Monday, July 11, 2011

Elric of Melnibone

Just as it would be true, in many ways, to say that LotR led me to gaming, it would also be true to say that gaming led me to Michael Moorcock's doomed hero, Elric. The albino emperor of the debauched Melniboneans, as well as his black, soul-stealing sword Stormbringer, were often brought up at game tables, but at first, I admit, I was a little leery of the character. For one thing, Elric was often spoken of with the same evil grin and "hail satan!" irreverance as the big, dark metal groups of the time, like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden.

Lets just say that, at age 10, I was more of a Yes and David Bowie kid than a Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden kid. And that, to me, to the ultimate hero was Aragorn son of Arathorn, returning from the Wilderness to save his kingdom from the dark lord with a reforged sword from ancient days, and eventually marry the hottest elven babe around.

Elric was not exactly cut from the same mold.

Yet, slowly, I became more and more intrigued by this guy everyone kept talking about. And his sword, too, the one that not only cut enemies to pieces, it fed upon their souls! And, well, it was mentioned in the DMG's Appendix N, so it can't have been all bad, right? So eventually I borrowed a book from one of my gaming buddies, a slim volume titled "Sailor on the Seas of Fate". It wasn't the first book of the series, but as it turns out, it was an excellent introduction to the character and the world he wandered.

What a journey.

Many of the books in the infamous Appendix N were influential in our gaming, but I'm not sure any set the tone of the game so closely. The dark, edgy quality of the Elric books was like a constant storm brewing on the edges of our campaign worlds, reminding us that tragedy and pathos were just as likely to befall a fantasy setting and its characters as victory or apotheosis. The books added a whole new dimension to our games - it was no longer unthinkable that an entire world could go down in flames, after all. A certain sword in the depths of White Plume Mountain became a sought after relic, leading us to replay the module again and again, at least once a campaign.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to devote a little space on BtBG to the exploration of this character and his world.

And I'm going to listen to some Black Sabbath while I do so.


  1. I just picked up the entire Elric series for $18 at a used book store. It's my first time reading it, but I've heard tons about it. I've finished the first book and am on to the second, the one you mention here. I love the weirdness and all the planar metaphysical ideas. Looking forward to how your musings on this character coincide with my own.

  2. I think Elric was perhaps my first introduction into any type of fantasy literature and still remains a favorite. I grew up more of a new wave/punker kid so I didn't really have any bad ass satanic baggage attached to Elric. I saw him as more of the buck the system chaotic rebel which at the time really appealed to the angsty teenaged punk rocker kid in me. I didn't come into LotR until a bit later (although I did watch the Rankin/Bass Hobbit as a kid).

  3. I never read Moorcock until just recently and became an instant fan of his writing style and his characters.

  4. I can't even say how much of the Elric series, both in terms of magic, attitutde and theme, especially the Eternal Champion, that I've yanked for my own campaigns, linking multiple campaigns and even times across various games when I was younger. The DC comics had been another interesting way to view him, and I was always amused at Elric meeting Conan back in the day.

  5. Moorcock writes well *about* fantasy and sci-fi but I found Elric unreadable after a few pages. i think his writing has no subtlety at all. He tells you what to think.

    I very quickly got fed up with [parody, but close enough to the text]

    Elric completely ignored X with great satisfaction. He was the best at ignoring people in the whole land having practiced much since his teens. Even more impressive was has thin smile, which often accompanied his bouts of ignoring. His thin smile was knowing and arch and left no doubt as to who had the loftiest and most expressive lips in the vicinity.

    I look forward to hearing if Moorcock left behind this stylistic pap at any point in the chronicles.

  6. Using Elric as a reference is a fine way to put the fantastic (in the old world sense) back into your fantasy campaign. There is no such thing as over the top in the Elric chronicles.

    Another good read, not as much fun as Elric but still good fantasy is the tales of Corum Jhaelen Irsei in Moorcocks, the Knight, Queen, and King of Swords books. Another incarnation of the eternal champion, the Corum books almost read like a different author wrote them as compared to the Elric series.

    You might tire of the Eternal Champion trope by the end of the second Corum trilogy, but all in all another good series.

  7. D&DG was my intro and gateway to Moorcock, Lovecraft, and Leiber, so I'm right there with you, Al!


  8. I came to Elric and Corum via the 1E Deities & Demigods and in truth, I just had to find out all about that spooky black sword. Those two characters are very near and dear to my heart and I love the idea of seeing them as different aspects of the Eternal Champion. Moorcock is a very fine Swords and Sorcery author, maybe not on par w/ Lieber or REH.

  9. I'm all for a rehabilitation of the Thin White Emperor. I also came at him from the 1st ed D&DG and have loved him ever since.

  10. I just bought a used copy of the first three books of the Elric series. I've never read them and I really want to learn more about this series that many folks I've gamed with over the years have brought up time and time again.

  11. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on Elric and Moorcock's 'Million Spheres' universe!

    I've been playing in an 'Elric' campaign over the past few months (set in the Young Kingdoms about 100 years before Elric's time). It's a great world for a fantasy RPG campaign.

    In case anyone is curious, here is the 'hub' for all my posts on the campaign (covering characters, the campaign log, etc.):

  12. I believe that Elric's creator, Moorcock, was in the prog-rock band Hawkmoon.

    Thus I suppose Hawkmoon, not Iron Maiden, would be the perfect soundtrack for Elric stories.

  13. I suggest playing some Blue Oyster Cult on that soundtrack as well. "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" and "Black Blade" both refer to the Prince of Melnibone, and I recall reading that they were co-written by Moorcock himself.



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