I have all of the Elric books sitting on a shelf near my desk, and I’ve been looking at them for a couple of years, wanting to give them a re-read. But my reading schedule has been filled with ARCs. How fortuitous then that Gallery/Saga Press had put together this new volume of the Elric saga and had a digital copy available as an ARC and I could add it to my queue.
This volume opens with an ‘introduction’ by Neil Gaiman. Not surprisingly, it isn’t an ordinary introduction. Rather than the typical essay about how he first encounter the Elric books, Gaiman’s introduction is a short story. In the story, a young boy discovers the Elric books and becomes a huge fan. He daydreams during school about being Elric’s companion and having adventures together – until Elric does call on him:
—So you want to be a companion to heroes? he asked. His voice was gentler than Richard had imagined it would be.
Elric put one long finger beneath Richard’s chin, lifted his face up. Blood-eyes, thought Richard. Blood-eyes.
—You’re no companion, boy, he said, in the High Speech of Melniboné.
Richard had always known he would understand the High Speech when he heard it, even if his Latin and French had always been weak.
It is an unusual introduction, but it works, and many of us, who read the Elric books when they were first being released, will recognize the sentiments Gaiman expresses.
The book includes four Elric ‘novels’ (some of these novels are really trios of novellas), presented in an order that is unique to me – The Fortress of the Pearl is now considered the second book. Despite being published much later, this is where it fits in chronological order.
But if you have read much Moorcock, specifically any book in the Eternal Champion series, you’ll know that there really is no such thing as a ‘chronological’ order.
I have previously reviewed each of the books in this collection, though I’m including them all here, again, in case this is a first time visit to the blog.
Looking for a good book? The Elric Saga, Vol. 1, by Michael Moorcock, is a collection of the first four books (in chronological order) of one of the greatest heroes in sword&sorcery/fantasy literature.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Elric of Melniboné: The Elric Saga Part 1
author: Michael Moorcock
series: The Elric Saga Vol. 1
publisher: Gallery/ Saga Press
hardcover, 752 pages
Specific book reviews:
Elric of Melniboné
I first read Elric of Melniboné in the late 1970’s and I’ve had my DAW Books edition of this series sitting on a bookshelf because I’ve been wanting to reread not just the Elric books, but the entire ‘Eternal Champion’ books again. But I’ve been really tied up with a backlog of ARC books so all I’ve been able to do is look longingly at these beautiful titles. Fortunately for me, Gallery/Saga Press, is re-releasing these titles in a new compilation and I managed to get a digital copy, giving me an excuse to reread the books.
Elric is a young, reluctant ruler of the kingdom of Melniboné. Melniboné was once an elite nation – for 100,000 years Melniboné ruled the world. But the kingdom has declined for the past 500 years. Now Elric rules, but he tends to sit and be contemplative, wondering if he should even bother. But Elric, who strikes an imposing figure in part because he’s an albino and his white skin stands out, comes to realize that there is no one else in Melniboné who would be able to step up and rule well and that the very survival of the once-great nation relies on him.
But there is one other who thinks they would be a better king. Yrkoon, Elric’s cousin, is sure he would be better than the anemic-looking albino and plots a coup with an army of insurgents. The two will meet in an epic battle that will be fought with the powerful ‘runeblades’ known as Stormbringer and Mournblade. Elric and his sword, Stormbringer, (which steals the souls of those who are killed by it) will develop a strong bond during the battle.
I have read or reread a few scifi/fantasy books from the 1960’s and 70’s and find them many of them feel dated. Elric of Melniboné, on the other hand, is as fresh and unique now as it was fifty years ago.
There’s a Shakespearean quality to Elric (something I would not have recognized when I was in my teens). His youthfulness and brooding reminds me of Hamlet, and his eventual take-charge attitude reminds me of Henry IV. And like Shakespeare’s plays, the outcomes of an individual’s actions might affect millions, but the story is centered on the individual and the choices they make.
The book moved along faster than I was expecting. We establish who Elric is, and what Melniboné is, and that Elric may be Melniboné’s last, best hope. Then we get Yrkoon wanting the throne, and then we get a chapters-long battle. And that’s pretty much it! It shouldn’t be a spoiler to say that Elric will ultimately be victorious in the battle, but his actions afterward might come as a surprise, setting Elric up as unique among these kinds of fantasy characters, as well as establishing potential storylines later on.
This book not only lived up to my memory and expectations, but exceeded them. Anyone reading fantasy today should pick up and read this classic – and getting the four book compilation will take away any guess work as to which book to read next.
I’ve seen and heard people compare the Elric books to Tolkien – in regards to the epic fantasy style – but this is as closely related to Tolkien as it is to Robert E. Howard’s Conan or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. All classics and worth taking the time to read.
Looking for a good book? Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock is a sword & sorcery style fantasy that stands the test of time. You can only do yourself a favor by reading this.
