Feb 22, 2021

The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the 20th Century (1976)

Quartet 1976, Art: Romain Slocombe

In 1976, Michael Moorcock's new novel The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century returned readers to the idiosyncratic meta-verse of Jerry Cornelius. Aimed squarely at the "mature fiction" reader, the Cornelius books generally have a more sharply-edged, socio-historical approach than that found in Moorcock's "genre" fantasy and science fiction novels (such as those featuring Elric and Hawkmoon). In other words, the Cornelius books tend to fit better on a shelf next to William Burroughs' work rather than one featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs' (although Moorock is well-read on both Burroughs).

The core Cornelius books are found in the "Cornelius Quartet" ("The Cornelius Chronicles"), which is comprised of four novels:  The Final Programme, A Cure For Cancer, The English Assassin and The Condition of Muzak. Other Cornelius novels are comprised of collected short stories (The Nature of the Catastrophe), or could be considered "side trips" to the main Cornelius Quartet.  

The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century falls into the latter category, although it's fractured narrative structure (framed by an over-arching romance of sorts) allows each chapter to almost function as independent myth-vignettes. Published after The English Assassin (and before The Condition of Muzak), it's style continues on from the previous novel's. As in the other Cornelius books, Adventures is a narrative which skips through an alt-contemporary world of "sex, drugs and rock and roll", fitted out with a healthy dash of whimsy, humor, defiance and outlandishness.

Mayflower, 1980, Art: Melvyn Grant
The two titular heroines, Catherine Cornelius and Una Persson, were introduced in earlier Cornelius novels (The English Assassin in particular), but Moorcock tries to present his books so that it's not really necessary to have read previous entries in his series - although familiarity with earlier stories obviously adds to the richness of each episode. In any case, Catherine and Una are time travellers who hopscotch through the 20th century, spending short periods of time in each era and in each one taking on new goals, identities and sometimes mentalities. Moorcock often uses their episodes to illustrate some of the ironies and peculiarities of the 20th century from political, cultural and humanitarian viewpoints.

The Adventures

Adventures opens with the temporal aviatrix-agent Una Persson enjoying a quiet interlude with Jerry Cornelius' sister-lover, Catherine. After a brief dalliance with a traveling salesman named William Bannerman, the ladies head off into the time stream looking for adventure (or at least, a relief from boredom).

Most of the remaining chapters of the book are episodic vignettes describing Una and Catherine's separate exploits throughout the 20th Century. Because the two heroines are physically apart from each other in this section, the chapters alternate between Catherine and Una's exploits. Catherine's adventures usually involve her sexual and romantic experiences on the "homefront" (England), while Una's describe her efforts as a soldier of fortune (a temporal "activist") as she tries to nudge history towards her utopian political ideals. Many characters from the Cornelius saga appear, most notably the brusquely-delightful Mrs Cornelius, the agent provocateur/dilettante Jerry Cornelius, his twisted brother Frank, the agreeable Prinz Lobkowitz and the hedonistic Greek agent Koutrouboussis.   

In the finale, Una and Catherine are reunited, after which they have a satisfying afternoon at Derry and Tom's roof garden, spying on a few other Cornelius side characters like Miss Brunner and Bishop Beesley (who don't otherwise make it into the novel).

Dial Press 1979, Art: Jim Starlin
Control Re-established

As with The English Assassin, the fast-changing narrative premise of each chapter in the "Adventures" portion (going from decade to decade and country to country) is sometimes jarring, and the reader is actively engaged in the reading experience while trying to figure out the historical background to each vignette (especially Una's adventures, which frequently revolve around military conflicts and their bleak aftermaths). The middle section of the book also includes explicit accounts of Catherine's exploration of BDSM sex culture (recreational flagellation) - as well as an amusing episode describing Jerry's reaction to his sister's new fetish. This material may shock younger readers, but it's not boring, that's for sure. For fans of the Cornelius series, these adventures further flesh out the characters of Catherine and Una, illustrating how each can be a victim in one instance and an oppressor in another. Much of their exploits seem to comment on "control" and the ambiguous, interchangeable nature of hierarchical power roles. 

