Michael Moorcock’s melancholy creation stars in a four-part graphic novel series from Titan Comics.
Elric of Melnibone leapt from the fertile mind of English writer Michael Moorcock in 1961, and has captured the imagination of fans, writers and artists ever since. The doomed albino has done it again, this time with a new graphic novel series that Moorcock himself calls in his foreword “the best graphic adaptation of the story”.
That is a stunning thing to read. Elric has been painted, drawn, sketched and adapted by a host of A-list creators in the last 50-plus years, including Yoshitaka Amano, Howard Chaykin, Michael Kaluta, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, P. Craig Russell, Walter Simonson and Michael Whelan.
But this new series, which Titan Comics launched in September with The Ruby Throne, lives up to the hype. Written by Julien Blondel and illustrated by Robin Recht, Didier Poli and Jean Bastide, this four-part graphic novel series really brings home Elric’s violent, decadent world.
And what a world it is! Elric isn’t just a prince of crumbling Melnibone, but of science fantasy itself. Elric is a forerunner to a great many fantasy characters, and for good reason: he’s fascinating.
Elric is a melancholy figure, one who knows he’s doomed. As a prince of Melnibone, he watched his people sink into a cesspool of personal vice and corruption – which he was helpless to prevent, being too weak to live without constant support from various drugs, herbs and sorcerous sacrifices.
With Elric challenged by his cousin Yyrkoon, not only for the throne, but for his consort Cymoril (tellingly, Yyrkoon’s sister), events are set into motion that bring Elric into the service of Arioch, Lord of Chaos and a duke of Hell, and unite him with the cursed sword Stormbringer, which provides Elric with the strength he needs at the cost of his conscience – for Stormbringer feeds on the souls of those he cuts down.
Moorcock touches on this and numerous other fascinating topics in his foreword – alone worth the price of admission for Elric fans – which begged for a follow-up interview. Amazingly, this busy titan granted one via e-mail.
So how does Moorcock himself explain Elric’s longevity?
“Although written in a form favoured by what at the time was a very small group of authors,” he said, “including (JRR) Tolkien and (Robert E.) Howard, it was in the position to influence the genre as they did. (Dungeons And Dragons) swiftly incorporated my mythology and use of forces called Law and Chaos, rather than Good and Evil, and other ideas of mine which quickly worked into the common notion of what the genre is.
“I wrote Elric after being immersed for years in Norse, Celtic and other mythologies, rather than reading a supernatural adventure story and deciding to write one like it. Early examples of genre often have a vibrancy later examples lack.”
In the foreword, Moorcock wrote of Elric’s internal conflicts as versions of his own – those of a young lad in post-empire England, dealing with an older generation immersed in nostalgia for the power of the past.
“My dialogue with my nation and her culture is what powers many of my books,” he wrote. “Whether directly or, as here, symbolically.” One aspect of Ruby Throne that is both fascinating and repulsive is the depiction of Melnibone’s loathsome lack of morality.
“This is perhaps the first graphic version of Elric fully to capture the sense of utter decadence I tried to convey in the books,” Moorcock wrote in the foreword.
The decadence of Melnibone is one of cruelty, both casual and meticulous, elaborately inflicted. I had to ask Moorcock: is Melnibone’s cruelty symbolic of empire in general, or the British Empire in particular?
That is to say, is their “different sense of morality”, as he phrased it, a specific symbol, or just useful for the story at hand?
“Elric’s people believe they are superior to humans,” he said. “Their superiority is self-referential and tells itself that humans are less civilised, sensitive and creative than Melniboneans. It’s the attitude that powered slavery and still powers arguments against equality.
“A nation which lies to itself and becomes introspective and isolated as a result of those lies is, to me, a far more decadent society than one which believes in ‘free’ or ‘perverse’ love.
“Elric is specifically about my experience of empires in decline. Some are in decline even when they believe themselves at the height of their power.”
Also in the foreword, Moorcock says author Blondel “has given the story a few extra twists which, with my approval, have improved on my narrative!”
Pressed to elaborate, Moorcock said: “Mostly it has more to do with the placing of narrative information than any radical change. I think he has deepened and darkened the character of Cymoril, Elric’s cousin and his betrothed, to considerable effect, making her far better motivated and quite a bit more of a Melnibonean than Elric. In this she resembles her brother.”
Finally, if Ruby Throne has a fault, it is that is only the first part of a four-part adaptation of Elric Of Melnibone, the 1972 collection of Elric stories that are, essentially, the canon.
So it doesn’t get to one of the terrifying and mesmerising aspects of the Elric mythos, which is his relationship with Stormbringer, the sentient, soul-sucking sword.
A sort of inverted King Arthur, Elric needs his sword to feel healthy and to achieve any sort of victories, but the cost is nearly unbearable: Elric, unlike most Melniboneans, has a vestigial conscience.
I asked Moorcock what the inspiration was for Stormbringer. Excalibur? Demon consorts? A physical manifestation of the seduction and corruption of power?
“All of them,” he said,” plus a man’s relationship with the most obvious symbol of his manhood. Shocked and, indeed, awed by the power, the pleasure and the pain such a thing brings him. Elric owes as much to Freud and Jung as he does to Poul Anderson and Jack Vance.”
Which fans can see for themselves with The Ruby Throne. Volume 2, Stormbringer, is scheduled for a March release. – Tribune News Service