Dec 18 2013 8:00am
Michael Moorcock is The Eternal Champion

Michael Moorcock Portrait by David A. JohnsonToday is the 74th birthday of celebrated and influential author and editor Michael John Moorcock. Involving himself in the SF/Fantasy scene practically as soon as he discovered it, Moorcock began editing Tarzan Adventures in 1957 when he was just 17. His love of high adventure, such as the work of Leigh Brackett and Edgar Rice Burroughs, influenced not only his early editorial work but also his own writing. He is often self-deprecating about his style, saying in the introduction to Elric: The Stealer of Souls:

“I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas”

Perhaps best known for his books set in the Eternal Champion universe, Moorcock developed the idea of an epic fantasy hero who isn’t limited to a single storyline or canonical biography. Instead, various characters are embodied with a heroic spirit, whether they are aware of it or not! Also popular is the sexually unconventional secret agent Jerry Cornelius, first appearing in The Finale Programme. This character has proven so popular that Moorcock has allowed other SF writers, including Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss and others, to write their own Jerry Cornelius stories.

As the editor of New Worlds in the 1960s, Moorcock’s influence is likely most apparent, in terms of the history of contemporary science fiction. This stint helped establish a whole world of “New Wave” science fiction of which several game-changing writers like Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, and Roger Zelazny were satellites.

Never shy about his opinions on writing, Michael Moorcock firmly believes in the inherent need for SF writing to be inclusive of all races, genders, and orientations. His writing also reflects the human elements of SF/F writing; the idea that we’re all confused paradoxical beings, struggling to find the answers. In this way, as a fantasist, Michael Moorcock is like a soothsayer of a bygone era. In The Elric Saga Part I, he makes plain the relationship between our imperfect world and the musings of soothsayers:

“Elric knew that everything that existed had its opposite. In danger he might find peace. And yet, of course, in peace there was danger. Being an imperfect creature in an imperfect world he would always know paradox. And that was why in paradox there was always a kind of truth. That was why philosophers and soothsayers flourished. In a perfect world there would be no place for them. In an imperfect world the mysteries were always without solution and that was why there was always a great choice of solutions.”

We think this imperfect world is made a little more manageable through the magic of Michael Moorcock. Happy Birthday!


This post originally ran December 18, 2012

Karin L Kross
1. KarinKross
Happy Birthday, Mr Moorcock!

And, it's also the time of year to read one of my favourite pieces of his writing: "The Mirror, Or Harlequin Everywhere" from The Condition of Muzak:
London, England: the time is Christmas Eve, probably during the nineties, and from the black night sky drop flakes of soft snow, covering roofs and walls, trees and streets, giving to the air a silence, a taste at once damp, fresh and salty; and with the flakes, from the huge darkness, there descends a fluttering, indistinct figure whose feet touch the flat top of a tall, deserted building, the new Derry and Toms. The figure darts for the shadows, even though the roof garden is closed for the season, but the footfalls, which leave light prints on the surface, together with the slap of the snow on the broad rhododendron leaves, disturb the birds there and they move in their sleep. Overhead we hear a distant bass drone, as if a flying machine departs.
Chris Hawks
2. SaltManZ
Just started reading his Eternal Champion/Elric stuff. All I know so far is I love Erekose!
3. Jannisar
I like his books, but his writings show the era he grew up in. the anti hero, the sexually unconventional etc etc say here is a counter culture person who wants to upset conventional mainstream and further leftist agendas via fantasy format.
One of the reasons he dislikes tolkien immensely is he sees tolkien's writings as conventional christian, which of course he is not, and so he does the elrics, and the cornelius and so forth. talk about antithesis, elric's patron god is a demon, his sentient weapon kills friend and foe alike; elric is the fantasy version of clint eastwood's spaghetti westerns man from nowhere, also done during roughly the same time.
Which is fine, i like diversity of literature ( though some of the anti ringo/kratman/etc people here cant claim the same) and for the most part i enjoy his novels quite a bit, i grew up on them in the 70s.
Of course, now mainstream media is liberal for the most part, the entertainment industry definitely, and the more right leaning authors are struggling to keep afloat. Point in fact are all the talks here by people who want everything homogenized and either gender neutral or gender feminine, and are pounding away at one of the last holdouts, military sf.
As for elric, i really hope moorcock finally comes to an agreement with funding and producers and so forth and gets going on a movie, because if he waits too long and passes away, they may make it into some silly japanimation movie or even better, maybe an adam sandler crossdressing elric movie, how does that sound? ben stiller could be the voice of stormbringer ! :)
Kevin Baijens
4. ImRhoven
"Point in fact are all the talks here by people who want everything
homogenized and either gender neutral or gender feminine, and are
pounding away at one of the last holdouts, military sf."

So the people who want to get away from the hegemony of the western white, straight male in speculative fiction and are calling for more diversity want everything "homogenized". How does that follow?
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
3. Jannisar
4. ImRhoven

I, like Rhoven, am confused. Then again, I'm also confused because the real world military is comprised of men & women of all ages, so I don't see how anyone could argue that diversifying military SF isn't more plausible.

