Fri
Jul 12 2013 1:00pm
Welcome to the Elric Reread!

The Elric Reread

When I was thirteen, I stumbled across a book that would change my life in a Nag Champa-scented New Age bookstore in Austin. The book was called Law and Chaos, and I was drawn to it by the cover illustration: a hauntingly fey, ghost-pale figure in a hooded black cloak, holding a massive broadsword that had a hilt like a pair of bat wings. I had no idea what it was, but I knew I wanted it, and somehow I conned my father (who has always been patient with my various fixations and enthusiasms) into buying it for me.

Law and Chaos Wendy Pini It turned out to be Wendy Pini’s chronicle of her college attempt to create an animated film based on Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer—a gorgeously illustrated volume and a fascinatingly candid memoir of how sometimes the creative process doesn’t quite turn out the way you planned. After I’d read her book cover to cover a few dozen times, I acquired the seven silver-covered Ace paperbacks that, at the time, made up the Elric saga—one at a time, with the careful management of my allowance money and several trips to the local Waldenbooks in the mall.

If you’ve ever read Neil Gaiman’s “One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock,” you may have a sense of what kind of effect those books had on me. Exact circumstances of gender and schooling aside, the boy in that story might as well be my doppelgänger. I became obsessed with Elric, with his doomed destiny, his dark moods. At one point it was so intense that I actually turned in what amounted to a piece of Elric fan fiction for an English class assignment in creative writing. That it got me an A+ says something about me, my teacher’s patience, and the school I was attending, but to this day I’m still not sure exactly what.

Michael Moorcock sometimes seems to me like the genre fiction equivalent of one of those bands that gets referenced by all your favorite musicians (like Cabaret Voltaire or Captain Beefheart), but which hardly anyone you personally know seems to listen to. In addition to Neil Gaiman’s tribute in the form of a short story, Moorcock’s characters have cameos in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Moore supplies the gorgeous, inventive meditation “The Return of the Thin White Duke” in the Del Rey Stealer of Souls and Gollancz Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories collections. Dave Sim spoofed Elric with the Foghorn Leghorn sound-alike Elrod of Melvinbone in Cerebus. But even in my nerdy circles of friends, it seems like only a scant handful have ever read the originals.

Fortunately Tor.com has granted me a platform where I can get all my proselytizing on Moorcock done in one convenient place. Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a reread of the Elric saga from start to finish, discussing each book in turn and hopefully doing justice to why I think these books are classics. And if that goes well, there may be yet more Moorcock in the future. 

The chronology of how to present this reread required some contemplation, not least because the most recently available editions in the US, published by Del Rey, present the stories in publication order rather than according to Elric’s personal chronology. There’s a lot to be said for that approach, given Moorcock’s evolution as a writer and the ever-expanding mythos of his Multiverse and how it informs Elric’s stories in the books written later—but the upshot is that the first Del Rey volume, Stealer of Souls, includes what is effectively the grand finale of the epic, Stormbringer, and everything after is interpolated adventures that take place around that and the first published Elric story, “The Dreaming City.”

Meanwhile, Gollancz in the UK is engaged in an epic re-issue of definitive editions of over 30 print volumes of Moorcock’s oeuvre, edited by Moorcock’s longtime bibliographer John Davey, and they’ve chosen to present the Elric volumes in chronological order (save for the Moonbeam Roads trilogy of The Dreamthief’s Daughter, The Skrayling Tree, and The White Wolf’s Son, which were published first because they’d never been in print in the UK before; they’re appearing under the revised titles Daughter of Dreams, Destiny’s Brother, and Son of the Wolf).

So what’s a determined re-reader to do? Well, since Gollancz notes that it’s the author’s preferred reading order—and I am hardly going to gainsay him on that—I’ve chosen to go with Elric’s chronology, based on the good old Ace paperbacks that I started with (themselves drawn from the DAW editions with the famous Michael Whelan covers) and the Gollancz re-issue order. For the benefit of US readers with the Del Rey editions in hand, I’ll also be providing notes on which Del Rey volume includes which novel I’m tackling at any given time. Confused yet? Don’t worry. Hang in there and it’ll all make sense.

Once I’ve completed the core story arc, I’ll take a quick break to look at Moorcock’s Zenith stories, which are at once part of the Elric saga and also a loving homage to the Sexton Blake mysteries. Then we’ll take a short trip to the comics Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer and Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse, and finish with the Moonbeam Roads trilogy.

In putting together this reread, the wiki and the forums at multiverse.org have been worth more than Elric’s Actorios and the Ruby Throne of Melniboné combined. The regulars there are a hard-working bunch of fans, and Mr Moorcock himself posts regularly. The forums are where I first heard about the Gollancz project, and the wiki contains an exhaustive amount of publication history. I recommend the site to anyone who wants to explore more.

