The stories about the albino Elric span the career of Michael Moorcock. He even appears in alternate versions in Moorcock’s Multiverse in which many fragrances of familiar and unfamiliar worlds exist. For an outsider it thus can be hard to distinguish which stories belong to which series and main characters of one story can appear in the stories of others. This is of course clever ploy by Moorcock as it attracts readers who like one series to more quickly try out the others. As I’ve read some other works by Moorcock I can say that it does help a lot if you are capable of embracing the concept of the Multiverse in which anything can be related to other stories. It is not so much a puzzle but more a variation of surrealistic events in which Moorcock explorers different ideas. In the end however there are many similarities. Personally it does not make me want to immerse myself into the Multiverse as the main concepts remain similar and I am not that interested in reading books where there is little change or difference between the concepts that drive the stories.
Moorcock’s Multiverse in itself is a grand and interesting concept which a fantasy reader should explore in some way. Moorcock’s most famous creation is Elric, an anti-hero for which he has written many novels and short stories in the sword and sorcery subgenre. Moorcock’s first novels about Elric were actual the final stories. After they gained popularity he wrote a large number of prequels to those books, exploring the background and world in which Elric lived. As the first novels were fast paced and rather short as in those days (the sixties) fantasy authors usually published serials in magazines, there was little time to spend on other details than the story itself which had to keep the focus of the reader.
Because of all those prequels and short stories a lot of different sets of collections and omnibi were made in the past. As Moorcock kept writing new stories those collections obviously became incomplete. A few years ago a new grand collection was created. Moorcock is getting older and he has said that chances are low that he will write more Elric stories (but one never knows), so I decided to pick up this collection as I was somewhat confused myself with all the available collections. The new collection is called the Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melniboné and consists of six volumes with an average of 400 pages. The volumes contain artwork, interviews, introductions and essays besides all the Elric stories. So basically all you need to know or were unaware of. They are beautiful editions and certainly the best to date.
The volume I will be reviewing is the sixth and final one called Elric : Swords And Roses (2010). The core of the volume consists of the last published complete Elric novel The Revenge Of The Rose (1991) and the most recent short story Black Petals (2007), next to an old Elric-related screenplay that never was to be. As a screenplay is not really a genuine story to be read, or rather, fit to be review-able, I won’t pay attention to it besides mentioning it is not even a pure Elric screenplay but rather related.
What unites The Revenge Of The Rose and Black Petals is the unusual elements of heroic females who join in battle. The Elric-stories are usually male-oriented with the usual maid in distress or female companion who does not really join the battle unless it is sorcery. As both stories are more recent than most other stories they are probably influenced by the change in fantasy of the last two decades in which the role of female characters became more physical (or maybe I should say emancipated). After having read so many more male-oriented stories this is a nice change. Still, the female characters play a more minor role compared to the male characters.
Both stories follow the typical Elric story concept of a quest. Sure quests form a typical parts of fantasy stories but often they are less obvious or are broken in different parts that are not directly connected. This is not the case for the Elric quests. They are fairly straightforward with the typical quest company although in the longer stories the composition can change. It the weakest component of the Elric stories. They follow a rather standard format with little change. The story depends on the strange worlds that are visited and the events that happen during the course of the quest. After having read several stories the quests become somewhat predictable.
As Black Petals is a short story it does not change much as there simply is not much space to do so. The prose is typical of Moorcock. He uses a third person point of view and creates tension and atmosphere by using dramatic phrases. To show the brooding nature of Elric he spends some extra time to express those parts.
What makes The Revenge Of The Rose different is immediately noted. Moorcock’s prose is much more dramatic and lyrical than usual. He clearly has put in more effort in the words he uses. I’m not much of a fan of too lyrical prose. It should be used in moderation so it creates a special effect in certain scenes. If it is used too much it disturbs the reading pleasure as the sentences start feeling a bit too contrived. The lyrical style would probably work better in an audio book, but not in a regular novel. I am not saying it is annoying but it is certainly no improvement.
For a longer Elric novel (still only 250 pages) quite some time in The Revenge Of The Rose is spent on describing the nature of the Multiverse and its main powers. In my opinion it is just some metaphysical generalization which has little importance to the story and doesn’t have real impact to the story. In effect we don’t really learn anything although for a less knowable reader it might seem complex and imaginative while it really isn’t.
The Revenge Of The Rose is still an engaging story which introduces some interesting new characters, but also sometimes drags on a bit or in which things happen with convenient coincidence, which is just part of how it works in the Elric universe. In essence this is a standalone Elric story like all the others.
As those Elric stories are all similar in concept they are fun to read individually but reading them all in a row can become tedious as you will be reading a long series of singular quests. What makes the Elric stories stand out are the surrealistic events, the original character of Elric himself and the lax style in which the characters behave within the Multiverse. There is little narrow-mindedness or fanaticism. There is a continuous struggle between individuals and greater powers to control their destiny. These unique themes are not common within fantasy. Even today, in which Moorcock has influenced many fantasy authors, it is hard to find a story in which most of the cast follows the behavior of characters that Moorcock does. It is these things that make the Elric-saga a kind of classic within the fantasy genre, although the stories themselves do not create that classic notion. Still, any fantasy reader who want to explore the far reaches of the genre should read some Elric novels.