Jul 16, 2021

My Experiences in the Third World War and Other Stories (1969-89)

Mayflower/Granada 1981, Art: Melvyn Grant
In addition to his expanding book sequences (Jerry Cornelius, Corum, Hawkmoon, Oswald Bastable, Dancers At the End of Time), in the 1970s Moorcock also wrote several notable short stories. These magazine and anthology pieces range over a wide variety of genres, and include an existential sf short ("Last Vigil"), a drug-fueled requiem on 60s rock ("A Dead Singer"), a sword and sorcery self-parody ("The Stone Thing"), an ironic Twilight Zone-ish moral fable ("Environment Problem") and a connected series of politically-ambiguous, sexually-charged alternate history vignettes (collectively referred to as My Experiences in the Third World War). All of these also eventually appeared in various Moorcock anthologies from the late 70s and early 80s.
 
Speculation 23, Art: Pamela Yates (Online Archive)
The earliest of the shorts discussed here is a Jerry Cornelius episode titled "The Dodgem Arrangement", published in the July 1969 issue of the fanzine Speculation (#23). This story was written after The Final Programme but before the completion of A Cure For Cancer. Like the Cornelius stories of that period (such as those found in The Nature of the Catastrophe and The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius), "The Dodgem Arrangement" experiments with narrative structure, while at the same time wryly comments on the state of fractured modern society. Although part of its message is a critique on the "state of the Empire", the raw appeal of this story comes from Jerry's irrepressible, anarchistic nature.

To be fair, I do also think of Jerry as a personality. He’s perhaps not wholly reliable or consistent and maybe not entirely politically correct. For me, he’s a character combining the endearing and enduring traits of a number of my contemporaries as well as being a latter day Pierrot, Colombine, and Harlequin, responding to the world around him with, if not always appropriate sentimentality, at least an admirable resourcefulness and malleability, and almost limitless good humor. Jerry’s a pretty light-hearted existentialist. He once claimed to be too shallow to hold on to his miseries for very long. I think he also said somewhere (or I might have said it for him) that it isn’t especially important if all we’re doing is dancing forever on the edge of the abyss. It’s scarcely worth worrying about. The really important thing, of course, is the dance itself and how we dance it.

MM - 2003, The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius ("Introduction")

In any case, the "plot" mainly consists of Jerry pontificating on modern culture whilst causing havoc in whatever neighborhood he finds himself in. In Speculation #23, David Pringle ("shortly to begin a University English  course") writes an apt introduction which is also well worth looking at. This story also later appeared as either "The Dodgem Division" or "The Dodgem Decision" (note that "dodgems" are apparently the same as "bumper cars").

Art: Eddie Jones
"Last Vigil" appeared in the magazine Vision of Tomorrow (No. 11, August 1970). This story depicts the ruminations of a far-future "last man" (or close to last) on a small planetoid, as he calmly faces the imminent, hours-away collapse of the universe into another Big Bang star-core. However, before the "end of time" arrives, he ventures out into the wilderness on an impulsive excursion. There he comes across the last surviving native of the planetoid, whose race had long ago been driven extinct by mankind's arrival. This story fits well with other Moorcock sf works like The Black Corridor and The Time Dweller. Note that, although sometimes published as "Waiting For the End of Time", this story is not part of the Dancers At the End of Time sequence.

Abelard-Schuman 1973
"Environment Problem" appeared in Richard Davis' 1973 anthology Space 1. This is a modern "Faust tale" in which the wily, self-assured main character believes that he has found a way to "happily" enjoy an afterlife spent in Hellfire. The very ending features a twist (of course). 

