Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Elric - the Decadent Empire

One of the most compelling parts of the Elric stories, to me, was the world Moorcock created for his tragic albino anti-hero. Elric is the 428th (and last) emperor of Melnibone, an empire which once dominated the entire known world. Conquest and rule was the natural order of things for the alien Melniboneans; the pacts they had made with the lords of Chaos, as well as their command of dragons and sorcery, made them far more powerful than the mud-grubbing "normal" humans of the world.

But their 10,000-year rule eventually led to complacency and indolence. The dragons tired, retreating to their caves for ever-longer periods of hibernation. The Melniboneans were content to indulge in the pleasures the wealth of their empire provided. Slaves, drugs, and horrific arts became their world, and their capitol of Immryr became known as the Dreaming City.

When the mud-grubbing humans of the outside world began to form empires of their own - slowly chipping away at the edges of Melnibone - it was too late for the debauched dragon lords to do anything about it; their race had sunk too far into decline. The so-called Young Kingdoms were rising, and Melnibone was becoming a relic of the past.

Of all his people, only Elric was able to truly see this. While his mad cousin Yrkoon would envision Melnibone somehow rising from its torpor to subdue the world once more, Elric would instead see the futility of this, and act to hasten the Dreaming City's demise.

To the north of Melnibone lay an isle which was unique among the Young Kingdoms for, rather than reviling it, seeking to emulate the decadent empire: Pan Tang. From their city of screaming statues, Hwamgaarl, the dark sorcerers of Pan Tang had a dream of their own: to replace Melnibone as the heart of a world dominating empire, a dream they would take extraordinary and tragic steps to attempt. The island would also produce one of Elric's chief nemeses: the sorcerer Theleb K'aarna.


  1. 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.

  2. My only dislike about the Elric series is that at the end, all of existence was destroyed. There was no final triumph of man, or even anything good happening.

  3. I really liked the cyclic nature of the Eternal Champion stories. When Elric sounds the Horn of Destiny, the old world dies and the new world begins. I'm a fan of Germanic and Norse mythology so this really holds to their cyclic world view. I felt it really had the whole "Twilight of the Gods" thing going for it.

  4. @Dan - I'm going to discuss this in another post, but I initially felt the same (though I thought it was a cool surprise). I've since formulated some difference opinions - there are some interesting implications, I think.

    @Kent - did you just cut and paste that from the last blog post? rofl.

  5. I've always been a fan of Elric. It's definitely not escapist fantasy fiction. It's dreadful, dark, and deals with difficult personal choices. For fantasy, it's a pretty deep series. And Kent, I enjoy Moorcock's direct writing style, although I understand it is not for everyone.

  6. I liked Elric, Hawkmoon was Interesting, Erekosë was who felt the most natural trying to determine his true nature after being John Daker in our life. My favorite, though, Corum Jhaelen Irsei was most definitely my most favorite of the incarnations of the Eternal Champion.

  7. Moorcock is pretty much the same book no matter which one you pick up. Its pretty repetitive, but I find I pick one up every once in a while and blarne through it.
    @Kent, I would agree that Ouroboros is my preferred cosmic epic.

  8. "My only dislike about the Elric series is that at the end, all of existence was destroyed. There was no final triumph of man, or even anything good happening."

    Well, the universe is remade (apparently our own), in which 'Law' is stronger than it was in the Young Kingdoms. So arguably some 'good' does happen!

  9. As Akrasia said, existence isn't destroyed; the world is essentially set to Restart at the end of the Saga, which is a bit different.

    @Durn - I would never tell someone what they can like or dislike, but that assessment of his books comes across as pretty damn ignorant. Also, kind of blog-crapping, since Al obviously likes them.

    Re the topic: one thing I always felt was a complete failure of imagination were the Pan Tangians. They come across as nothing, really, to me; a third wheel in the Prehuman vs. Human conflict. They're human, but they like Chaos; they also live on an island; I don't know. Not interesting in their own right.

    That said, I think the decline and fall of Theleb Kaarna actually gets more interesting as I get older.



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