Michael Moorcock, Appendix N’s Prince of Angst
It is only fair that I begin my web log post on Michael Moorcock with the positives of my assessment. He deserves recognition for his contribution to the field and I’m the last man to withhold his just due. Moorcock’s Law/Chaos dichotomy, along with Poul Anderson’s, was a seminal contribution to the alignment system of Dungeons and Dragons. Elric sits among the pantheon of notable fantasy characters. And while Moorcock did not invent the cursed sword, Stormbringer has become the epitome of the trope. In fact Dungeons and Dragons pays homage to it with the inclusion of the sword Black Razor in the funhouse adventure White Plume Mountain.
So Michael Moorcock’s deserved position in Appendix N remains undimmed, whatever I might think. And I do have an opinion. For whatever that’s worth.
I first read Elric as a teen. That is the ideal time to read Elric. I wasn’t a particularly angsty, brooding teen. But even the well-adjusted adolescents, like myself, unconsciously get the appeal of the melodramatically exploits of fantasy’s most plaintive anti-hero. (Lestat, perhaps, ranks a distant second to the tragic Prince of Melniboné.) I dipped into the stories a few times over the years. But when I re-read the Elric story cycle a few years ago, it simply didn’t hold up.
Corum was my first introduction to Michael Moorcock. I picked up The Chronicles of Corum, with that gorgeous cover art, and was captivated by the wonder, mystery, and myth of it. That it was a collection of sequels to books I hadn’t read might have something to do with that. But even now I retain some affection for that book.
It was Jerry Cornelius that began my dissatisfaction with Moorcock. I believe I read that while still in college, or immediately after graduations. That 1960’s era experimental fiction did nothing for me then and still doesn’t. The Warlord of the Air appeared more promising. The cover art and the premise seemed tailored to my interests. Sadly, the execution left me cold. The heavy-handed politics turned me off.
Still, I retained the positive memories of Elric and Corum and I wanted more. I read copious quantities of the Eternal Champion stories, those 175-200 word novels featuring Elric’s cosmic twins. Sometimes, in the right frame of mind, one of these would scratch a swords-and-sorcery itch. But mostly I found them formulaic and not particularly well written. Moorcock acknowledged the formulaic nature of the work, providing the formula himself. Perhaps I’m asking too much from swords-and-sorcery yarns. But I don’t think so. I think I simply want a better formula. Other writers have served it up, even other writers who have not attained Michael Moorcock’s lofty (and deserved, I freely admit) standing in the pantheon of Appendix N.
If you are a teen, seek out Elric. If you retain your teenage appreciation for Elric, et al, I am sincerely happy for you. I mean that with all honesty and without a hint of condescension. My opinion is just that, and I don’t claim it as objective truth vouchsafed me from on high. But for me, sadly, reading Michael Moorcock has become a chore. As I have enough chores I’m obligated to do, wading through yet another by-the-numbers adventure of one of the Eternal Champion’s avatars is a chore I am willing to dispense with.