Michael Joseph 1974, Art: John Riley
"A Dead Singer" appeared in the 1974 anthology Factions, edited by Giles Gordon and Alex Hamilton. This is a free-wheeling "road-trip" tale featuring Shakey Mo Collier (Jerry's bandmate/roadie from the Cornelius sequence) driving a resurrected Jimi Hendrix around modern England. Together they investigate what has happened to rock and roll, and if there is any hope for its future.
Art: James Cawthorn (as "J. Allen Frazenkel")
"The Stone Thing" (1974) is a no-holds-barred parody of heroic fantasy, in particular Moorcock's own brand of idiosyncratic myth-making as illustrated in the Corum and Elric books. This short (but hilarious) post-modern fantasy portrait appeared in the fanzine Triode 20 (October 1974), and then in Fantasy Tales (Summer 1977). Many readers will probably have first read it in the 1985 DAW Books anthology Elric At the End of Time.  


Elric At the End of Time, DAW Books 1985, Art: Michael Whelan /
Fantasy Tales, Summer 1977, Art: Jim Pitts
 
My Experiences in the Third World War
Savoy Books 1980, Art: Michael Heslop
  • "Going to Canada"
  • "Leaving Pasadena"
  • "Crossing into Cambodia"
  • "The Dodgem Division"
  • "The Adventures of Jerry Cornelius: The English Assassin" (comic)
  • "Peace on Earth"
  • "The Lovebeast"
  • "The Real Life Mr Newman (Adventures of the Dead Astronaut")
In 1978 and 1979 Moorcock wrote three short stories which eventually appeared as a linked sequence in My Experiences in the Third World War (1980): "Going to Canada", "Leaving Pasadena" and "Crossing into Cambodia". A fourth episode in the series, "Casablanca", appeared in 1989 in the anthology Casablanca. These alternate history "travelogues" are narrated by an undercover Russian spy named Volker as he navigates through several politically-sensitive periods of the late 20th century (with each one taking place in a different country/continent). The over-arching premise begins during a "cold war", but by the last episode a nuclear conflict has been well under way. Usually presented in collections in narrative chronological order ("Casablanca", "...Canada", "...Pasadena", "...Cambodia"), these shorts were actually written "out of sequence", with "Crossing into Cambodia" appearing first, and "Casablanca" appearing 10 years later. Thus, if read in publication sequence, the story goes backwards in time. 
 
However, this allows the stories to chronologically reflect on contemporary conflicts ending/arising at the time they were written, thus following "real" history. For example, "Crossing into Cambodia" (1979) takes place farthest in the future, but its premise more closely evokes brutal imagery from the Vietnam War (which had ended four years prior to the story's publication). "Going To Canada" and "Leaving Pasadena" (both 1980) contain commentary on the Cold War and its origins. "Casablanca" (1989) takes place earliest, its framing premise depicts a Muslim power struggle in North Africa. Actually it may be interesting to read the sequence first one way and then the other...

Additionally, Moorcock approaches his theme - a third global war - in an unexpected way, or at least one which a reader might not expect when imagining WW III. In popular media, WW III is usually depicted as an apocalyptic "flash-point" conflict essentially lasting a matter of hours and visually portrayed as swarms of atomic mushroom clouds blossoming all over the globe (immediately followed by a "nuclear winter"). However, Moorcock's modern version of a "future war" story depicts the next global conflict as a series of slow, inefficient tactical moves (both hidden and overt) taken by regime-change agents who are seemingly more concerned with their "wild-at-heart" mistresses than some kind of dogmatic national/religious agenda. However, it's worth noting that these stories are also the products of an "unreliable narrator", so part of the charm here is in parsing through Volker's subjective self-awareness of reality. The narrator "is revealed not so much by what he says as by what he selects to say to the reader."

Denoël 1979, Art: Stéphane Dumont / New English Library 1979, Art: Tim White
Publication-wise, "Crossing into Cambodia" first appeared in Maxim Jakubowski's anthology, Twenty Houses of the Zodiac (1979). "Going To Canada" and "Leaving Pasadena" first appeared together in the Savoy Books' 1980 Moorcock collection My Experiences in the Third World War. "Casablanca" appeared nine years later in Moorcock's 50th birthday anthology, Casablanca (1989), but was soon reprinted with the three earlier stories in the 1990s Earl Aubec omnibus anthologies. Since "Casablanca", a few additional stories in the Third World War sequence have appeared, with the most recent ("Kabul") being published in France in 2018 (Kaboul Et Autres Souvenirs De La Troisième Guerre Mondiale).

