton
4. carandol
I think I've read the majority of Moorcock's books over the years. But the minority I haven't read are probably greater than some writers' total output! :-)
Charlie Cornelius
5. Charlie Cornelius
Read them all. Many times. Got them all as well (with the exception of one, very early work), some in multiple editions. Guess I'm a fan.
Blue Tyson
6. BlueTyson
If you have them all and read them all you'd be an uberfan!
Wesley Parish
7. Aladdin_Sane
I started seriously reading his books with the first Corum cycle and Dancers at the End of time - I'd read the first Runestaff cycle but wasn't greatly impressed by it at the time. After Corum and Jherek Carnelian, I started buying and reading him seriously. I've read almost every book in the Millennium/Orion Eternal Champion set, excepting the most recent; I haven't yet read his graphics novels; I haven't got all the way through the Colonel Pyatt quartet, and have only read one Jerry Cornelius quartet.

He's even inspired some of my own efforts - my dissatisfaction with Runestaff and my own weirdness led me to create a world where a version of ancient Athenian male sexual bonding/Asmat male sexual bonding combined with a form of levirate marriage - known as Centaurian blood brotherhood, and elevated to a form of matrimony - I made some comments at Writing a story - Are there any untapped seams left?

and I quote (myself):

I love switching things around at times, just to see what effects the change of a couple of names, for example, might bring. During the late nineties, I was at lewse end - to use Paddington Bear's spelling - and re-reading The Jewel in the Skull, when I switched a couple of names around:

"Baron Meliadus fulfilled all these responsibilities faithfully and with imagination, but his passion for Count Brass and his hatred of Yisselda were never far from his thoughts."

Immediately you have a very different story. Yisselda doesn't like him, apparently - she doesn't want this suave elegant GranBretanese nobleman making eyes at her dad, it's much too soon after the death of her mother, she doesn't think her dad is "that kind of man", and she's a little irate that he ignored her completely ... he hates her because he sees all too clearly that she hates him for loving her dad and would tell her dad to reject him totally ....

Of course, I never stayed with Count Brass, Baron Meliadus, and the irate and worried Yisselda ... where's the fun in trying to copy someone else's work? I got trapped in The House of the Gods ... Sienaro Tsenyar is so much fun, particularly at four light year's remove, when it's not your neck she's twisting ... Tyeari was a twit!!!


So not only am I a fan, I'm also attempting to be a writer, inspired in no small part, by him.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment