‘And a helm was on his head; a black helm, with a dragon’s head craning over the peak, and dragon’s wings flaring backward above it, and a dragon’s tail curling down the back.’
Yes, I’m very late to the tales of Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné. His first appearance was in a novelette titled “The Dreaming City” which was published in the British magazine Science Fantasy in 1961. Since then, Moorcock’s most famous creation has featured in a wide range of stories including short stories, novels, comic books and graphic novels. The publisher Gollancz republished all of Moorcock’s Elric back catalogue over seven volumes from 2013–15. This is the first volume and serves as an introduction to the character.
‘Here are the first tales of the albino sorcerer-prince Elric: lord of the Dreaming City, last Emperor of Melnibone, traitor, kinslayer. Doomed to wander the multiverse, battered by the whims of Law and Chaos, in thrall to his soul-eating sword, Stormbringer, Elric lies at the heart of Michael Moorcock’s extraordinary mythology of the Eternal Champion.
If you know his story already, then this definitive edition will finally let you read the entire saga in the author’s preferred order. If you’ve never experienced the chronicles of the albino with the soul-sucking sword, then this is the perfect place to start.’
There are four stories in this volume ranging from short to very short.
“Master of Chaos” is a fifteen-page story set in the time before Elric. It tells the tale of Aubec of Malador, a previous Eternal Champion. While nothing spectacular, this is solid sword and sorcery fare which offers some background to the world of Melnibone and the role of the Eternal Champion.
“Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer” is the script to an Elric graphic novel written by Moorcock and illustrated by Walt Simonson. It acts as a kind of warm-up to the main story, revealing some backstory about Elric’s father. To be honest, I found this story a little bit of a strange inclusion because it is a comic book adaptation without any artwork. It’s just the script with some notes to the artist describing some of the characters appearances as well as parts of the setting. Here is a sample:
But first, a few floors down, we are introduced to Yyrkoon (Olivier as Richard III, Walter? Sans hump?) in his bed of concubines. He is dismissing certain officers of his acquaintance.
YYRKOON: ‘You may go, but consider carefully what I have said. All our fates depend on this moment!’
On the steps outside this room some soldierly types confer. A slave closes a door on them as they leave. Three captains pause for a moment on the top stair before it curves out of sight.
FIRST CAPTAIN: ‘Prince Yyrkoon doesn’t persuade me. My loyalty’s still to Elric.’
“And So the Great Emperor Received His Education” is a four-page prelude to the main Elric story which follows. In this piece, we learn a little about the dream quests and sorcery that the Emperors of Melnibone undertake and study. It’s beautifully written in parts.
“Elric of Melnibone” is the longest story in this volume at just over 170 pages. This was originally published in 1972 and is the first “full-length novel to feature Elric.” It introduces the characters Yyrkoon, Elric’s cousin, and Cymoril, Yyrkoon’s sister. We also meet Arioch, one of the powerful and dangerous Lords of Chaos. In this entertaining story, Elric is about to succeed to the throne of Melnibone but his cousin Yyrkoon is plotting against him. Betrayal leads Elric on a quest seeking the magical Runeblades: Stormbringer and Mournblade. This was my favourite story in the book and offers a deeper look into what makes the character so popular. It also left me hungry for more.
Elric is not your typical fantasy hero in the vein of Conan, John Carter, Aragorn and so on. He is flawed, and more relatable because of this. Elric suffers from physical weakness. He takes drugs for strength and fights some of his battles in a kind of dream world, projecting his spirit to other realms. He is intelligent and well read; not afraid to question the roles he is expected to play as ruler of Melnibone. He desires to rule with morality and good conscience, not with malice or cruelty. But he also makes mistakes.
‘LEARNING HIS WIZARD’S craft on the dream couches, where one might live a thousand years in a single night, Elric was trained in the ancient traditions of Melniboné’s Sorcerer Kings.’
This edition by Gollancz also contains a selection of introductions and essays by Moorcock, John Clute and Alan Moore. “The Return of the Thin White Duke” by Alan Moore is a fascinating essay about Moorcock’s rise as a writer and editor in 1950s/1960s England. It doubles as a brief snapshot of the times with references to some of the cultural changes taking place then. Reading this essay has made me want to seek out some of Moorcock’s other writings, including his “Jerry Cornelius” and “Hawkmoon” stories.
I recommend this volume to readers looking for an Elric-focused introduction to Michael Moorcock’s writing. The inclusion of some of the author’s essays, as well as the script to the Elric graphic novel, mean this is more than a collection of Elric stories. I just wanted to make that clear. I enjoyed both the stories and the essays and I’m looking forward to picking up Volume 2 in the future.
Thanks for reading!