Postscript 1: Some of the stories described here first appeared in book form in the Moorcock anthologies Moorcock's Book of Martyrs (1976) and Dying For Tomorrow (1978).

Moorcock's Book Of Martyrs (Quartet Books 1976, Art: Chris Achilleos)/ 
Dying For Tomorrow (DAW 1978, Art: Michael Whelan)

  • "A Dead Singer"
  • "The Greater Conqueror"
  • "Behold the Man" (novella version)
  • "Good-bye Miranda"
  • "Flux"
  • "Islands"
  • "Last Vigil" ("Waiting for the End of Time")  
Postscript 2: My Experiences in the Third World War also includes pages from "The Adventures of Jerry Cornelius: The English Assassin", a series of comic one-sheets co-written with M. John Harrison and featuring artwork by Mal Dean and Richard Glyn Jones. These were originally published in IT (International Times) from June 1969 to January 1970 (#57-71). Scanned pages can be seen online at the IT archive. 

Jun 21, 2021

The Swords of Heaven, the Flowers of Hell (1979)

Enter Howard Chaykin...

Although Gloriana was intended to be Michael Moorcock's "final" fantasy novel (freeing him to concentrate on more sophisticated "non-genre" writing), heroic fantasy soon resurfaced the following year in a collaborative project with artist Howard Chaykin, a much-admired comics artist who in 1975 had published a small portfolio of Elric illustrations, and then later submitted rough cover sketches (ultimately unused) for Moorcock's Gloriana.

(Howard Chaykin, 1975 Elric portfolio cover)

"I am a great admirer of the so-called Golden Age illustrators — Howard Pyle, Charles Robinson, W. Heath Robinson, Willy Pogany, and several others — and I thought that Chaykin, in a very different way, was developing this tradition rather than merely imitating it...and I was delighted by his ability to pack an enormous amount of action into a single frame."

MM - from the 1979 Introduction

A Graphic Science Fantasy

The resulting "graphic novel", The Swords of Heaven, the Flowers of Hell, was one of the first such publications of its kind, along with Will Eisner's A Contract with God, Gray Morrow's The Illustrated Roger Zelazny and Walter Simonson's adaptation of the film Alien. Unlike most comic books, these "adult" publications were not afraid to try out some more experimental forms of graphic storytelling (such as the use of visual collage in order to evoke a sense of cinematic montage). Like the Simonson Alien, Moorcock and Chaykin's "illustrated narrative" appeared under the recommended-for-mature-readers Heavy Metal imprint and was printed on high-grade paper rather than comic book newsprint. However, more importantly to Moorcock's heroic fantasy fans, this work featured the return of none other than the original Eternal Champion himself, Erekosë. 

The "Tale of the Eternal Champion" had seemingly been concluded in a somewhat metaphysical Götterdämmerung sequence in the 1975 novel The Quest For Tanelorn, but, as Moorcock had done with Elric, this did not prevent prequels and "interstitial" stories from being written. In 1979, the opportunity to work with Chaykin inspired Moorcock to produce a detailed outline for a new Erekosë episode (which essentially take place some time shortly before the events of The Quest For Tanelorn). This was a welcome choice of Champion, as Erekosë had at this time the least number of published outings compared to his brethren Champions Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon (and still does, despite being the first of them to be created). Additionally, one of the unique aspects of Erekosë is that, unlike Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon, Erekosë's fate is to inhabit new bodies in new environments for each of his exploits. In this way, Erekosë is a true "multiversal" hero with possibilities (and knowledge) not normally available to the other Champions. In this particular entry, Erekosë is whisked away from his identity as Urlik Skarsol (in The Silver Warriors) in order to become a "Knight of the Dream Marches".

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here!"

