Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Where To Start With Michael Moorcock

It's Christmas Eve, so the Internet is fairly quiet. I'm at home, so I've been wrapping presents, making last-minute shopping trips, playing Lego Indiana Jones with my younger son, and doing similar activities instead of keeping up with my feeds and typing away at the various posts I have staring at me.

So, instead of a real post, here's something repurposed. The multifarious and unique James Nicoll asked the title question on rec.arts.sf.written sometime this past year, and here is how I (for one) responded:

If the someone is 11-16 and/or dresses entirely in black, the new Elric: The Stealer of Souls omnibus is great.

Someone with age and sophistication could start with Gloriana.

Some with age and sophistication but a lurking fondness for adventure fantasy might like The War Hound and the World's Pain.

A big fan of high literature might go for The Final Programme (though it's better if you've also read the early Elric books). [Note: It's currently available in the omnibus The Cornelius Quartet.]

The Brothel in Rosenstrasse is also excellent, and I've heard good things about Mother London (though I haven't read it yet).

The further reaches of the Eternal Champion saga are best left for later, if at all.


Unknown said...

Do you dismiss the Corum cycle, then? I've not read it yet, but a friend of mine has praised it as Moorcock's seminal work of fantasy heroics, more so than Elric despite his greater status.

Speaking of Elric, I would take issue with the (apparent) sentiment that it is a juvenile series. I will grant that Moorcock's best work probably lies outside the last Son of Melnibone's numerous adventures, but he is nonetheless deserving of literary significance for his importance as a reaction to the brawny, uncivilized but instinctually wise heroes of Swords and Sorcery that had dominated the genre ever since a certain blue-eyed Cimmerian cleaved and hewed it into existence. For this alone I should think the original nine stories at least are owed a read by any fan of the genre, regardless of age.

Joseph said...

Would it be too sacrilegious to point out that Elric of Melnibone is one of the worst written piles of dreck ever produced? It verges on incoherent. Elric leaps from one nonsensical episode to the next in this picaresque, none of the characters get five seconds of development, the "world" is never presented as a whole, the magical devices are all deus ex machina, and Elric manages to avoid being interesting by constantly reminding himself that he is from Melnibone and thus should not be having interesting thoughts.

Andrew Wheeler said...

WingGT1: The Corum books, all in all, are better than the early Elric books. (The late Elric books have their own entirely separate problems.) And they're probably the definitive early-Moorcock version of the E.C. -- Hawkmoon is too stolid and dull, and Erekose too obviously symbolic.

But Elric's more energetic, more influential, just more than the Corum books. I'd recommend going to Corum after the early Elric books for people looking for more of that stuff.

And Sword & Sorcery heroes weren't always dumb barbarians -- there was always Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser as a counterweight to the other side. (Not that Howard's real Conan was ever dumb, but he comes across that way in the sharecropped stuff, and his acolytes generally were as thick as two short planks.) Elric was a great example of the polar opposite of everything Conan stood for, though -- I do absolutely agree with you there.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Joseph: I'll admit that the Elric stories are juvenile power fantasies, that the best of them are the hastily-written fever dreams of a very young man, and that they're certainly not High Literature.

However, if you really think they're anywhere near "the worst written piles of dreck ever produced," you have a towering pile of amazingly appalling works still ahead of you. Even within the subgenre of Swords & Sorcery, there are many things horribly worse. (Try Lin Carter some time, just for one example.)

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