OFF THE SHELF—“Elric of Melnibone”

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Elric of MelniboneTake all the pulp fantasy novels that were popular in the Dungeons & Dragons hey-day, and there are a few that will always stand out. For instance…The Lord of the Rings (now being graced onto the silver screen, as I’m sure any geek knows…), Dragonriders of Pern, The White Gold Chronicles, Thieve’s World, Elfquest and…Elric and his story of the black runeswords.

Elric has been an enigma in the fantasy world since his first appearance way back in 1972 – born one year after me. Starting slowly, the saga of Michael Moorcock’s Elric line tell the grandest of tales. While it focuses on the story of one person, Elric of Melnibone himself, it also speaks of the symbols of power that all grand stories have. Thomas Covenant had his white gold ring, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins had the One Ring and Lord Crystal had the Crystaline Sword. Elric, of course, had Stormbringer – a sword that reputedly had an ego of mythical proportions.

Elric of Melnibone is the first in the series. It tells of the story of Melnibone, a nation much like the Avalon of King Arthur. The nation is fading away as the minds of men move to other things – technology rather than magic, for example. As a matter of fact, the correlations between the King Arthur myths and the stories of Melnibone are strong indeed. Both involve a mythical sword wieldable only by a king of grand stature – in this case Elric, in the other Arthur Pendragon. Both countries, England and Melnibone, were fading due to the thoughts of men as they turned from magic to technology and began believing less in faith and more in science. These kings must lead their nations to the prime of power as in times past with their swords as bastions of light to follow.

One major difference lies in culture. Melnibone is a truly brutal nation – slaves have their vocal chords altered so they may sing only a single note for the parties of the royal lineage. Traitors to the country are dealt with harshly and thoroughly, spies being tortured so lavishly that it is considered an art form in the vicious Melnibonean culture. The death of a passed king are funeralized with a week long romp of rape and death. These are just some examples of the viciousness of the Dragon Isle of Melnibone.

In Elric of Melnibone, our hero begins his time on the throne. With opposition from multiple forces, including other royal figures such as his cousin Prince Yyrkoon, his ways of ruling are truly different from the previous hierarchy. While he retains much of the ingrained brutality that is looked upon as strength to the people of the country, he also has a flair for morality, which is looked upon as a weakness by these same people. The treacherous Prince Yyrkoon attempts an assassination on him during a ship battle against a close by country of men in a time of Elric’s weakness, but due to his being a great sorcerer he appeals to King Straasha of the sea. Yyrkoon attempts to seize control of the throne, but Elric is returned from the deep. The prince flees to far off lands to seek revenge at a later time.

The quest to find Yyrkoon begins, which wouldn’t be so much of a big deal to Elric if not for the fact that Cymoril, his true love, was abducted as well. He chases Yyrkoon across the world, through a gate and to the inner chamber of another realm where the two mythical swords of his people, Stormbringer and Mournblade, have been left in times past. A huge downside to this short book was the rather easy quest to gain Stormbringer…I’d expect a much more ruthless travel to find a weapon of such tremendous power. Also, Elric was forced to align with the Chaos Lord Arioch, who sees Elric as a last bid for power in a world that is forgetting him and his immortal ilk. What lies in store for Elric in the future books of the series remains to be seen, but you can easily assume that in his travels he will affect much and stir many. And just how Arioch is going to manipulate the movements of his mortal hero-pawn will surely unfold as the series moves on.

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“Elric of Melnibone” by Michael Moorcock
Published by Daw Books, Inc.
Copyright © 1972 by Michael Moorcock
ISBN: 0441203981

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