The Swords of Heaven, The Flowers of Hell takes place in a world divided into three regions: "Hell", "the Dream Marches" and "Heaven" (despite the theological connotation attached to these terms, they are not meant to be literal portraits such as found in Dante or Milton). Hell is a wasteland dotted with the ruined remnants of various dwellings and populated by relatively uncivilized "barbarians" and marauders. Hell is in such a decrepit state because during the night, flying creatures known as "Angels" excrete acid rain over the region, destroying and eroding away everything on the surface. 

Heaven, in contrast, is a technologically-advanced refuge populated by amoral scholars and scientists who enjoy conducting biological experiments on their hapless victims. They have also found a way to communicate with the Angels and so their lands are not affected by the Angels' acid rain. Acting as a territorial bulwark protecting Heaven from Hell are the Dream Marches. This forested area is patrolled by the Knights of the Dream Marches, who use their strange powers to create illusions to frighten off the people of Hell (hence the "Dream" marches). 

However, now the hordes of Hell have decided to band together and attack the Dream Marches en masse. A Knight of the Dream Marches named Clen of Clen Gar (visually based off of actor Burt Lancaster) tries to seek help from the rulers of Heaven, but the dissolute scholars and aristocrats of that region prefer to let the Dream Marches take the brunt of the invasion. Eventually, Clen comes into some secret knowledge about the nature of the Angels, and makes a deal with them to save his people. On the way there are exotic damsels in distress who are more (or less) than they appear to be, as well as some monstrous mutant creatures whom Clen Gar is forced to do battle with.

The Parallel Narrative

On an allegorical level, Swords of Heaven illustrates that appearances can be deceiving in any political arrangement: allies may actually be enemies, and enemies might become valued allies. The Knights of the Dream Marches exist to protect the aristocrats of Heaven from the barbarians of Hell, but these same aristocrats readily turn on their benefactors at the drop of a hat (or whistle). Meanwhile, the acid-spewing Angels turn out to be merely victims of circumstance and misunderstanding. For the most part however, this is just an enjoyable, adult romp where Moorcock gets to collaborate with another fellow creator, with both performing at the top of their games.  

In this one collage sequence, Chaykin graphically connects the world of Urlik Skarsol to that of Clen, Knight of the Dream Marches, and along the way manages to reference several incarnations of the Eternal Champion.
The Michael Moorcock Library Edition

Wikiverse Entry

Next: My Experiences In The Third World War

Previously: Gloriana


Synopsis (spoilers, obviously)

Jun 10, 2021

Gloriana; or The Unfulfill'd Queen (1978)

Avon 1978, Art: Elizabeth Malczynski
Aspects of Fantasy

Near the conclusion of the 1977 Jerry Cornelius novel The Condition of Muzak (in the chapter "The Mirror; or, Harlequin Everywhere"), the tone briefly departs from the increasingly post-modern techno-urban atmosphere typifying most Cornelius stories and diverts into a more fable-like writing style with a somewhat "vintage" Dickensian tone. In a way, this was a hint of what was to come the following year in Moorcock's next novel, Gloriana; or, The Unfulfill’d Queen

Published in 1978, Gloriana was dedicated to Moorcock's friend, the groundbreaking fantasy literature writer Mervyn Peake (author of the "Gormenghast" trilogy 1946-1959), and subsequently won the World Fantasy Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Although Moorcock is probably most well-known for his heroic fantasy (Elric, etc.) and his sociopolitical techno-satires (featuring Jerry Cornelius), Gloriana is essentially historical fiction written as if it came from the mind of a writer living in the post-Elizabethan age of the late 17th century. However, Moorcock himself avoids the terms "Elizabethan Fantasia" and historical fiction, probably because the language is obviously not Elizabethan and because the premise does not try to portray itself as being a part of real historical events. Instead, Gloriana straddles the worlds of both fantasy and literary fiction.

Fontana Collins 1978, Art: Gustave Moreau (detail)
Nonetheless, the novel generally never puts itself forth as anything but a "realistic" novel. In other words, presented from the supposed viewpoint of a scribe in the late 1600s, many things which would now be considered "fantastic" are accepted as possible fact. The only other major Moorcock work in this style (up to this time) would probably be his early novel The Golden Barge, whose main character Jephraim Tallow (or possibly an incarnation of him) also returns in Gloriana (in fact, Moorcock has characterized the then-unpublished The Golden Barge as a direct precursor to Gloriana). 

