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Fox Put In Charge Of Chicken Coop
on March 4, 2001
Let me start by saying that this is only my first Elric book. My opinion may change if, and when, I read more. That stated, I must say that I found this to be a very curious "classic". For me, fantasy starts with Tolkien. Tolkien's stories have vast scope, likeable characters (hateable ones, too),and interesting plots. They also have a light, humorous touch. An element of playfulness. Thus, we get Bilbo hosting an unexpected gathering of dwarves and we get the incident involving the trolls Tom, Bert and William.
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.