WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
Michael Moorcock’s The Weird of the White Wolf, now considered to be the fourth (or is it the 5th?) book (chronologically) in the Elric saga, is a collection of three shorter works (novellas? novelettes?).
In ‘Book One’ – “The Dreaming City” – Elric’s actions come back to haunt him. At the end of the first book, after Elric held on to his throne, despite the coup attempt by his cousin, Yrkoon, Elric put his cousin on the throne to watch over the kingdom while he, Elric, goes traveling. Now, on his return, Elric is upset to find that Yrkoon is claiming to be the rightful ruler of Melniboné and will not step down to let Elric back on the throne. And Elric’s love, Cymoril, has been hit with a spell and placed in an unnatural sleep.
Elric goes on a rage. He has a fleet of ships (captained by an old friend from a previous book) invade and set the city on fire while he hunts down his cousin Yrkoon. When he finds Yrkoon, he also finds his love, Cymoril.
But Elric is no longer in complete control of all his actions. His magical soul-stealing sword, Stormbringer, has its own intentions once drawn from the scabbard, and needs to take a soul at any cost. And Elric learns what that means – ‘at any cost’ – when it strikes down Cymoril, sending Elric into even more of a rage and depressing funk.
The second book, “While the Gods Laugh,” now has Elric as a truly lost soul. His city, burned to the ground by his order, his love killed, by his sword. He does, however, pick up a new companion (Moonglum) as he heads off on a new quest; a hero is needed to challenge Orunlu the Keeper of the Dead Gods’ Book, an ancient tome that supposedly holds the answer to all life’s questions.
In the third book, “The Singing Citadel,” Queen Yishana of a far away land, has asked for help with an unusual problem. A castle has appeared out of nowhere in the middle of her kingdom. An alluring music comes from the castle, drawing her citizens in like a siren, and they are never seen again. Elric takes a shine to Queen Yishana but any romance is tempered by his need to battle a trickster-like demi-god.
The Elric in The Weird of the White Wolf is the Elric that I remember from my first reading of these books in the 1970s. Tormented, driven, and not much in control of his own actions. There is also a real ‘pulp-y’ feel to the stories… stories that would have been right at home in the old pulp magazines of the 40’s and 50’s (like Robert E. Howard’s Conan [which I also really loved]).
I still like the general feel of pulp-style fantasy fiction (perhaps more now than I did in the 1970’s) but this book doesn’t hold up quite as well as the first Elric book did to being as strong today as it was 30 or 40 years ago. The brooding, philosophical aspect of Elric feels dated. This was very much a 1960’s, early 70’s, product. Additionally, speaking of the 1960’s/70’s, there is a very psychedelic atmosphere around Elric. Let’s not forget that he is required to take special herbs (drugs) to maintain vitality due to his weakened condition.
While this is how I remember Elric from when I first read the books some 40 years ago, I definitely prefer the more vibrant albino king from the first volume in this collection. I do look forward, however, to reading on in this classic sword & sorcery series.
Looking for a good book? The Weird of the White Wolf by Michael Moorcock is a collection of three shorter works in the Elric of Melniboné series. It has more of a classic pulp fiction feel to it and much more episodic rather than a part of the bigger story.
I own a paperback copy from the 1970’s and received this digitally, from the publisher, through Netgalley, as part of a new compilation.
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The Weird of the White Wolf
author: Michael Moorcock
series: The Elric Saga #3, Elric Chronological Order #5
ISBN: 0879973900 (1977); 1534445684 (2022)
paperback, 159 pages (1977); hardcover, 752 pages (2022)