The last of Elric

As an avid reader I am interested in the classics of any genre of literature, although certain genres are just not really my taste so chances are low that I will cover their classics. One of the non-mainstream classics of fantasy is Michael Moorcock‘s Elric series. I say non-mainstream because I noticed him fairly late and in the beginning I didn’t even know it was a classic of any kind. It was later on that he got referenced by a number of authors I had reading. I only saw him in the second hand bookstores and back then (pre-wikipedia days) I didn’t have any idea where to start. So basically Elric was put on my wait-list. I was hoping that some day they would publish a new and “complete” edition of what seemed to be a collection of short stories, novella’s and novels.

My patience was eventually rewarded as a few years ago a “definite” collection of the Elric stories was published in a series of six volumes. I had to order them online because, as usual, the bookstores here didn’t notice them. One thing for sure is that it is a beautiful collection. It’s not hardcover, but it does contain illustrations and besides the stories maps, covers of old editions and essays and original reviews on the Elric series.

What I had not expected was that the collection did not follow any chronological order. The main story, which is actually the end of the sage and written first by Moorcock, filled the first volume. Afterwards he wrote a number of prequels and short stories covering earlier events that added to Elric’s fame. These were, rather randomly in my opinion, put into the next volumes. So I didn’t get a “greater story”. I will probably have to do so when I want to reread it completely.

This week I received the “final” volume (you never know if Moorcock might decide to write something more, as he’s still around), called Elric: Swords And Roses (2010), containing the story The Revenge Of The Rose and other material. I have it now complete, so that is always a nice thing to have.

As I’ve read the other volumes already I do can say something here about the classic nature of the Elric series. Is it a classic? It certainly is quite different from other fantasy. The Elric series is basically a tragedy, which certainly is no easy sell. Moorcock’s writing is somewhat surrealistic, making the fantastic in fantasy even weirder. There is a lack of logic, usually explained by the machinations of higher powers that normal people won’t be able to understand. Events happen and it is all about the strange settings and oddities that the Elric series entertains. Moorcock’s prose is alright, but nowhere in the series I felt I had to read on. Taking a break was easy. I would assume that classic nature of Elric lies mainly in it’s influence on later fantasy writers. The character of Elric is so unique that they would not dare to copy him. That is also a bit a weakness in the Elric series. Besides Elric the other recurring characters remain rather two dimensional, not leaving the impact that Elric himself does. This is probably caused by the shortness of the stories. The Elric series is a collection of novels containing several stories. This leaves little space to spend time on other characters.

My own conclusion that the Elric series is certainly something to be read if you like to read many fantasy genres and want to explore the famous stories of old. If you are not much into reading fantasy the Elric stories might not be what you like or a dubious introduction to the genre. To phrase it paradoxically: The Elric series is not a fantasy classic, but a classic within the genre.

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