On Rereading Elric

Over the holiday weekend, I reread some of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné stories.

The proximate cause was my recent consumption of The Coming of the Terraphiles, a forthcoming Doctor Who novel by Moorcock. I was given an advance reading copy at work before the holiday; I alternated between reading that and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. With both off the plate, I decided to revisit some of Moorcock’s older work; there were elements of Moorcock’s past work in Terraphiles, and while I didn’t pick up on everything, I picked up on a lot.

Hence, Elric. And this nonsensical tweet.

I’ve been picking up Del Rey’s recent reprint series and dutifully filing them away on the bookshelves. Okay, okay, I started on the first volume when it came out, reread “The Dreaming City” for the first time in a very long time, and put it away. I’d read the introductions, I’d read the essays, I’d look at the artwork, but for the stories themselves? I’d read most of them back in my college days, and for whatever reason I wasn’t feeling the actual need to reread them.

Like many people my age who read Moorcock, my introduction came in the form of the Ace paperbacks with the striking white covers. I remember the six books as being slim, with very small (though not microscopic) type. I remember the tactile qualities of those Ace paperbacks and the crispness of the paper but, more than that, it’s the smell of those old Ace paperbacks that sticks with me. They were distinctive; an Ace paperback of the late-80s was constructed differently than, say, a Signet paperback or a Pocket paperback or a Bantam paperback. They felt different, qualitatively different.

These are the things I notice, that stick with me. The construction of the book itself.

The first volume in Del Rey’s series (which is in rough publishing order), The Stealer of Souls, collects most of the stories found in the Ace paperbacks The Weird of the White Wolf and The Bane of the Black Sword, plus the entirety of Stormbringer. (The stories that are missing from the Del Rey collection that are in the three Ace books are in the second Del Rey volume, To Rescue Tanelorn.)

I’m avoiding talking about the book. Can’t you tell? 😉

The stories weren’t bad. Okay, I didn’t care for “Kings in Darkness” or “The Flame-Bringers” at all. But they were a bit of a chore. The writing was a little rougher. The plots were pretty linear. And while I remembered a some of Stormbringer, I remembered it being a bit more, well, epic. And yes, I realize that great armies of Chaos ravaging the countryside, and the Lords of Law battling the Agents of Chaos while the Earth is reduced to molten lava is pretty fucking big. It all just felt so… arbitrary. I could feel the plot turning beneath the prose. I’m not even sure that some of the plot worked; there’s a strange timey-wimey bit with France’s legendary hero Roland that doesn’t even make sense on any level. Approaching the book for the first time in at least fifteen years with older eyes, I wanted the story to surprise me. It never did.

John Picacio’s artwork was seriously fab, though.

Neil Gaiman wrote many years ago in his introduction to White Wolf’s reprinting of The Swords of Lankhmar (as part of the Return to Lankhmar hardcover omnibus) that it’s often unwise to revisit a cherished story of youth in later years, and I read last Elric when I was half my present age. Maybe I shouldn’t have revisited Elric after all these years.

Yet. Yet. Stet. Yeti.

I think once I finish my current book — Una McCormack’s The King’s Dragon — I’m feeling the itch to start on the next Del Rey volume, To Rescue Tanelorn.

So, maybe this weekend, then, I’ll take up the book and venture forth into Earth’s mystical and mythic past once more.

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