So. Without further ado, onward to the world of Elric of Melniboné. I hope you enjoy the journey.


Karin Kross lives and writes in Austin, TX. She can be found elsewhere on Tumblr and Twitter. She would also like to observe that the puns on the author’s name are just as funny now as they were when she first started hearing them at thirteen, which is to say, not very, so do feel free to skip it.

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13 comments
Meadhbh Hamrick
1. Meadhbh Hamrick
Great minds think alike...

I was at the local used book store a few weeks ago. Confronted by the wall of used fiction I started gravitating towards the Tolkien section. On my way there I mumbled to myself "why couldn't the Silmarillion be as fun a read as Stormbringer??" A few seconds later I was thumbing through the m's looking for the books about my favorite Melnibonéan.

I'm a little surprised to hear they're still in print. I guess I just assumed they had vanished in a puff of 70's nostalgia. But it's good to hear I'm not the only person who still remembers these stories. And thanks for turning me on to Wendy Pini's Law & Chaos. I'll have to track that one down...
Meadhbh Hamrick
2. Dr. Thanatos
Lord, this brings back memories...

We sang filk Elric songs in college (lyrics guarranteed to lower your IQ 10%), looked through all Moorecock's other books to see how many different ways he could change the name and it still be Elric. Elrod also ruled (first time I met him in Cerebus did the world's biggest spit-take---"Methinks if they are going to kill Elrod they will first have to pull his tongue out and beat it to death"

Looking forward to this!
Tim Eagon
3. Tim_Eagon
I'll be following this series with great interest, as I read the 6 book Ace series last year.
Meadhbh Hamrick
4. William Cardini
I'm stoked for this re-read! As a kid I was obsessed with sentient black swords and included them in almost every single one of my stories. If only that Wendy Pini animation of Elric could've been, that's up there with the Jodorowsky/Moebius Dune in legendary animation vaporware.
James Whitehead
5. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Thanks for doing this.

I love Moorcock's Eternal Champion series; ironically, Elric is my least champion but I do love the books anyway.

Kato
Tabby Alleman
6. Tabbyfl55
Wait, what???

I can haz a Elric re-read??????


*happy dance*

That is all. For now.
Bill Stusser
7. billiam
This is awesome!

I love Elric and his awesomely evil runeblade Stormbringer. I devoured these books as a kid.

I have five of the six Daw paperback books, the ones with the Whelan covers (my favorite being The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Elric just looks so badass!), that an older neighbor kid (my aunts boyfriend at the time) gave me along with some other used books, still sitting on my bookshelf. The one missing book is Elric of Melnibone, so the first book is the last one I read. By this time the Daw editions were out of print so I ended up having to get book one in the Berkley edition, the ones with the silver covers and the art by Robert Gould. Needless to say, I ended up buying all the other berkley Elric books too, to complete the set, I couldn't have just one silver covered book sitting on the shelf all by its lonesome.

I also have a framed print, signed and numbered by Gould, hanging on my wall. The one with Elric holding Stormbringer in one hand and a severed head in the other!

Anyways, Elric is probably my all time favorite fantasy character. I spent hours as a kid drawing pictures of Elric weilding Stormbringer.

I will definitely be following the reread.
Colin Bell
8. SchuylerH
As it happens, I've just finished the Neil Gaiman collection (Smoke and Mirrors) where "One Life" appears. Gaiman comments that it was Moorcock's second favorite Elric tribute, after "Go Ask Elric" (Tad Williams). Apparently, Williams won out because his story featured Jimi Hendrix.
Meadhbh Hamrick
9. empressofmelnibone
Bless your for doing this!!! The Elric is my favorite series of all time and i'm excited to find people who actually know about this set of fantastic stories. Can't wait to read more posts.
Pamela Adams
10. Pam Adams
Sigh- I just realized that I never read the Elric series. While you're re-reading, I'll be reading!
Chaddaï Fouché
11. Jedai
I read a bunch of Moorcock when I was young but that's now too long ago, I don't remember much, except that it was an amazing universe... I guess I'll have to re-read (and first find english ebook versions) to follow this, should be worth it : after all, almost all my favorite authors would cite Moorcock as one of their primary inspiration !
Colin Bell
12. SchuylerH
@11: The SF Gateway are releasing most of Moorcock's back catalogue in English and, apparently, they are available to all readers outside the US, its territories, Canada and the Philippines. There are a few exceptions but I don't think Moorcock is one of them.
Meadhbh Hamrick
13. M. Kari Barr
mmm he is so attractive to me I love Elric!!! I have not read the last three books though...need to rememdy that

I have written a story with a multiverse and a very mild nod to Elric...only fans would catch it...it was fun to write

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