L'Atalante (French) 1990, Art: Monsù Desiderio

Aside from citing thematic and stylistic connections to Peake and The Golden Barge, Moorcock has also described the novel as a "bow to Jacobean melodrama", with language hewing closer to a late Carolingian flavor than an Elizabethan one. Jacobean drama was a form of theater developed after Shakespeare's time (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth's successor, King James), and is generally considered to be a flimsier, less refined form of drama compared to the heights attained in the Elizabethan age by the "Immortal Bard". Jacobean drama was also written with royal patrons in mind (as opposed to the "common people"), and in Gloriana the drama mostly revolves around the competitive intrigues of the Royal Court. However, despite similarities to historical England in the Elizabethan age, the fictional Albion is actually a kind of retro-future Utopian vision:

"Albion, with her Platonic temples and barmy alchemists like John Dee, is not an “alternate England” in any generic sense but a fabulous construct, a version of what the best of a nation might look like if written from a seventeenth-century perspective. I was not trying to imitate the language and thought of the Elizabethan age but was drawing on the attitudes and styles of late-Carolingian England. In this, the likes of Defoe and Marvell were great influences. My parodies of Spenser (especially the Mutability Cantos) and court poetry of the sixteenth century were done from that perspective, when practical, commercial interests had come to dominate the thinking of incipient imperialists."
MM: "Haunted Palaces and Poisoned Chalices" 2004 Warner Aspect (Hachette) Edition Afterword
ACT (Russian) 2016, Art: Darya Kuznetsova
Although Gloriana may employ a pastiche form of Spenserian, pre-1600s court poetry (in Wheldrake's Court Masque verses) and a late 1600s satirical tone in line with that of Daniel Dafoe and Andrew Marvell's (in the narrative portions), nonetheless many of the characters are analogues to historical figures from the earlier 16th century court of Queen Elizabeth I - but also some with critical differences. For example, where the "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth I was cold, inviolate and pragmatic (and nurtured an ultimately lethal rivalry with Mary, Queen of Scots), here Gloriana is achingly sexual, and reveals a decidedly romantic imagination (and is best friends with the impulsive northern envoy Countess Una of Scaith). Other characters are also apparently creations partially-inspired by real historical characters, but usually imbued with personality traits inspired from Moorcock's own circle of friends and enemies (for more on this aspect, Mark Scroggins' book Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy and the World’s Pain (2015) goes into much more detail).

Allison & Busby 1978, Art: Jill Riches

The Hollow Lands

In the world of Gloriana, Albion is the dominant global power in Europe and the Americas. After having replaced her despotic, insane father King Hern on the throne 13 years ago, Queen Gloriana and her "Privy Court" maintain policies which have brought forth a "Golden Age" of peace and prosperity, radiating from their island empire (Great Britain, essentially). One of Gloriana's most important advisors is the Lord Chancellor Montfallcon, a survivor from the "bad old days" of King Hern's rule, who frequently uses decidedly shady elements abroad in order to accomplish some of his Realpolitik diplomatic aims (all without the Queen's knowledge, of course). Balancing out Montfallcon's zeal for practicality and political influence is Gloriana's Court Philosopher Doctor John Dee (named after a real historical figure), who delivers fanciful reports on visitors "from other worlds" (of the multiverse). Speaking in "Eternal Champion" terms, one could say that Mintfallcon is a "Lord of Order", while Dee acts as a "Lord of Chaos" (with Gloriana being the hapless Champion).

