Welcome to the final post of the Elric Reread, in which I’ve been revisiting one of my all-time favorite fantasy series: Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. You can find all the posts in the series here. Today’s post talks about the last book in the series, The White Wolf’s Son, republished last year in the UK as Son of the Wolf. Because the Gollancz editions are meant to be definitive, we’ll use that title.
With Son of the Wolf, Michael Moorcock concludes the Elric saga and what may be one of the most audacious examples of canon welding in existence. Here is the von Bek family, reluctant English time-traveler Oswald Bastable, the Chevalier St Odhran and Renyard the Fox of The City in the Autumn Stars, an alternate version of Dorian Hawkmoon and the Dark Empire of Granbretan from the Runestaff books, Prince Lobkowitz and Una Persson from the Cornelius books (amongst others), Lt. Fromental from the Pyat quartet, Erekosë, the sole Champion who remembers all his other incarnations, and of course Elric himself. Even Michael Moorcock and his wife Linda put in an appearance, chatting with Una Persson on the porch of their Texas Hill Country home.
Narrating most of this tale is Oonagh Beck, the youngest child of one of Ulric and Oona von Bek’s adopted children. Unusual heritage and a history of disturbing dreams aside, she is a fairly ordinary twelve-year-old girl living with her family in Ingleton, Yorkshire when the fallen Knight of the Balance Prince Gaynor and his undead ally Klosterheim arrive on the scene, followed in short order by Bastable, St Odhran, and Zodiac. Shortly after, Oonagh falls into the subterranean land of the Off-Moo, and here her adventures across the multiverse begin.
As Gaynor and Klosterheim pursue her with a plan to sacrifice her and seize control of the Cosmic Balance, Oona and her allies try to stay a step a head of them and keep Oonagh safe—and Oonagh herself becomes determined to save the life of a blind albino boy who bears a startling resemblance to Oona. Meanwhile Elric, who is increasingly concerned both for the safety of his great-granddaughter and the whereabouts of Stormbringer, follows a trail that leads to the horrifying world of Granbretan—a far-future Britain that has descended into decadence and cruelty in ways that might even make a Melnibonéan uneasy—where all of these characters converge for a ritual that will determine the fate of the multiverse itself.
Because here’s the thing: Elric only inhabits this world as part of his Dream of a Thousand Years, of which we glimpsed the beginnings in Destiny’s Brother and Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse. As he nears the end of that dream-quest, he must find his sword Stormbringer, so that back in his own world, he can wake and save himself from the clutches of Jagreen Lern and finish off the war between Law and Chaos there in the grand finale of Stormbringer. And this is where it gets very brain-bendy and, dare I say, timey-wimey, because that battle is but one of many similar battles taking place all at once across different worlds and times as part of the Conjunction of the Million Spheres—an event where the boundaries between the different layers of the multiverse grow thin, and the balance of Law and Chaos may be changed. When her adventure is over and Elric and the others have all returned to their native planes, Oonagh watches “the War amongst the Angels” as the Lords of Law and Chaos meet in battle over Morecambe Bay. The inescapable conclusion is that the great climactic battle of every Moorcock series is all happening at once in that trans-temporal moment, insofar as you can say “at once,” across an infinitude of dimensions and parallel timelines.
And that, I think, is one of the best and most intriguing aspects of the entire Moonbeam Roads trilogy and what it accomplishes: it is a holistic vision of all these novels, pulling them together in a single ecosystem that is united by Moorcock’s most famous creation. Perhaps it’s not a completely unqualified success; Elric’s son and Oona’s long-lost twin, Onric—who prefers to go by Jack D’acre, or John Daker—finally becomes a substantial character almost too late to have any real impact, and the interlude where Una Persson shows up at Moorcock’s Texas home to fill him in on Elric’s adventures in Granbretan is a slightly jarring diversion from Oonagh’s tale. It may also seem quite strange to someone who hasn’t read any other Moorcock, but elsewhere the conceit that Moorcock gets his information from Una and Bastable has been established for some time. (Also, we’re still left to speculate on Una Persson’s identity; despite hints elsewhere that she might be Oone the Dreamthief, it seems just as likely that she’s Oona von Bek in another guise, though it remains ambiguous.)
And just as it was a bit weird in The Dreamthief’s Daughter for Ulric von Bek—who is both a descendant of a family line sired by Elric early on in his manifestation in this world and avatar of Elric and the Eternal Champion—to marry Oona, it’s disconcerting to find Oonagh falling in love with Jack D’Acre/John Daker in the end. True, the fact that Oonagh’s father was adopted by Ulric and Oona means that Oonagh and Jack aren’t related by blood, and the weirdness of time in the Multiverse means that they’re only six years apart in age—but being an adoptee myself, I can’t help being bothered by the idea of a girl falling in love with and marrying her adoptive grandmother’s brother. (I’m not sure what it means that I have problems with this, and yet accepted long ago that the central romantic relationship in the Jerry Cornelius books is between a brother and sister. In the event that I tackle the Cornelius Quartet here, maybe we’ll come back to that.)
And again, as with The Dreamthief’s Daughter, all too often the narrative is peppered with lectures (usually from Lobkowitz, once again) on the nature of the multiverse:
“...We might accidentally be meddling with, or even changing, history, or perhaps we are changed by it. We know that time is by no means as simple as we thought it was—neither linear nor cyclic. Some even argue that time is a field, acted on to produce a whole sequence of events occurring coincidentally and thus producing divisions, changing directions, new dimensions. Why does the multiverse have to be in a permanent state of flux, for instance? What would be gained from a permanent and constant balance between Law and Chaos?” He went on a bit longer and rather lost me, but I understood the general drift.
And yet the scope and ambition of the Moonbeam Roads trilogy and the way the books pull together nearly every aspect of the cosmology Moorcock has developed over his decades-long career enables Elric to further transcend his fantasy-pulp roots. One of the strengths of the Elric saga has always been its grand sense of cosmic fate, and in Daughter of Dreams, Brother of Destiny, and Son of the Wolf, Moorcock dares to go even further, raising the stakes even more and deepening the mysteries of the interlocking planes of the multiverse. For the longtime reader of Moorcock’s work, it reframes everything that you’ve read in a truly remarkable way—and for the newcomer, it’s a fine gateway to the rest of Moorcock’s creations.
So at long last, here we are at the end of the saga of Elric of Melniboné. I’ll follow shortly with a few more thoughts before we bid our pale friend farewell.
- First US hardcover publication: as The White Wolf’s Son, Warner, June 2005.
- First UK publication: as Son of the Wolf, Gollancz, March 2013.