Wiki Entry

Next: The Condition of Muzak

Previous: Hawkmoon: The Count Brass Trilogy (1973-75)

 



Detailed Synopsis

Introduction: The Author explains that this novel is a “fiction” assembled from various notes passed on to him from Mrs Persson’s “unpublished memoirs”. He also notes that, although the method by which Mrs Persson is able to travel to different planes and time periods is still a mystery to him, he has realized that such travel usually involves a temporary loss of memory (or identity) - probably an effect which prevents drastic damage to the timelines (and counters the Morphail Effect (see Dancers at the End of Time), which tends to hurl the time-traveller back to the future from which he/she came from). 

Part One: Depression Days: Taking It Easy

  • In 1933, Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius enjoy each other’s company at a riverside bungalow in Pennsylvania, recuperating from their most recent adventures in 1975 (presumably those described in The English Assassin). Eventually, a young traveller named William Bannerman comes across their bungalow. Bannerman's naive nature arouses the jaded ladies’ interest, who then treat Bannerman to a nice dinner and half-heartedly flirt with him. The next morning, the ladies take leave of the still-sleeping Bannerman and head out into the river on their motorboat. Una then activates a mysterious chronometer device created by Catherine’s brother Jerry, setting its heading for 1917.
 Part Two: Going To the Front: Woman’s Role In Wartime
  1. In St Petersburg, Una Persson tries to help start a women’s revolution against Leon Trotsky. The revolution fails and Una is exiled from Russia by Trotsky himself.
  2. Mrs Cornelius and her daughter Catherine are brought in to the offices of the Ministry and meet Major Nye. Nye explains that they are looking for Mrs Cornelius’ husband, who sometimes goes by the name "Frederick Brown". Mrs Cornelius, eager only for an opportunity for money, tells Nye that she has not seen her husband for many years.
  3. Una joins a lecturer named “Frederick Brown” in Paris and they head towards New York on the SS Queen Victoria. Pirates attack and Una is forced to join the entourage of the Cuban Revolutionary Council leader Petroff, an ex-comrade to Brown’s Communists.
  4. While working for her Aunt Edna’s flower shop, Catherine comes to the attention of the rich merchant Koutrouboussis. She engages in an intimate threesome with Koutrouboussis and his Asian maid.
  5. After overthrowing the Vatican in Rome, Una considers another country for revolutionary action. Prince Lobkowitz visits and informs her that “Brown” has killed himself in America out of a sense of failure. Una learns that Jerry Cornelius plans to intercept her in Madrid.  
  6. In Oxford, Catherine spends the day flirting with a wealthy Asian student named Ahmed. The day goes awkwardly but Catherine meets Ahmed’s father and makes a nice impression on him (although he remains a bit standoffish).
  7. In 1933 Germany during a battle, Una runs across Jerry Cornelius in a tank. They theorize on Frank Cornelius and Petroff’s possible roles in the current conflict. Jerry offers Una a lift in his tank.
  8. Mrs. Cornelius asks Catherine about her new female friend Rebecca Ash (Aserinsky). Later, Cathy has an intimate afternoon at Rebecca’s apartment. However, she is disappointed to learn that her new lover will soon be off to join the war effort.
  9. Una materializes in war-torn Oxford with only a vague sense of mission. She comes across the ex-teacher Mr. Chapman and his partner Eunice Moon. After discussing the pros and cons of revolution, Chapman presents the prize they have been safeguarding to Una: a young Queen (Elizabeth?) whom Una is to deliver to London.
  10. Jerry and Catherine watch the Queen's Coronation with their mother at her flat in Blenheim Crescent. After Mrs. Cornelius and Sammy head out to the pub, Cathy tries to get Jerry interested in some BDSM play. It goes a bit awkwardly.
  11. Una visits Frank who has become a crowd-inflaming, cross-burning country preacher. She tells him that his fate and that of other like them (time-travelers) will soon be resolved in a “disintegration” related to the Conjunction of the Million Spheres.
  12. Catherine spends her evening hanging out a Central London club where Jerry and Shakey Mo Collier’s band (The Blues Ensemble) are performing. She soaks in the fascinating “backstage rock groupie” atmosphere and becomes intrigued by a guitarist named Paul from the Moochers.
  13. After a revolution in London, Captain Una Persson and Major Nye chat amongst the ruins and discuss the possibility of optimism in a restless, unjust world.
  14. Catherine brings Mrs Cornelius to a rock stadium show featuring Emerald City, in which Cathy’s latest lover, a guitarist named Jack plays. Amongst the revelry of the backstage atmosphere (including press, Hells Angels members, drug dealers, and groupies), Jack presents Cathy with a girl from Amsterdam named Marijka.
  15. In the aftermath of a Celtic Liberation Front firebombing of 1973, Captain Una Persson rendezvous with a soldier named Craven. They discuss the boredom of war and then become somewhat romantic. Una realizes that uniforms turn her on.
  16. Cathy spends her days floating amongst burned out, drugged-out rock star lovers with whom she mostly has arguments and bad sex with.
  17. At Tintagel Bay, Captain Persson and Craven are sighted by a Jerry Cornelius from his yacht, the Teddy Bear. Jerry brings them aboard and tells Una to relax and enjoy a holiday as they shift to a new time stream.
  18. Amidst the ruins after a battle, Catherine has a brief BDSM fling with a Greek art collector named Constant, but soon departs the country (and the timestream) seeking other interests.
  19. At the beginning of a new century, Russia successfully takes control of the globe. In Sweden, Craven is executed after an escape attempt. Una, sick and disillusioned from all of her military-political efforts, boards an airship intending to holiday in St. Petersburg. Her airship is shot down in a forest by Catherine Cornelius and her All-Girl Guerillas. Una is angry with Cathy and tells her that the late timing of her entry into “activism” is a bit off, now that everyone is getting out (Jerry, Frank, Nye…). With the war over, they decide to take a holiday together.
Part Three: Limping Home: The Problems of Retirement
  • In 1939, Cathy takes Una to the newly-opened Derry and Toms rooftop garden where they spot (and quietly gossip on) Miss Brunner, Bishop Beesley and Mitzi. Catherine casually mentions that Jerry has recently returned from China. Mr. Koutrouboussis meets them and offers Una an acting role, but she is reluctant to take one on so quickly after her recent exploits. They return home to Cathy's apartment where Mrs. Cornelius comes out to greet them.
The Cornelius Chronicles, Vol III, Avon 1987
(including The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century)