I definitely do agree that Elric's anti-hero trope can wear on your, out of historical context; I talked about it a bit in Advanced Readings in D&D when we did Moorcock. I find Hawkmoon to be the superior work, for just that reason.
6. Ryamano
I'd love if Elric became an anime. I don't think Hollywood can do these tales of the eternal champion justice.
James Whitehead
7. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@SaltManZ, Erekose is my favourite but I do agree with Mordicai @ think that the Hawkmoon/Count Brass books are much better than the Elric books.

I honestly don't know if Moorcock chose Elric as a response to Tolkien's writing. More probably, he chose Elric as a response to all the Tolkien copycats; although I have read that Moorcock didn't like Tolkien's ideas of 'race purity' in the men of Numenor.

That said, I do know that Moorcock made his Eternal Champion Dorian Hawkmoon a German as there was such anti-German fervor in the media at that time; with WWII only being over for a relatively short time.

Also, I know the Pinis, of Elf Quest fame, wanted to do an animated version of the Elric books but couldn't get it done. Moorcock wasn't ready to do that and Elric is very personal to him. The artwork looked good from what I saw; my friend found a 'book of the film' by the Pinis in a second hand store.

My favorite book by Moorcock has to be The Warhound & the World's Pain. I can't recommend it highly enough. Great ideas about theology & free will.


PS - Regarding the homogenization of armies: one doesn't have to look further than the example of the Israeli Army for an example of a successful 'mixed' army. All able bodied men & women, regardless of gender (or sexual orientation), must serve 2 years (I think) when they turn 18.
alastair chadwin
8. a-j
That said, I do know that Moorcock made his Eternal Champion Dorian Hawkmoon a German as there was such anti-German fervor in the media at that time; with WWII only being over for a relatively short time.
Better than that, he made the villains British with Great Britain itself an evil depraved empire!
Mordicai Knode
9. mordicai
6. Ryamano

I agree; a Vampire Hunter D style anime would really suit the tone & scope of the story.

7. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
8. a-j

& they ARE the best evil empire; totally into their creepy technology, their creepy god-king, their creepy Beatles-joke gods, their creepy masks...
10. hoopmanjh
So in honor of his birthday could we please see US eBook releases of the new editions of his work they're putting out in Britain?
Jared Peterson
11. mofojar
My favorite book by Moorcock has to be The Warhound & the World's Pain. I can't recommend it highly enough. Great ideas about theology & free will.
This was the first Moorcock I read, back when I was a wee teenager. Not sure why my Dad owned it other than he liked buying pulpy looking fiction from yard sales. In any case I concur with this sentiment, this book is a must read!
Colin Bell
12. SchuylerH
@6 & 9: Would you like this Vampire Hunter D-style anime co-written by Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore?
James Whitehead
13. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@8a-j, you're right about Gran Bretan being the evil empire of the series. I forgot to add that point.

@9mordicai, they were great for being the bad guys. Did you catch the 'homage' to Churchill in the series? Kinda had to look for it but it was funny. We played the Chaosium RPG of Hawkmoon back in the day & had a blast with it - much better balance than Stormbringer ;-)

@11mojofar, I have a copy with the cheesy Frazetta-esque cover.

Sol Foster
14. colomon
@7, I believe Elric was supposed to be a response to Conan. Certainly he wasn't a response to Tolkien copycats -- Elric predates all the ones I'm aware of by at least a decade.
Colin Bell
15. SchuylerH
@14: Yes, Elric is almost exactly the anti-Conan. "The Dreaming City" came out in 1961 (before LOTR was even in paperback) and the main boom in pale imitations didn't come until the late 70's.
Pat Hayes
16. SCTechSorceress
Count me as another voice clamoring for re-issues of the entire Moorcock body of work in the US. I'd like them to be both physical and e-books, because these are keepers!

I too, first encountered Moorcock in the 70's, but I did not care for his work then. That's one thing I have learned over the years. Just because I don't like a given book today does not mean that I will never like it. I only hope that I still have enough years left to catch up on all the books I never read because I did not like them when they were new.
Brian R
17. Mayhem
Just wanted to echo the praise for Von Bek ... he and his family was definitely the most interesting for me, especially given the hell on earth that was lot of average folk in the time of the thirty years war

Of the main Champions, I like embittered Elric, Corum has his moments but is mostly just odd, Hawkmoon has the distiction of being one of the few on the side of Law, and the only one to win a happy ending. Erekose is so tortured he's lucky to break even, and Oswald Bastable is just fun.

Never personally liked the Jerry Cornelius books, he was a bit too weird, but that's just preference.
Colin Bell
18. SchuylerH
@17: Let me join you. I think that the Von Bek stories, more than anything else, are Moorcock: when he's not directly pastiching Burroughs, Vance, Howard, Anderson, Brackett or Leiber, his own voice gets a chance to come through.
Steve Oerkfitz
19. Steve Oerkfitz
Surprised no one has mentioned Behold The Man, my favorite Moorcock novel(or short novel at least.)
Scott Marlowe
20. scottmarlowe
Happy Birthday, Mr. Moorcock!

Elric remains one of my all-time favorite fantasy characters.

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