Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock –Book Review

Write on: Mon, 29 Jul 2019 by  in Archive Read 3376


Genre: Fantasy
Subgenre: Sword & sorcery, dark fantasy, classic fantasy
Format: Paperback
Length: 384 pages


This is a review of the first of the Gollancz editions that came out earlier this decade. Gollancz apparently wanted to publish the definitive Michael Moorcock collection.  Now, the argument can be made that Gollancz did not entirely succeed because, now that I’m done with Elric of Melnibone, I’m not entirely sure which Elric collection to pick up next. Oh, well, nothing a Google search won’t resolve. Elric of Melniboné collects several essays penned by Moorcock, an Introduction by Alan Moore, a prequel short story, telling of an earlier incarnation of the Eternal Champion, the script of the comic book that tells of the origins of Elric’s sorcerous power and his first back-and-forth with his duplicitous, power-hungry cousin, Yyrkoon.

It’s a weird editorial choice, putting “Master of Chaos” before the actual stories that involve Elric. Yes, I get it, Aubec of Malador chronologically precedes everything else (does it, Moorcock fans?), and Aubec was the Eternal Champion (an Eternal Champion? Reincarnation is all very confusing, you know…) but I really was looking forward to meeting THE Eternal-est of Champions before I met an older model.  So there, that was a bit of a shock. The story itself? It’s your run-of-the-mill sword&sorcery (except not really) during which our protagonist Aubec faces off against all sorts of daunting creatures and challenges, finding out in the end that it was all within him. Interesting enough but I still suspect I might’ve gotten more if I was more familiar with Moorcock’s Eternal Champion universe.

How about Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer? That was an interesting experience, I don’t think I’ve ever read this long a script at once.  It’s a lengthy read, about 130 pages and I found it highly educational as someone who likes to scratch comic book ideas on napkins in the middle of the night. I enjoyed the dialogue. Some of the notes Moorcock put in there were downright hilarious and obviously there for the artist’s benefit:

And while you should do your best, Walter, to make him look as different from the guy in The Matrix as possible, it’s not my fault that I thought Sepiriz up looking like this in 1963 or whenever it was. OK. Give him long hair. He was bald in the original…

Funny how these things happen, isn’t it? The dialogue induced a few chuckles, as well:

ELRIC: ‘I thank you for your aid, sir. I fear that weapon. It seems alive…’
Arioch stoops and picks up the sword.
ARIOCH: ‘I must admit, it has its sentient moments.’  *This is where Michael Moorcock did a drum roll, I suspect.*

To wrap this up, The Making of a Sorcerer wasn’t necessarily the most engaging piece of fiction I’ve ever read but I’m not what you’d call an expert on script-writing or script-reading. I give this script a 539/859 script cookie points, which is what I guess professional script people in Hollywood use to score scripts before throwing them in their gigantic Hollywood incinerators and writing an ‘add more explosions’ memo to that nice Michael Bay fella.

The Making of a Sorcerer did feel…aged, on a serious note and that's the last I'll say about it.

Finally we get to Elric of Melniboné! You know, I quite enjoyed my time with the 170 or so pages of this story. It finally does what I was pining for when I got this here novel – it gives me some actual prose about Elric of Melniboné! Shocker, I know. The verdict?

It’s good, it’s interesting, it’s uh, uh, uh, okay, are we talking about proper prose now, I can do this, I remember how to deconstruct prose. Elric of Melniboné deconstructs the sword&sorcery genre in a single sentence. See, sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at the sentence: “The paradox was that Elric tolerated Yyrkoon’s treachery because he was strong, because he had the power to destroy Yyrkoon whenever he cared.” This is the sentence that shows Elric’s character in full – he is distinguished as much by his restraint as by his albino skin. In a genre full of characters who know nothing of restraint, Elric is the exception.

His cousin Yyrkoon, meanwhile, is an excellent example of your average sword&sorcery character with his unflinching militarism, the ‘might is right’ mindset that we all know and…love? Yyrkoon has his own defining sentence, following hot on the heels of that first one: “And Yyrkoon’s own character was such that he must constantly be testing that strength of Elric’s, for he knew instinctively that if Elric did weaken and order him slain, then he would have won.” And just like that, these two characters are diametrical opposites of one another. Reading about the conflict between them was fascinating. The way the two of them develop from beginning to end has a real consequence on the wider world, and that’s what fantasy, according to Moorcock is about:

The hero ranges the lands of his own psyche, encountering the various aspects of himself. When we read a good fantasy we are being admitted into the subterranean world of our own souls. … [fantasy] rarely produces a comforting end. Whether the hero wins through or not, the reader is left with the suspicion or knowledge that all is not quiet on the supernatural front. For supernatural also read subconscious and you’re still with me. (345)

I don’t think that spoilers are all that inexcusable when it comes to books that have been around for nearly half a decade so I hope you won’t mind me saying that by the end of Elric of Melniboné, things are looking bleak indeed for the albino ruler of Imryr. Although he has defeated one crisis, the future is murky and all is far from quiet.

Elric of Melniboné is, as Alan Moore calls it, a “delirious romance,” (3) its prose heavy. It’s got weight behind it, a sense of foreboding coming off of every sentence. So, too, with the worldbuilding. The days of Melniboné, of the Dream City of Imryr, are numbered, and Moorcock isn’t afraid of reminding us just how bad those last days might be. This world of Elric’s is storied and filled with tragedy and the heyday of the elves of Melniboné has long since passed. 

Having finished the last line of this novel, I was greeted by a final trio of essays, one of which I quoted above, Aspects of Fantasy. The second essay was an Introduction to the graphic adaptation of the same novel I spoke about at length, and the third speaks about the influences El Cid had on Moorcock. All informative and in the case of the first and the third, deeply thought-provoking as well. My favourite and at the same time most despised essay in the collection was that of Alan Moore, The Return of the Thin White Duke, a Foreword that spoiled more than I would have liked…but then again, I do suppose I was just complaining about spoilers a few minutes ago so I, as anyone should, am getting my just desserts.             

I’ve decided to score this anthology with a 4/5 on Goodreads. The main reason behind this score is the questionable placement of that short story and the addition of the script, which while interesting to read wasn’t what I had in mind for my first Elric story. But the essays and the actual novel – those are well worth top marks.

You might want to read this if:

  • ·         You’re interested in learning more about one of fantasy’s most storied characters;
  • ·         Your interests in fantasy inch towards the gothic and darkly romantic, the elegance and degeneracy of a whole society;
  • ·         You like big-name authors waxing lyrical about fantasy in-between your short stories, comic book scripts and actual fantasy novels;
  • ·         You have a thing for moody albinos – no shaming if you do! – and drug addicts;
  • ·         And More! Prob’ly.




Filip Magnus

Filip picked up his first fantasy novel when he was seven and hasn’t stopped reading since. A critical reader who judges novels on their technical use of language and plot alike, he has a soft spot for literary fiction and tragic, heroic tales.

In his free time, Filip writes fiction, makes gaming reviews on YouTube, and maintains a personal blog. All that when he’s not too busy going through piles of books in as short a time as possible.