Centripress SF 1981, Art: Dicky Groenendijk-Grimme
Although the public spaces of Gloriana's palace are occupied by objects and personages of great beauty, behind the walls there exists another society, made up of exiles, criminals, and other lost souls. Essentially a "rabble", they spy vicariously on the doings of the royal court but do nothing else to draw attention. Another more actively-nefarious element in the novel is the wily Captain Quire, Lord Montfallcon's best henchman, who ruthlessly (and cheerfully) executes the bloody deeds underlying the Lord Chancellor's velveted-iron fist statesmanship abroad. Feted as a local folk hero by the lower caste citizens of the city, Quire thinks of himself as an "artist" whose criminal skills demonstrate his high degree of expertise. 

Additionally, the Queen herself has an unseemly flaw, in that in all her years she has never experienced an orgasm, and this she vainly pursues in nightly escapades in which she explores all manner of sexual activities, both typical and "deviant". This, the "Unfulfill'd Queen's" one failing, is an open secret amongst the members of the court and the populace, although never spoken of aloud (on an allegorical level this of course reinforces the idea of there being hidden cracks lying within the Empire's carefully-constructed image of immaculate perfection).

SFBC 2005, Art: Bruce Jensen
While the first part of the book establishes the cast of characters and the three main settings (the palace proper, the secret world behind the walls, and the lower city), small events occur which eventually lead to a secret bargain in which Quire betrays his arrogant royal patron Montfallcon and complies with the wishes of a foreign agent to bring both Gloriana and Albion down to their knees. Acting behind the scenes throughout much of the middle part of the book, Quire leverages the dark forces bubbling behind the palace walls to place himself in a position so that he eventually gains control of the entire Realm. On the way, behind increasingly decadent and frivolous festivals and parties, Quire and Montfallcon wage a "secret war" against each other which ultimately lays bare all of the secret desires and hidden intrigues binding together the many colorful members of the royal court. However, in the end, as spectres from the past return to haunt the souls of the present, Gloriana and Quire manage to reach a kind of mutual understanding, acknowledging their dependence on one another.

Questar 1986, Art: Robert Gould
A Fabled Beginning

Gloriana's first chapter takes place just after Albion's New Year's Eve festivities (concluding Gloriana's 12th year of reign), and acts somewhat as an "overture" to the rest of the book. As it swoops around the city following certain main members of the cast in a kind of literary "tracking shot", it also functions to introduce the three major settings used in the drama (the palace, the palace underworld, and the lower city). First focusing on the titular Queen (as she attempts to assuage her sexual frustration), it moves through the echoing passageways of the palace to pause on her political advisor Montfallcon (who weighs the preservation of Albion against Gloriana's personal needs and wants). This then leads to a comic scene featuring the sneak-thief Jephraim Tallow (a denizen from behind the walls), then the inebriated court poet Ernest Wheldrake (responsible for the original verse uttered during royal ceremonies), and then the Queen's Champion, Sir Tancred (a model of out-of-fashion chivalry who attempts to woo Gloriana's Lady in Waiting, the affable Mary Perrott). 

The narration stays with Wheldrake as he wanders down to the lower city, where New Years Eve festivities have not yet entirely sputtered out. The poet eventually lands at the raucous Seahorse Tavern where the antagonist of the tale, Captain Quire is introduced. In this scene the fuse for the drama to come is lit, as Quire takes mock-offense to an Arabian merchant's espionage proposition, and almost insouciantly forces a less-than-honorable duel. Finally, the narrative eye drifts to the wharf where Albion's naval "edge of the sword", Admiral Tom Ffynne, returns from his travels enforcing Albion's global dominance. It's worth noting that this first chapter is written entirely in the "present tense", a stylistic tone which imparts a sense of mythic fable (a technique also briefly employed in the Condition of Muzak chapter "The Mirror; or, Harlequin Everywhere", as mentioned earlier).

Unused Avon cover sketch, Art: Howard Chaykin 1978

Seasons of Discontent

After this opening medley of interlinked vignettes, the book begins exploring each of the characters in sequences strung throughout the better part of the remaining year, featuring secret meetings, unspoken inner dialogues, and "random" disruptions to the Court's formerly-untarnished surface. Acting as structural tent-poles, several major royal events occur throughout the novel (a Masque on Twelfth Night, May Day celebrations, Accession Day jousts, a Hunt, a bacchanalian Autumn Masque, etc.). These Royal Appointments try to preserve a sense of order and routine at the court, in order to divert attention from the melodrama (and growing rot) roiling underneath.

