As I write this, I’m listening to the Hawkwind album The Chronicle of the Black Sword, their 1985 concept album based on the Elric saga. To be honest, it’s not at all the sort of thing I usually listen to—proggy, guitar-heavy space-rock with some vaguely Jean-Michel Jarré-sounding synthesizers to liven things up. But this album—one of the more obvious examples of the many, many works that owe their existence to Elric—seemed like a suitable accompaniment to an attempt to round up my thoughts on the Elric reread.
I doubt that anyone here would argue that there are certain times in your life that are ideal for you to encounter certain books. The Chronicles of Narnia may be best appreciated before you’re old enough to fully grasp the allegories and Lewis’s old-fashioned sexism, for instance. Rereading Elric now, I’m glad that I first met him when I was a teenager, before I’d gotten tired of all-pervasive angst and grimness in my genre fiction and before the character’s most self-pitying moments made me roll my eyes. I was able to enjoy the books for the adventure and the strangeness, and for a hero whose cynical, world-weary affect seemed much more honest and realistic than anything else I’d encountered in fantasy literature at that point in my life.
Most importantly, though, Elric got me started on Michael Moorcock, whose oeuvre has so much more to offer beyond sword-and-sorcery adventures. Without Elric, I would have never had my mind blown at far too early an age by Jerry Cornelius (whose chronicles remain, to this day, my favorite Moorcock books). I’d never have encountered the gorgeous decadents of the End of Time, the corrupt beauty of Gloriana’s court, the dark humor of the von Beks, the trippy weirdness of the Chaos Engineers. Without Elric, I might have missed out on the brilliance of Mother London, the Pyat quartet, the insights compiled in London Peculiar. And I would have been a rather poorer reader and writer for missing that. I am one of the least-accomplished writers who has been influenced by Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories; Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Alan Moore, and Michael Chabon are but a few of the household names who have publicly acknowledged their debt.
That’s why it’s hard for me to be dismissive of Elric, even if I find his more angst-ridden excesses in the 1970s books a bit hard to take nowadays. Fortunately, in reading the more recent Elric tales—The Revenge of the Rose, the Moonbeam Roads books, the short stories—we get the pleasure of seeing Elric at his ironic, cynical best, whose sensibilities are less overwrought and whose role in the multiverse can be understood in a more complex, sophisticated way. He has, in a way, grown up with his readers.
All of this is why I still recommend Elric as a starting place for nearly anyone who’s never read any Michael Moorcock before, no matter how far they are past the ostensible sweet spot of adolescence and its turmoil. He is a character who, both in the minds of the readers and the works of his creator, has grown into something greater his pulp fantasy origins and into an archetype in his own right, and his story is the spine of the larger Moorcock multiverse—something Moorcock made quite literal in the Moonbeam Roads books. Make your way through the entire series, and move on from there, and you will find riches.
I’m both sorry and a bit relieved now to bid farewell to the moody albino and his demon-sword. Thank you to all of the readers who have stayed with me on this journey, and thanks to Bridget and the staff at Tor.com for providing me with this opportunity to revisit these books. Thanks to my husband Bruce as well, who has watched the Moorcock section of our library grow to ridiculous length over the years. And above all, my eternal gratitude to Michael Moorcock for giving us Elric and his multiverse in its vast, cruel, extraordinary glory. Fantasy and science fiction wouldn’t be the same without him.
Karin Kross would like to take a moment to confess that somewhere around Bane of the Black Sword, she was ready to punch Elric through a wall. The moment, thankfully, has passed. She can be found elsewhere, still pushing Moorcock on her friends, on Tumblr and Twitter.