Nov 22, 2020

Hawkmoon: The Count Brass Trilogy (1973-75)

Orion/Millennium 1993, Art: Yoshitaka Amano
Previously at Castle Brass...

In 1973, fantasist Michael Moorcock began a new story sequence featuring the further adventures of the science fantasy warrior Dorian Hawkmoon, whose previous adventures had been chronicled in the History of the Runestaff saga, published in four volumes as The Jewel In The Skull (1967), The Mad God's Amulet (1968), The Sword of the Dawn (1968) and The Runestaff (1969). This earlier quartet presented a post-apocalyptic world in which Great Britain (now known as Granbretan, or the "Dark Empire") holds all of Europe under an iron gauntlet, and ruthlessly seeks to conquer the rest of the remaining free world. The resistance fighter Dorian Hawkmoon and his allies (based in the small European province of the Kamarg) use fortitude, bravery and honor in order to eventually overthrow the Dark Empire's rule (although part of the Dark Empire's downfall is actually due to its own corrupted nature). Hanging over the entire affair is the semi-mythical Runestaff, which promises great power to whoever wields it. However in the end, it is actually the bravery inspired by the Runestaff which allows freedom and justice to prevail, rather than some "superpower" granted by the artifact itself.

Grafton 1986, Art: Mark Salwowski
Getting the Band Back Together

In any case, four years after the final Runestaff episode, a novel titled Count Brass appeared, which would ultimately end up as the first episode of a second Hawkmoon trilogy (frequently collected as The Count Brass/Chronicles of Castle Brass trilogy). Aside from completing Hawkmoon's saga, this new sequence also gave longtime fans a true capstone and conclusion to the "first" Eternal Champion cycle (the qualifier of "first" is appropriate here as Moorcock picked up the Eternal Champion concept again several times after the 1970s, and has even published more than one "last Eternal Champion story" in more recent years).


Berkley 1985, Art: Robert Gould
Count Brass (1973)

The first novel of this new sequence catches up with Dorian Hawkmoon and his wife Yisselda five years after the ending of the Runestaff saga. Although now a family man with children of his own, Hawkmoon is called back into adventure when several dead friends of his (Count Brass, Oladahn, D'Averc and Bowgentle) somehow resurface without any memory of their deaths (they have apparently been gathered from various time periods of their pasts). When Hawkmoon and his friends investigate this mystery, they run into some old enemies from the defeated Dark Empire, who have been spending the intervening years plotting revenge on Hawkmoon from a parallel plane of the multiverse. In the end, Hawkmoon regains a lost friend, but at a great cost to his family. 

