On the White Prince of Melnibone
I never read the Elric stories growing up – mostly because they were oddly difficult to find. I have a battered copy of Stormbringer that I got maybe 10 pages into and gave up on because it was confusing without the previous stories.
I’m in the middle of the third hardcover collection. The first two collections are the “core” Elric books; the rest were written long after (and oddly, volumes 3 and 4 were produced by a different publisher).
One of the “problems” with the Elric mythology is that Michael Moorcock didn’t write them in order. In fact, the first novel written, Stormbringer, is the last book from a chronological standpoint (since it deals with the end of the universe, it kind of has to).
However, I read them in the “chronological” order, not the publishing order, so they make a lot more sense (in fact, given the bizarre structure of Stormbringer, I can’t imagine doing it otherwise).
Elric is (or should be) the patron saint of wanna-be goth boys everywhere. He’s albino: pale, white-haired, weak. He dresses in black all the time (mostly armor, but it’s not fashionable to wear plate to a club). He is educated. He speaks and acts with a languid, ghostful grace. He sold his soul to the Arioch, the Duke of Hell, and drinks the souls of men with his cursed sword, Stormbringer.
Pretty much everything most young goth males wish they were.
Elric is the template for all anti-heroes that follow. I remember reading the original Deities & Demigods, which had Elric in it, and he was listed as being “Chaotic Evil.” I remember thinking, “how can a hero be chaotic evil?” Well. Elric can be. He is absolutely evil – he plays purely to his own desires. He’s amoral, but not in an apathetic way; he has a sociopathic, self-centered amorality. Further, while he appears to have a “personal code” of sorts, he cheerfully breaks it whenever and however he wants.
Plus, he destroys the nation he is emperor of because he’s pissed at his cousin.
Oh. And he kills the woman he loves while doing so.
In fact, Elric kills pretty much everyone he ever cares about. Ever.
Obviously, there is a tie between the sword and the One Ring from Tolkein’s mythology: both cursed artifacts of unimaginable power that develop a symbiotic relationship with their bearers. But, as written, the One Ring is kind of a non-entity and a deus ex machina: it’s a plot device. Stormbringer, however, is an essential character in the saga. Stormbringer has a personality and its own desires (mostly to kill people, preferably Elric’s pals), and the conflict between the two characters is well-handled.
The major complaint I have, honestly, is the weaving of Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” mythology in with the rest of the epic. It feels out of place: Elric may be an important figure, but he is in no way, shape or form a “champion” (quite the opposite, actually: he destroys the universe). The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (book two) is the weakest of the saga because of this, actually.
Reading the first book, I was struck with how cinematic the entire story is, and I wonder why there hasn’t been an attempt to make it into a movie. In fact, thinking about it, I feel bad about how poor the marketing of the saga actually is. It’s hard to find the books for sale, actually. There’s a roleplaying game – but it’s put out by Chaosium, who are notoriously bad marketers (c.f., Cthulhu, which is another under-exposed series of works).
Also, the sheer darkness of the Elric saga probably turns off most movie producers. I mean, your main character butchers everyone else. How is that gonna sell?
I wish I’d read these so much earlier.