"It's essentially a classical form: the Four Seasons. It's a bit like a dance, in four movements. Each movement is in tune with its season: winter, spring, summer, autumn. There's a festival for each season, a set piece, each with a poem: the banquet on the ice, the May festival, the tournament, and the Bacchanalia."

            MM: Death Is No Obstacle, 1992  

With the quote above in mind, the novel's thirty-five chapters could theoretically be grouped into four sections, seasons and theatrical "set pieces":

  1. Ch. 1-15: Winter: On the Twelfth Night of the Yuletide, the Court Masque portrays the Norse Ragnarok.
  2. Ch. 16-22: Spring: On May Day, Wheldrake reads a spring-themed chapter from his chivalric poem "Atargatis; or, the Celestial Virgin".
  3. Ch. 23-30: Summer: After the Accession Day tilt, a Court Masque (featuring Gloriana as the Witch Queen Urganda) draws from the Fairie Queene poem.
  4. Ch. 31-35: Autumn: During the Bacchanal, a mechanical "Harlequinade" is presented to the Queen.

Additionally, although some of the seemingly-untethered scenes in between the royal affairs may not at first seem to have any great importance or relevance to the greater picture, eventually the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place, as Quire pulls tight the many-stranded web of lethal design which he has been surreptitiously weaving all along. 

Court Myth-ology

Warner Aspect 2004, Art: Nicholas Hilliard
In his previous books, Moorcock's characters frequently inhabited the fringes of society, or at least spent their time in the "outlands" of political power. Elric and the other incarnations of the Eternal Champion are heroes without a country (or multiversal plane), and Oswald Bastable and Jherek Carnelian are literally adventurers adrift in time. And, besides his nature as a time-traveller, Jerry Cornelius is usually cast in the role of a destroyer of worlds rather than a contributing member of order. Gloriana, in contrast, explores the highest levels of society and empire and makes its titular protagonist the most powerful person in the world - hardly a "sailor on the seas of fate" like the ones featured in the previously-mentioned series (not to mention the Michael Kane books, Behold the Man, Breakfast In the Ruins, etc.).

By placing the ruling court of Albion as the nominal "heroes" of the saga, the novel is able to deconstruct and de-mythologize this higher strata of society, and yet still maintain the reader's sympathies for these "tragic" characters. Aside from giving Moorcock a chance to explore various layers of exotic Elizabethan pageantry (sometimes with an ironic air), it's also refreshing to be following a drama taking place "at court", where realistic geopolitics directly affect the main characters' personal lives. While Elric and Hawkmoon might have been Emperors and Dukes in their stories, the reader rarely saw them on their thrones. Also, while both Gloriana and the earlier science fantasies both qualify as "romances", this novel literally eschews foreign battlefields for imperial bedrooms (and seraglios).

Japan Edition, Art: Tomomi Kobayashi 2010
Despite its stylistic departure from the more pulpy early works, readers familiar with Moorcock's bibliography can still find many "winks" to some facets of his multiverse. The names of Elric's Chaos Lords are sometimes uttered in curses, and Jephraim Tallow's cat appears to be a relative to Jhary-a-Conel's familiar, Whiskers. The poetry of Ernest Wheldrake plays a part in the Dancers At the End of Time books, and the poet himself resurfaces in the 1991 Elric novel The Revenge of the Rose.

Of course, the most obvious connection to the multiverse is the presence of Una, Countess of Scaith. While the name Scaith may recall Ynys Scaith (from Corum's The Sword and the Stallion), the Countess here has the same irrepressible joie de vivre as that of the famed Temporal League Aviatrix Mrs. Una Persson, and can is sometimes caught in private reveries reliving scenes from other worlds (one imagines).

