- Series: Elric (Book 1)
- Mass Market Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Ace (July 15, 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0441203981
- ISBN-13: 978-0441203987
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.5 x 7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 99 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Elric of Melnibone 1 Mass Market Paperback – July 15, 1987
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Elric of Melniboné is a requisite title in the hard fantasy canon, a book no fantasy fan should leave unread. Author Michael Moorcock, already a major player in science fiction, cemented his position in the fantasy pantheon with the five-book Elric saga, of which Elric of Melniboné is the first installment. The book's namesake, the brooding albino emperor of the dying nation of Melniboné, is a sort of Superman for Goths, truly an archetype of the genre.
The youthful Elric is a cynical and melancholy king, heir to a nation whose 100,000-year rule of the world ended less than 500 years hence. More interested in brooding contemplation than holding the throne, Elric is a reluctant ruler, but he also realizes that no other worthy successor exists and the survival of his once-powerful, decadent nation depends on him alone. Elric's nefarious, brutish cousin Yrkoon has no patience for his physically weak kinsman, and he plots constantly to seize Elric's throne, usually over his dead body. Elric of Melniboné follows Yrkoon's scheming, reaching its climax in a battle between Elric and Yrkoon with the demonic runeblades Stormbringer and Mournblade. In this battle, Elric gains control of the soul-stealing Stormbringer, an event that proves pivotal to the Elric saga. --Paul Hughes
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Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone also benefits from interesting plot twists and some very creative ideas. Further,Moorcock is technically an elegant writer. His prose borders on the poetic, at times. Elric, however, was a boor in my opinion. He is "cynical and melancholy" and riddled with self-doubt. He hardly ever makes a move without second-guessing himself. Some will argue that this makes him more real that the typical fantasy hero, but this IS fantasy, after all. I don't read fantasy to get "real life" thrown back in my face.
Elric, along with the rest of his people, is cruel. They think nothing of drugging galley slaves so that they give a super-human effort in battle, then drop dead afterward. They use sadistic forms of torture routinely, both to punish and to extract evidence from prisoners. This isn't very heroic,and heroes should understand that torture doesn't elicit evidence, only whatever the torturer wants to hear. A torture victim will say anything, whether it's true or not. A sorceror king shouldn't need to resort to physical torture.
Then there is Elric's evil cousin, Yyrkoon. Elric must repeatedly defend himself against Yyrkoon's treacherous betrayal, yet every time he defeats Yyrkoon, he lets him off the hook. In the end, we are to believe that Yyrkoon has changed his stripes, and Elric goes off seeking adventures leaving Yyrkoon to rule in his stead. Right! Farmer catches fox in coop eating chicken. Farmer puts fox in charge of chicken coop while he goes on vacation. Seems stupid to me.
Finally, there is no humor in this book. At all. Elric ponders. He doubts. He regrets. His kingdom is in decline. All is dark and humorless. Outside of Imrryr, Elric's capitol, all is shabby and dreary. And, ultimately, all are pawns of greater powers that care nothing for humans, anyway.
This is an imaginative, well-written, dreary story that is ultimately not very satisfying. The hero is foolish and unsympathetic. When all is said and done, you find it hard to really care what happens to him. I already have the next two books in the series, so I will read them. Perhaps Elric will become more sympathetic, but I'm not counting on it.
And it was and is. If you want to introduce yourself to Elric, this is a very good way to do it at an affordable price. However, you should understand that Moorcock's style could be execrably bad at the time he was writing these Eternal Champion potboilers. Great ideas, great settings, dialogue that can make you cringe like no other writer being published by a real publisher.
The moody Elric must appeal to moody teens more than a sixty year old, that much is obvious. But from where I stand the bluster about countering Tolkien's sugary stories with dark themes more interesting than the blandness of Lord of the Rings is not realized at all in these stories. Yes Elric is gloomy and sad and moody. Yes the sword is an interesting idea. Perhaps the idea works infinitely better when a reader comes to them fresh and early in life.
There are places in these stories where I dissolved into helpless laughter at just how bad the writing had gotten. My favorite was when Elric and Moonglum were about to be overwhelmed by foes, Moonglum pauses to deliver a long monologue on how bad things are along the lines of "this is so much worse than that time I did such and such and the whoseonfirst laid waste to fifteen square miles in retaliation because they have a racial hatred for all people from my land and that has until now stood in my people's minds as the acme of badness etc etc etc".
Now I am a great fan of early Science Fiction, and have no problem reading for the times so I'm not howling with laughter about the use of vacuum tubes in electronics in the year 2000, and I can forgive lapses in structure. But the dialogue in these stories is unremittingly awful, and that's a problem. Not only that, Elric doesn't seem to grow in reaction to his experiences, something I thought was the point of literary leading characters even in Fantasy stories.
Of course, Moorcock was only about 22 when he wrote them.