This new volume differs from the Runestaff quartet in that the conflict has a more personal nature to it (Hawkmoon is essentially the focus of one man's vendetta). Since the Dark Empire had been dismantled in The Runestaff, there are no longer any beast-masked armies marching across the continent. Because of this more intimate conflict the stakes are lower, but the tragic ending is probably the bleakest of all of Hawkmoon's adventures. Also, for the first time, Moorcock uses the mechanism of the multiverse more directly in Hawkmoon's saga, as parallel-but-different versions of Hawkmoon's world are visited. In contrast, the previous quartet had only concerned itself with a single iteration of a future, dystopic Earth (aside from the relatively nondescript "limbo" in which the Kamarg had hidden itself in for a time). 

Wikiverse Entry


Mayflower 1973/75, Art: Bob Haberfield
The Champion of Garathorm (1973)

With Hawkmoon in a mostly dejected state (due to his great loss at the end of the previous novel), agents of the multiverse (namely Corum's friend Jhary-a-Conel and Katinka van Bak, an old friend of Count Brass) conspire to have Hawkmoon's lifeforce temporarily transferred into another incarnation of the Eternal Champion - this time a female warrior named Ilian of Garathorm. Her body rejuvenated, Ilian leads her conquered people against an occupation force made up Chaos creatures, some equipped with Dark Empire technology (courtesy of Baron Kalan). Although faced with dire odds, Ilian draws on Hawkmoon's special nature in order to successfully trigger a sequence of events leading to Garathorm's liberation. Additionally, Hawkmoon regains something of what he had lost in the previous novel.

One of the most welcome elements here is the appearance of the first female Eternal Champion (although one could propose that Una Persson precedes Ilian of Garathorm in that regard). In fact, the battle to retake Garathorm's capitol is led by three female warriors: Ilian of Garathorm, Kathinka van Bak, and Yisselda of Brass. Surprisingly, Ilian has not as of yet returned in Moorcock's fiction (at least not under that particular name). On the other hand, the introduction of Katinka van Bak here is important to the greater Moorcock multiverse in that she is the first introduced relative of the Von Bek family line, whose members would take center stage in many Moorcock novels of the next decade. Finally, readers of Elric are treated to the brief-but-important appearance of the Chaos Duke Arioch, who gives aid to the Chaos leader Ymryl (whose name of course sounds similar to "Imrryr of Melniboné"). 

Wikiverse Entry


Dell 1976-78, Art: Richard Courtney
The Quest For Tanelorn (1975)

Although this third novel is something a "grand finale" to the saga of the Eternal Champion saga up to this point, it's interesting in that it avoids a predictable structure, and its triptych nature is actually somewhat reflective of the Count Brass trilogy as a whole. The first act describes Hawkmoon's search for his missing children, during which time he receives advice from various agents of the multiverse. More importantly, during this act he is tempted by a strangely-familiar ebony-hued entity (which he intuitively regards with some trepidation). The second act stages a great battle between an alliance of four incarnations of the Eternal Champion (namely Hawkmoon, Elric, Corum and Erekosë) against Agak and Gagak, sibling alien forces from without the multiverse who are intent on consuming its multitude of realities for their own sustenance. This episode will also be described from Elric's viewpoint in the following year's The Sailor On the Seas of Fate in a way similar to how Moorcock had portrayed the incident at the Vanishing Tower from two different viewpoints in The Vanishing Tower and The King of the Swords.

