Elric of Melniboné is a difficult character to describe, but I find him fascinating. First appearing in print back in 1961, Elric was immediately described as an anti-hero. I don’t disagree, but author Michael Moorcock created a character far more complex than a simple anti-hero. And he built a multi-verse that is both beautiful and terrifying.
If you aren’t familiar with Moorcock, he’s been writing and publishing science fiction since he was a teenager. He has won the Nebula Award several times and has been cited as an influence by a variety of modern writers. He could arguably be one of the coolest science-fiction writers, as well. He’s collaborated with bands Blue Oyster Cult and Hawkwind, penning lyrics for several of their song and even playing with them at concerts.
According to Moorcock, Elric and his saga were inspired by a wide variety of fiction, ranging from The Threepenny Opera, The Once and Future King, and elements from Finnish mythology.
Elric is one of my favorite fictional characters. He’s a bit of an anti-hero in that he tries to do the right thing, even though it’s against his nature. He’s also a doomed hero. He knows right from the start that he won’t achieve his goals, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. He’s an albino, usual for his race, with pale skin, white hair, and red eyes. A frightening specter. But his condition also makes him incredibly weak and he has to take a special concoction of herbs every day in order to survive.
The simple backstory is that he’s the heir to the kingdom of an ancient yet stagnating race, the Melnibonéans, who live on an island in a great sea. They are known for their magic and their cruelty and have held dominion over the younger races of the planet for centuries.
Elric, however, wants to change things, to be benevolent, so he leaves his position as emperor, temporarily allowing his rival and cousin to take the throne while he travels the world to learn more about it.
There’s far more to it, but I don’t want to give away too many spoilers.
Obviously, adventure ensues. Elric travels not only his world but is transported to other realms and time periods as he takes on quests and searches for answers. It’s not your straightforward fantasy story, although there are magic swords and dragons. But then, it’s also not entirely science fiction, despite the fact Elric travels time and to other dimensions.
I think that’s what makes these stories so intriguing, that Moorcock mashed together these different genres, different tropes, and created something new.
However, the problem with reading Elric’s saga is that the stories were written over the course of decades, and not in chronological order. Luckily, Saga Press worked closely with Moorcock to compile and arrange the stories in a way that satisfies the author and offers a clear timeline.
The first book in this new compilation, Elric of Melniboné: The Elric Saga Part 1, brings together four previously published novels: Elric of Melniboné, The Fortress of the Pearl, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, and The Weird of the White Wolf. While each is a self-contained story, they all flow into the next so it feels like one long journey. This collection also includes an introductory short story by Neil Gaiman, which to me is just another reason to pick up a copy.
For fans of weird fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, interesting characters, and unusual plots, I highly recommend this book. I was pleased with how this collection turned out, not only providing me with four great stories, but the Kindle edition was clean and free from typos.
There are two additional volumes after this one, Stormbringer: The Elric Saga Part 2 and The White Wolf: The Elric Saga Part 3. Both are also in my Kindle library, waiting for me to rejoin Elric on his journey.
And if you feel like exploring a bit, check out Moorcock’s work in the rock-music world. He’s a man of many talents.