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Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock

Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock
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Book Name: Elric of Melniboné
Author: Michael Moorcock
Publisher(s): Various
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: 1961

Elric. The name is legendary. Even those who don’t really touch fantasy tend to know the name Elric or at very least Stormbringer. Those older will know the name Moorcock too, the creator of both the man (Elric) and his sword (Stormbringer). The books were huge, huge hits in the 60s and 70s because Moorcock was able to create a series that had all the themes of the time (sex, drugs, desire for peace, the struggles for freedom and need to follow your own path). In a sense, now that you know this, if you read the books through, you could see how the hippies and drug-fuelled readers could enjoy the books so thoroughly. There are weird creatures popping up everywhere, there are weird colours and beautiful women, a protagonist who ends up with a love/hate addiction to first drugs and then souls.

So yeah, not surprisingly, the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s were Moorcock’s best customers. However, that’s not to say that if you don’t like drugs, you don’t like Elric. Although I’m sure the times shaped Moorcock’s writing, today we recognise Elric as more than just a hero who had the abilities to do single-handedly what the nation fought for. He is one of the coolest fantasy characters to have ever appeared within written word. And his sword? One of the most memorable in the whole of the genre.

Anyway, today, I’m going to talk about the first book that was officially published. It is important to know that the Elric novels are very, very complicated to order because he published short stories here and others there, he lost a few, then found a few, some are set in the past, others in the future, some in dreams and so on. I would say your best bet is to start with Elric of Melniboné. It might not be the start of Elric, but it was the first novel properly published for the public to read and enjoy without having any prior knowledge of the character.

The novel starts off with Elric sitting on his Ruby Throne. He is pumped full of drugs to keep him alive – basically, because he was born as a runt albino. Never a good way to be born of course. So, he sits on his throne and feels week. Below him are huge groups of people who don’t believe he deserves the throne. Not just because he is weak, but because he seems to have morals and an ability to forgive – none of these are traits that the Melniboné people see as acceptable. In fact, they pretty much want to see him done away with, although none would risk doing it themselves.

His main opposition comes in the form of his cousin, Yyrkoon, who is indeed next in the line of succession should Elric die. He constantly belittles Elric in front of his people and appears to them to be the aggressive, unforgiving and powerful ruler they would expect. His plotting and squirming around Elric will certainly make readers hate him and he is one of the very best cheesy, stereotypical villains you will ever read about. There is even a bit where he ‘throws his head back and laughs’!!!

Elric Cheese

Elric is so old that most of the art work is in the cheesy old classical style... that almost makes it cool!

Without spoiling things, what Yyrkoon does sends Elric off around not only Melniboné, but to other kingdoms and even realms fighting other Melniboné and Young Kingdom based beings, but also demons and such too. The world that Moorcock designs really is fantastic. Again, I think the amount of worldbuilding he is able to do in such a short, short novel is just amazing. You really feel as if you know the world, roughly its limits, its magic system and everything else whilst Elric is travelling about.

Perhaps though, Moorcock’s finest achievement was to create a character that isn’t actually good. Yes, sometimes he does ‘good’ things, but essentially, he is pretty damned evil. He is an overlord who rules not only his nation, but the surrounding kingdoms with fear. Should they step out of line, they expect a swift death and by Elric’s hand. I think at the time and especially coming off the back of Lord of the Rings this was something new to readers and I would guess it inspired later writers such as Gemmell, who in turn has paved the way for authors like Joe Abercrombie and even more recently Sam Sykes. I think Moorcock’s version of the anti-hero in Elric remains today as ‘the’ most important in the history of the genre.

What the anti-hero aspect does to us as a reader is leave us in a state of intrigue and even confusion. This guy is pretty evil, but at the same time, in terms of his realm he is pretty good. Does this mean we should support him? Or should we wish his failure? He is evil after all!!! It’s hard to decide and this feeling of uncertainty is only added to by Elric’s own inner-conflicts. He himself hates what he is and he hates what his kingdom has become. However, he isn’t willing to change it and is far more willing to do what they expect him to do in most circumstances. He is on drugs and can’t get off them, he is weak without them and wonders whether he should just lie down and die. Again, we wonder the same thing.

To summarise the novel, it is a quick read that is absolutely full of beautiful imagery and complex emotion. Although people don’t generally consider a novel of just 100 pages to be fantasy these days, there is as much to get excited here as there is in the like of The Way of Kings, which is about twelve times as long. Certainly, you could end up reading the book in one sitting and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that either. Elric of Melniboné is proof that Fantasy novels don’t need to be behemoths to craft a complex world and remain enjoyable.

I guess the only sad thing is I can’t talk to you for the moment about Stormbringer because it doesn’t come in until the very end of the book. What I will say though, is that this is the start of far greater things to come. Stormbringer brings readers new conflicts and a new aspect to Elric’s life that increases the stories scope tenfold.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (5 votes cast)
Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock, 10.0 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
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2 Comments

  1. Steve Ford says:

    The Eternal Champion saga is Michael Moorcock’s finest work. How none of, Hawkmoon, Elric or Corum have not been turned into films is beyond me !

  2. Fine review – deserves all 5 stars – and yes to Steve, they would be (potentially) brilliant films.

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