Welcome back to the Elric Reread, in which I revisit 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 Dreamthief’s Daughter, published last year in the UK as Daughter of Dreams. Because the Gollancz editions are meant to be definitive, we’ll use that title in this piece.
In the Introduction that appears in each volume of the Gollancz Michael Moorcock Collection, Moorcock writes of the Moonbeam Roads trilogy:
I also wrote a new Elric/Eternal Champion sequence, beginning with Daughter of Dreams, which brought the fantasy worlds of Hawkmoon, Bastable and Co. in line with my realistic and autobiographical stories, another attempt to unify all my fiction, and also offer a way in which disparate genres could be reunited, through notions developed from the multiverse and the Eternal Champion, as one giant novel.
I find one has to be careful when saying “you really shouldn’t start this series with N,” because inevitably someone will show up who says that N was their first novel by $WRITER and it’s what got them hooked on it, even if they didn’t fully appreciate the setting, characters, themes, etc. until much later. That said, it’s very difficult for me, as someone who’s been reading Moorcock’s work for twenty-some-odd years, to evaluate whether a complete newcomer could enjoy Daughter of Dreams as a heady transdimensional fantasy without, for example, recognizing that the English driver who shows up to lend a hand to our narrator is Oswald Bastable, who we first met in The Warlord of the Air and who has since become a member of the League of Temporal Adventurers, or that our narrator is part of the von Bek family whose history is partially documented in The War Hound and the World’s Pain and The City in the Autumn Stars. At the very least, you’ve got to know who Elric is—so if you’ve made it through all the books we’ve discussed so far, you should be all right. But there’s no denying that the more Moorcock you read, the richer the experience will be.
We’ve seen stories before in the Elric saga in which multiple aspects of the Eternal Champion got together to defeat some great evil, but Daughter of Dreams contains what is probably Moorcock’s most interesting use of this particular trope. Our new hero is the albino Ulric von Bek, the last of a long line of German nobles associated with a number of exceedingly peculiar legends—not the least of which is the family’s supposed stewardship of the Holy Grail. Ulric, being a rational, intelligent sort of fellow, disregards most of these wild tales, but he has nevertheless learned to wield the family’s ancient black sword, Ravenbrand—and his refusal to surrender this sword to his cousin, Prince Gaynor von Minct, sets in motion Ulric’s odyssey across the multiverse.
His guide for much of this journey is an otherworldly, beautiful albino woman called Oona—who was in fact last alluded to when she and her twin brother were in utero at the conclusion of The Fortress of the Pearl. She is the daughter of Oone the Dreamthief and of Elric of Melniboné, conceived during Elric and Oone’s quest to find the Pearl at the Heart of the World, white-skinned and red-eyed like her father and Ulric. Oona rescues Ulric from imprisonment and torture by the Nazis in the days before World War II and takes him into the strange underground world of the gentle, Greek-speaking scholars known as the Off-Moo.
Here, Ulric learns that there is in fact a battle being fought on (at least) two fronts of the multiverse: while Ulric von Bek battles Gaynor von Minct and his Nazi allies, Elric fights another Prince Gaynor to save the immortal city of Tanelorn from a siege by the forces of Law. Cast into an enchanted sleep by the insane Duchess of Law Miggea, Elric dreams his way into Ulric’s world, where their souls merge: both occupy Ulric’s body, both are conscious of one another, and they share memories and experience. They journey together to Tanelorn; then, each restored to their separate bodies, they return to Ulric’s world to defeat von Minct—and not incidentally, thwart the Nazis’ plans to use the Ravenbrand and the Holy Grail to win the war.
The melding of Elric and Ulric is a lot more interesting than the previous Champion-mergings in the series, narrated as it is in a first person that shifts seamlessly from Ulric’s point of view to Elric’s. Ulric experiences Elric’s adventures and memories as his own, and unlike his high-fantasy counterpart, he retains those memories when his soul and Elric’s go their separate ways. An unfortunate side effect of this is that it makes Ulric’s romantic feelings for Elric’s daughter Oona—who he marries, in the end—a little strange to the reader, though none of the characters seem at all fazed by it. Oona herself has inspired some debate as to her identity amongst Moorcock’s readers, due in part to her ability to travel between the worlds of the multiverse and the suspicious similarity of her name to that of temporal adventuress Una Persson, who features prominently in the Nomad of the Time Streams, Jerry Cornelius, and Dancers at the End of Time series. There’s a prevailing theory that Oona and Una are the same person, but there are hints in the text that suggest otherwise, like Oona’s reference to her mother’s visits to the End of Time—a zone frequented by Ms Persson. The next two books will add further fuel to this debate.
If there’s a significant flaw to Daughter of Dreams and the two books that follow, it’s a certain tendency towards didacticism on Moorcock’s part, a sense in which there’s an entire textbook about the metaphysics of the multiverse disguised as a series of novels. Here, for example, is Prince Lobkowitz (who has appeared in other incarnations in the Jerry Cornelius books, amongst others) on the “moonbeam roads” by which adepts can travel throughout the multiverse:
These are roads we ourselves make between the realms. Just as generations tread footpaths across familiar countryside until those footpaths turn to highways, so do our desires and inventions create familiar paths through the multiverse. You could say we create a linear way of traveling through non-linearity, that our roads are entirely imaginary, that any form we believe we see is simply an illusion or partial vision of the whole. The human psyche organises Time, for instance, to make it navigably linear. They say human intelligence and human dreams are the true creators of what we see. I have great faith in the benign power of dreams and am myself partial to that notion—that in effect we create ourselves and our surroundings. Another of the paradoxes which bring us closer to an understanding of our condition.
There are many similar digressions where the narrative stops so that a character can debate matters of free will and destiny, explain the Grey Fees, which are at once the “lifestuff” of the multiverse and a place that can be traversed, and articulate the philosophy and metaphysics behind the Cosmic Balance between Law and Chaos—not to be confused, as one character points out, with Good and Evil. In attempting to unify his fiction, Moorcock seems to have decided that there’s a lot of explaining to do, and so he lets his characters do it. Often. At length.
Personally, I don’t mind this. I have a freakishly high tolerance for leisurely pacing, and as my reading of Moorcock’s novels has expanded, I’ve become increasingly interested in the philosophical underpinnings of his multiverse, and as a result I generally welcome the explanations more often than not. I suspect not every reader will be as patient. At one point, Ulric von Bek observes somewhat despairingly of his ally Prince Lobkowitz that “for all his practicality, [he] was a discursive conversationalist”—Moorcock, for all his vigor and imagination as a storyteller, is here a rather discursive novelist.
Daughter of Dreams is thus a fairly mixed bag; readers expecting more of the old Elric may be disappointed, but if you enjoyed Revenge of the Rose, you may well be better primed to enjoy this. It’s certainly an extremely ambitious example of canon-welding, and one of Moorcock’s most interesting examinations of the Eternal Champion.
Next: Brush up on your American Lit and The Song of Hiawatha; we’re going to join Oona, Elric, and Ulric on a trip to America in The Skrayling Tree.
- First US hardcover publication: as The Dreamthief’s Daughter, Warner, April 2001.
- First UK publication: as Daughter of Dreams, Gollancz, February 2013.