The third and final act takes place in the fabled city of Tanelorn, and chronicles the final conflict between the Eternal Champion, the Runestaff, the Black Blade, the Black Jewel and the Cosmic Balance. Although all of Moorcock's books are designed to stand alone as adventures unto themselves, this novel in particular is very rewarding to readers of the previous series. In the first act, Hawkmoon is led by Jhary-a-Conel to a meeting of several notable "Law sages" of the multiverse, namely the Warrior In Jet and Gold from the Runestaff quartet, the black Nihrain rider Sepiriz from Elric's finale in Stormbringer, the Lady of the Chalice from Erekosë/Urlik Skarsol's adventure in The Silver Warriors, Lamsar the Seer from Rackhir's debut tale "To Rescue Tanelorn...", Abaris the Magi from "The Greater Conqueror", Lord Arkyn's Mabden spokesman Aleryn from Corum's Swords Trilogy, and the Druid King Amergin from Corum's second trilogy (The Prince with the Scarlet Hand). For new readers, the four pages describing this gathering may come across as enigmatic (hopefully enticingly so), but for long-time fans this is a nice reunion of sorts. Other "servants" of the Runestaff like Orland Fank and Jehamiah Cohnahlius also appear in the first and last acts.  

"Look for Tanelorn within yourself..."

As in almost all of Moorcock's writing, a subtextual thread can be found beneath the adventure aspects. In The Quest For Tanelorn, the mythic city of Tanelorn appears at first to be populated only by shadows, representing a "city without hope". This of course, is not the Tanelorn that the Eternal Champions have been questing for all this time. Eventually, the sagacious Orland Fank states that "When gods die, self-respect buds. Gods and their examples are not needed by those who respect themselves and, consequently, respect others." Hawkmoon then declares, "Here's Death for gods and Life for men! Let the Lords of Chaos and of Law destroy themselves in pointless conflict. Let the Cosmic Balance swing how it likes, it shall not affect our destinies." After his friends all raise their swords in agreement, the shadow city transforms itself into a paradise. In other words, this pivotal scene implies that only after heroes must question their masters, think for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions will truth be discovered. This is a theme which was featured in Moorcock's very first Eternal Champion story ("The Eternal Champion"), and thus its restatement here at the end of the entire affair is very apt. 

Although The Quest For Tanelorn seems to wrap up many threads, in the following decades Moorcock would go on to chronicle the adventures of several new Eternal Champions, and therefore new "grand finales" would also eventually arrive to firmly tie the fates of the old Champions to the new ones.

Wikiverse Entry


Dell 1981, Art: Ezra Tucker
The Blind Captain and his Dark Ship

The second and third acts also introduce the Dark Ship, which is manned by the mysterious Blind Captain and his Steersman (although modern readers of Elric's books have probably already encountered the Dark Ship in The Sailor On the Seas of Fate, which was actually published a year after The Quest For Tanelorn). The Captain and his Ship seem to serve a purpose higher even than that of the Cosmic Balance, but can only help facilitate events rather than take a direct role in them. In later years, Moorcock has explained that the Captain and his Steersman are meant to represent mankind itself ("In a way, it's how I see man. The blind steersman is, in a sense, how we all stumble through life. It's another poetic image with a number of resonances to it. The blind leading the blind is one of the resonances." - Imagine Magazine #22, January 1985).

Ending Bending

Although every major mystery is essentially addressed (to one degree or another) in The Quest For Tanelorn, one brief vision in the final act sometimes elicits a bit of confusion. Near the end of this volume, the Vadhagh Prince Corum is last seen resisting the temptation of the Black Blade by leaping to his death, taking his own life rather than allowing his fate to be dictated by an outside force. However, in the last volume of Corum's own sequence (The Sword and the Stallion, Corum is depicted as being killed by his own sword ("Traitor"). This contradiction is clearly not an "editorial oversight", since Corum's death in The Sword and the Stallion is even referenced before this final tableau unfolds. So how does the reader account for this double-ending?

One possible reading is that Corum did die at the end of The Sword and the Stallion, but in the scene portrayed in The Quest For Tanelorn (where he simply emerges out of a forest after his death), he has taken on a new incarnation of the Champion (just as Erekosë became Urlik Skarsol in The Silver Warriors). Because he rejects the subsequent temptation of the Black Sword, he thus avoids becoming another "tool" of the gods and so achieves peace in Tanelorn. Perhaps if he had accepted the Black Sword he would have continued another cycle of self-destruction.

Another explanation for this conflict of accounts is that these tales are in effect "legends", and legends tend to differ over the ages. In fact, Moorcock has already portrayed some his writings as "tales told second hand" in the Bastable/Nomad of Time books, and so this aspect might shed some light here. In any case, this slight "jiggling" of continuity is justified because the results serve the stories at hand.  

