The Elric Saga Part I by Michael Moorcock is the first three Elric centered books that include Elric of Melnibone, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, and The Weird of the White Wolf. Extremely influential during its time, Elric is one of the pillars of fantasy that a lot of contemporary writers speak about, and the first real antihero in fantasy that bucked traditional fantasy tropes.
2/5(Fine) Rescored from a 3. It was very mediocre. 15/25 possible score
Type of Story: Darker anti-hero fantasy that reads like individual novellas
Plot – 3(Fine)
Characters – 3(Fine)
Setting/World Building – 3(Fine)
Writing Style – 3(Fine)
Heart & Mind Aspect – 3(Fine)
Elric of Melnibone is the emperor of a race of people that are feared throughout the world. They use dragons, they summon demons for aid, and have strong sorcery. Elric, is different than his kin though, he has more of a curiosity for the outside world, and fights his own conscious. Melnibone is on a downward decline and his cousin Yyrkoon wishes to usurp Elric, and bring back the brutality that Melniboneans are known for. Because of Elric’s failing health and the reliance he has on using drugs to give him strength, Yyrkoon is able to successfully take the throne from Elric, and also drive Elric away from his love Cymoril. Elric is now on a mission of revenge against his cousin but requires the assistance of a dark sword, Stormbringer, that has its own willpower and thirst for the souls of which it kills, to sustain Elric’s strength.
The later stories of Elric are all about his travels. He believes that the world can teach him something of how to restore Melnibone as a powerful leader in the world. Elric soon finds that his inherent personality from his evil race is something that even he has a hard time overcoming. His stories are ones of redemption, revenge, his weaknesses, guilt, and his inability to conquer the darkness in his own heart.
Why you should read this book:
Michael Moorcock is one of the most influential fantasy writers with his Elric character. Elric is one of the first antihero fantasy characters that was created to go against the fantasy tropes created by Tolkien. Elric is an incredibly flawed character because of his race and he is constantly fighting a battle within himself. This causes Elric to be a character that might seem to be contradictory in his actions. At one moment he wants to do what is right and really help people, while the next he is blood thirsty with rage. This creates an interesting dichotomy in his character which is sometimes difficult for the reader to understand because at times it seems that Moorcock is almost being indecisive with the character. Once the reader understands that it is the character that causes a lot of the randomness during the story, and not the author, it becomes something completely different. It almost becomes a study on the duality of man, the good and evil, that lies within all men’s hearts.
For an older book, some of it written as early as 1961, and other parts written in the 70’s, it is pretty similar to recent author’s work. The two book series that I feel are inspired by Elric the most and similar are R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt series and Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire trilogy. Both authors write an antihero type of character that is similar to Elric and has serious flaws in character. Even though Drizzt is more of a pure hero, his background as a Dark Elf is very similar to Elric’s background as a Melnibonean. Jorg, from The Broken Empire trilogy, only knows of a certain way to live, and that is very reminiscent to Elric. Moorcock’s style of writing is ahead of its time. It is crisp and easy to read without being dumbed down to appeal to a fantasy audience in the 70’s that might not be associated with this type of writing style. Moorcock could easily have written this same series today, in the same style, the same way he did 40 years ago, and it would appeal to many readers.
The last reason you should read The Elric Saga is the action is fantastic. I wouldn’t say this is a violent book but Moorcock does not hold back on his descriptions. Within the first few pages of Elric of Melnibone, a spy is tortured for information, and body parts are cut off. Stormbringer, which is a character all on its own and one of the most amazing swords in fantasy literature, has no problems taking off people’s heads, or almost cutting people in two. At no point is there a description of the action in The Elric Saga that isn’t a descriptive fight. I personally love descriptive fights in my fantasy books because I want to know how the characters won. Elric’s use of conjuring demons, gods, beasts, elementals, and more to help him fight is a blast to read. Even though it might seem like his power to call on assistance from gods is over-powered, their help always comes with strings attached. Elric’s interactions with the gods, demons, elementals, ect., are always interesting because it opens the reader up to more information about how this world works.
Why you might not like this book:
As influential as Michael Moorcock’s The Elric Saga is, its main negativity is the time in which it was published. The saga is three different books included in the first part. Each of these books has 3 different parts within themselves. This part 1 saga was created in 1977 as the start to the saga’s official internal chronology. Before that, these stories within the stories, were written at different times, and in a different order. A lot of the stories were novellas in magazine issues or anthologies. Because this was put together as a collection of shorter works, even though chronologically it matched up with each other, the flow of this Saga is just all over the place.
Some stories are great onto themselves, while others are extremely confusing, and only make sense years later after Moorcock released more stories. Elric of Melnibone, the first book is relatively straight forward, but even that book’s tone changes from each other individual book within it. The Sailor on the Seas of Fate are individual stories that are connected around being on a ship. The first one, The Sailing to the Future, includes a list of characters from Moorcock’s The Eternal Champion Sequence, that embark on an adventure that makes little to no sense in relation to Elric’s saga itself, but makes sense when viewed from the viewpoint of Moorcock’s work as a whole. The Weird and the White Wolf has a great opening book, The Dreaming City, about Elric’s final fight with Yyrkoon, but the other stories aren’t on the same level.
Overall, I was disappointed in the way this book flowed. Even though the content wasn’t necessarily bad, it felt like I was reading many individual short stories. Some captured my interest while others didn’t.
I feel that Michael Moorcock’s body of work is best looked at together, as many parts of a whole. Only reading the first part of The Elric Saga, I believe that is is well enough written, and interesting enough for me to continue reading his work. I want to get a better overall view of these worlds that he has created.
If you want to read something that has influenced a lot of contemporary writers that write antiheroes, I recommend Michael Moorcock’s Elric series. Elric is a great character, the writing style is solid, and the plots are entertaining but it is very novella like in reading. If I am to read more of Moorcock’s work, I will treat it more like short stories, instead of a straight through novel. Now that I know what to expect, I do plan on continuing with the Elric series, and then checking out more of the characters involved in The Eternal Champion Sequence because Moorcock has my confidence. Also, the cover art for the Elric books was created by a then young artist named Michael Whelan, who is one of the best known fantasy artists in the world today.