Gollancz 2013, Art: Harry Clarke
"A woman in an elaborate gown,
possibly Queen Mab
" (detail)
The Jewel In the Skull

Moorcock has described Gloriana as an "ironic fable". Like The Golden Barge, its narrative contains an allegorical element. The public-facing facade of impenetrable chivalry characterizing the palace halls is comparable to the outer surface of the mind (or its "media self-projection"), while the secret world behind the walls (and its pathetic denizens) represents the inner surface of the mind and its underlying primal identity (or subconscious). This is in part an homage to Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy (Titus Groan in particular), whose layered, catacombed setting Moorcock has described as being comparable to the structure of a giant head, complete with a structurally-defining skull and a soft inner psyche (see Wizardry and Wild Romance, 1987). Additionally, it's likely that some elements of Gloriana may also have been inspired by Horace Walpole's 1764 proto-Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto, which Moorcock has also cited as an early inspiration.

Last but not least, Moorcock has also cited Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590s) as a reference point from which to approach Gloriana. As an "anti-imperialist" thinker, Moorcock uses Gloriana to argue against the political implications underlying Spenser's epic poem (which posits the Queen and her chivalric Court as examples of unassailable Christian virtue and high morality). Moorcock first establishes Albion as a utopian ideal of European (Anglo-Saxon) civilization, and then exposes the entire construct as being built on all-too-human frailties and fears. In this way, he also asks "if the means ever justified the end, or whether a glamorous construct ultimately destroyed that which it sought to defend, however successful it at first seemed." However, Moorcock also states that the book is not meant to be some kind of revelatory expose of the underlying, frequently self-serving machinations of modern government. More equitably, "it does deal to some degree with self-deception while it accepts the need for a balance between high morality and low realism."  ("Haunted Palaces").

Flamingo 1986, Art: A.H. Tanoux
In some sense, although Gloriana, or The Unfulfill'd Queen pokes and prods at an idealism-based "Golden Age" sustained through underhanded foreign policy, on most practical levels Gloriana's preceding 12 years of rule seem to have been actually quite wonderful, and the resolution to the story seems to come back around to a way of government not particularly different from that seen in the opening premise. 

On the other hand, the novel was written during a period of self-deception on the part of the author ("The book is a description of a lie that I was living at the time, maintaining power in my life, in an unwholesome relationship, unhealthy for all concerned, which only appeared to be stable.", Death Is No Obstacle), so I suppose it is up to the reader to determine which reading resonates more strongly.

Delta Vision (Hungarian) 2006, Art: Kira Santa
Ending Revision

A few years after its publication, Gloriana came under attack for its ending, in which a rape leads to seeming redemption for both parties. Although probably originally intended to simply topple the seemingly inviolate edifice (or "Imperial Office") of the Queen (Moorcock uses the word "demystify"), the sequence left many readers thematically confused, distracted by Gloriana's apparent role as a melodrama victim. 

After conversations with sf writer Colin Greenland (see Death Is No Obstacle) and writer Andrea Dworkin (amongst other feminists), the author took into consideration the immediate, negative implications of such a plot turn, and in 1993 rewrote the scene (now included as an Appendix entry in most modern editions of the book). In the new ending (spoiler alert!), the Queen experiences a cathartic moment of self-worth which succeeds in both giving her the sexual release she has been pining for and derailing the sexual crime. In this way, Quire the antagonist is "tamed" after Gloriana finally sees through the false mythology pinned on her through her royal station.

Mondadori Italian editions 1981, 1993
More Commentary

More historical background connected to Gloriana can be found in Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy and the World’s Pain (Mark Scroggins, 2015). Additional commentary can be found in The Law of Chaos: The Multiverse of Michael Moorcock (Jeff Gardiner, 2015) and Death Is No Obstacle (Michael Moorcock & Colin Greenland, 1992). A pretty good article/review can be found on the Tor site as well: https://www.tor.com/2017/09/12/gloriana-michael-moorcocks-would-be-farewell-to-fantasy/. "The Idle Woman" (a curator at the British Museum) has a nice review here: https://theidlewoman.net/2019/02/01/gloriana-michael-moorcock/.

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