Like many readers, I'd love to have more time to read "older" SFF material. Since all the works of speculative fiction we enjoy today have been heavily influenced by novels/series that came before, it's always interesting to revisit themes and ideas that were explored decades before. When we met, both George R. R. Martin and Tad Williams bemoaned the fact that many of the SFF classics were nowadays criminally unread.
Though I tried, my attempts, other than with Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, were sort of an epic fail. Problem is, there's always something new out there, something you just have to read.
And yet, ever since Del Rey began to compile Michael Moorcock's Elric omnibus series in 2008, I promised myself to give them a shot. I remember trying some Elric of Melniboné Science Fiction Book Club editions in the late 80s or early 90s, but I wasn't quite taken with them at that time. And sure, most fans seem to agree that Erikson's Anomander Rake and Dragnipur are the version 2.0 of Elric and Stormbringer. Still, I wanted to give the first volume a shot, if only to discover how the stories had aged nearly fifty years down the line.
Here's the blurb:
When Michael Moorcock began chronicling the adventures of the albino sorcerer Elric, last king of decadent Melniboné, and his sentient vampiric sword, Stormbringer, he set out to create a new kind of fantasy adventure, one that broke with tradition and reflected a more up-to-date sophistication of theme and style. The result was a bold and unique hero–weak in body, subtle in mind, dependent on drugs for the vitality to sustain himself–with great crimes behind him and a greater destiny ahead: a rock-and-roll antihero who would channel all the violent excesses of the sixties into one enduring archetype.
Now, with a major film in development, here is the first volume of a dazzling collection of stories containing the seminal appearances of Elric and lavishly illustrated by award-winning artist John Picacio–plus essays, letters, maps, and other material. Adventures include “The Dreaming City,” “While the Gods Laugh,” “Kings in Darkness,” “Dead God’s Homecoming,” “Black Sword’s Brothers,” and “Sad Giant’s Shield.”
An indispensable addition to any fantasy collection, Elric: The Stealer of Souls is an unmatched introduction to a brilliant writer and his most famous–or infamous–creation.
This first volume in the Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné, Elric: The Stealer of Souls, is comprised of the short fiction that introduced the sorcerer Elric and his vampiric sword in June 1961 in Science Fantasy magazine. The rest, as they say, is history. Indeed, Elric of Melniboné would become one of the most popular fantasy protagonists of the 60s and 70s.
All the novellas fall into the category of the sword and sorcery subgenre. Moorcock's prose is evocative and the various settings come to life in a manner seldom seen in works of short fiction. True, subsequent novellas add depth to those that came before. And in the end, the many threads create a vast and impressive tapestry of storylines. Unfortunately, the format precludes the sort of depth the author likely envisioned, yet the results are remarkable.
The characterization can be uneven, however. Though Elric is well-defined, the supporting cast is often far from being three-dimensional. The same goes for the dialogue. Given that these stories are nearly five decades old, I was surprised by how well the novellas have aged over the years. Perhaps because the sword and sorcery subgenre has remained a bit more static compared to epic fantasy. . . But at no time does Elric: The Stealer of Souls feels like something which was written in the sixties.
The novellas comprising the Stormbringer storyline, "Dead God's Homecoming," "Black Sword's Brothers," "Sad Giant's Shield," and "Doomed Lord's Passing," raise the bar to another level. These stories reveal that Elric's earlier adventures are all part of a pattern that will put the albino sorcerer in the middle of the conflict between Order and Chaos.
The novella format means that the pace is never slow. Hence, you'll go through the various Elric tales quite rapidly.
Numerous threads on various message boards request suggestions for sword and sorcery books or series. If you are looking for such works, then Michael Moorcock's Elric: The Stealer of Souls is definitely for you. Even better, Del Rey released six volumes in the Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné series.
If you want to discover the stories that gave birth to one of the most popular protagonists in the history of the genre, this book should do the trick.