I still have my 1976 paperback edition, but read this as part of the Elric of Melniboné Obnimbus which I received from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
Fortress of the Pearl
I remember when this ‘new’ Elric book came out. I was working in a book store in Los Angeles and I was so thrilled to get a copy as soon as the box was opened and I went home and devoured it. Elric … again! That was, what …. the seventh book in the Elric series? The eighth? Yeahhhhh… this is Michael Moorcock world. ‘Order’ is an unnecessary concept. According to the newest saga omnibus, this is now the second book in the series. Which makes some sense because events happen early in Elric’s life and career, though given the heated battle between Elric and Yrkoon in the previous (and first) book, it takes a great deal of willingness on the part of the reader to accept that Elric puts Yrkoon on the throne during his anticipated absence. How well do you think that’s going to work for you, Elric?
As mentioned, Elric puts his criminal cousin on the throne so that he, Elric, can go after the Pearl at the Heart of the World. Lord Gho Fhaazi puts Elric on this quest (Fhaazi needs this pearl to be seated on on the ruling Council of Seven of the city of Quarzhasaat). Lord Gho entices Elric by getting Elric addicted to a slow-acting poison. Of course Gho has the only known antitdote.
On this quest for the pearl, Elric discovers that the pearl can only be found inside the sleeping dreams of a young girl. To do this, Elric joins forces with Oone, a dream thief.
The dreams of a young girl are not as simple or safe as one might expect and the beautiful dream thief will help Elric navigate the dangerous dreamworld.
It’s really interesting to read this book again, right after reading the first book. Although Elric is young here, the author is not, and the writing is in many ways more mature as our hero alternates from brooding youngster to sword-wielding warrior to a seasoned battler of magic.
That brooding, though, is key. It’s this introspection and philosophical reflection that sets Elric apart from all the other sword & sorcery heroes in literature – not his albinism.
Author Michael Moorcock maybe tests the limits as to how long an action hero can spend thinking and worrying and planning, but just as we start to think, ‘Get on with it, already’ Elric will be tested and we’ll get the action scenes we were hoping for.
While I did feel we got some important clues to Elric’s nature with this book, I was also missing Cymoril. That triad of Cymoril, Yrkoon, and Elric set up perfect storylines and challenges, and yet we jump ship so quickly to take on this new adventure.
Only the second book in, but I’m really enjoying re-reading these Elric books.
Looking for a good book? The Fortress in the Pearl by Michael Moorcock is the second book, chronologically, in the Elric series. It is wildly adventurous and philosophical – a perfect sword & sorcery hero for the intelligent reader.
I bought a first edition hardcover copy of this book and received a digital copy as part of the Elric of Melniboné Saga omnibus, from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
The Sailor on the Seas of Fate
Elric, the albino king of Melniboné – a once great kingdom now in decline – is away from his kingdom, hoping to learn more about the world outside his ancient island. Standing alone on a shore, he hails a ship that has appeared in shallow waters, and thus begins his journey as a sailor on the seas of fate.
The others aboard include Hawkmoon, Corum, and Erekose and the ship’s captain is blind.
The ‘novel’ is broken into three ‘books’. In the first, “Sailing To the Future,” it seems as though Elric has been fated to join up with the other champions (one whom claims to have fought beside Elric before, though Elric has no memory of it, but he learns that this other warrior doesn’t live in a chronological timeline). With his new compatriots, Elric will battle sibling sorcerers who are out to destroy the world.
In the second book, “Sailing To the Present,” Elric is now partnered with Count Smiorgan Baldhead and they face off against a sorcerer from ancient Melniboné.
The final ‘book’, “Sailing to the Past,” has Elric with yet again a new companion, Duke Avan Astran. The pair will explore a ruined city that is rumored to have been the origins of the Melnibonéan race. They are looking to retrieve a set of jade jewels.
This is one of my favorite of the Elric books. For those of us who read the Elric books first (before reading any of the other Eternal Champion stories), this was the first hint that there was something bigger than Elric and Melniboné going on. Not that there needs to be. Elric is already a hero bigger than life. Despite his brooding, philosophical nature, the character has a charisma that immediately connects him with other characters.
This book also has a better balance between the swordplay action and the magic. We also really start to understand the magic sword, Stormbringer, and how it is a parasite and yet there is a symbiotic relationship between Elric and Stormbringer.
Brooding philosopher, drug-addicted, and with a sword that hungers for souls … a sword that can build his strength as long as it can take the power away from others by cutting them down … much of Elric’s nature is revealed in this particular book.
There is a disconnect, getting Elric from one story to the next, which I didn’t remember from readingit as a teen, but I liked (and still like) that Elric isn’t your typical sword & sorcery hero. He’s not a powerful fighter like Conan, he’s not a cute adventurer like the halflings and hobbits, he’s a charismatic king who is wasting away and often fighting just as hard to save himself from the weariness of life, as he is fighting for others.
Looking for a good book? The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock is, chronologically, the third book in the Elric seas, and perhaps the most revealing of Elric and his world.
I purchased a paperback in the 1970’s and received a digital copy as part of the new omnibus edition, from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
The Weird of the White Wolf
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.