Grafton 1988/89, Art: Paul Damon
A Disturbance In the Megaflow

In several of Moorcock's books during this era, a great "disturbance" to the multiverse is mentioned, usually as a possible reason behind the occurrence of so many dimensional disruptions and cross-overs. The "Conjunction of the Million Spheres" is described in both Corum's Swords Trilogy as well as in the Oswald Bastable Nomad of Time books, and even referenced in the Dancers At the End of Time sequence. My theory is that the great battle of Tanelorn between the four Eternal Champions and the alien invaders Agak and Gagak is the root cause of this massive, multi-plane upheaval. During this battle, Agak sucks dry several entire universes in order to gather enough energy to defy the Champions. The combined Champions then match their foe's power by doing the same, destroying even more realities. Finally, when Agak is defeated, the Champions' great sword is flung back through the multiverse, restoring life to its many planes. 

And something screamed through the universe.
And something sent a tremor through the universe.
And the universe was dead, even as Agak began to die.
The Four did not dare wait to see if Agak were completely vanquished.
It swept the sword out, back through the dimensions, and everywhere the blade touched the energy was restored.
The sword rang round and round.
Round and round. Dispersing the energy.
And the sword sang its triumph and its glee.
And little shreds of black and golden light whispered

Considering the magnitude of such an event, it's seems logical that a "Conjunction of the Million Spheres" (described by Una Persson in The Steel Tsar as a "reorganization of the planes") should happen in its wake. This kind of event would also allow the thinning of the walls of the multiverse to allow creatures such as the Fhoi Myore to reach Corum's world in the Chronicle of the Prince With the Silver Hand. Even events in the Jerry Cornelius books somewhat connect to this one event: in A Cure For Cancer, Jerry uses his randomizer machine to drain all life from the multiverse, before creating a new one shortly after. It's possible that this transformative episode is simply another perspective on the great battle of Tanelorn, this one from Jerry's point of view. So in short, whenever Moorcock mentions a great threat to the planes of the multiverse in his books, I usually like to think of it as a byproduct of the events in The Quest For Tanelorn. Not bad for 35 pence!


Orion/Millennium 1992, Art: Yoshitaka Amano
The Multiverse in a Nutshell

Since The Quest For Tanelorn functions to some degree as an "ending" to the Eternal Champion saga, here may be a good place to review the entire saga from a bird-eye viewpoint, simply to admire the sheer scale of this literary, multi-series fictional universe.

  • John Daker is called from his banal modern-day existence to become Erekosë, a legendary "Eternal Champion" of a future Earth. The entity responsible for Daker's plight is the Cosmic Balance, a largely mute and inscrutable force which seeks equilibrium between Law and Chaos, and uses the (sometimes unwilling) Champions for this purpose. In the end, Erekosë realizes that he must cleanse the planet of humanity for the greater good, essentially committing genocide against his own race. Shortly thereafter, the Cosmic Balance calls on Erekosë's services once again, separating him from his new Eldren lover, Ermizhad. (The Eternal Champion, The Silver Warriors)
  • A warrior-priest named Rackhir the Red Archer fights a Chaos army in order to save Tanelorn, a semi-mythical city of peace which prefers to remain free from the whims of untrustworthy gods. However, Tanelorn appears in different places and has different guises to different people... ("To Rescue Tanelorn...")
  • A knight named Earl Aubec journeys to the outskirts of the known world on a mission to acquire more lands for his Queen. There, he encounters a Dark Lady named Myshella (an agent of Law), who guides him towards establishing new and habitable territories from regions of unformed Chaos. ("Master of Chaos")
  • For ten thousand years, the sorcery-based empire of Melniboné has dominated the world, although now its power dims. Its last ruler is the albino emperor Elric, who derives his power from a black runesword named Stormbringer, which seemingly has a will of its own. After Melniboné falls (by Elric's own actions), the armies of Chaos reverse Earl Aubec and Myshella's earlier accomplishments and return the world to a hellish state of flux. Switching his sympathies to cause of Law, Elric ultimately resists his people's patron Chaos gods and banishes the Chaos Lords from his world, so that a new, unspoiled race can be allowed to develop. However, before that process can begin, Stormbringer slays Elric and escapes into the void. (The Stealer of Souls, Stormbringer
  • In a post-apocalyptic world thrown back into a technology-starved medieval existence, the Dark Empire of Granbretan oppresses most of the known world. After capturing the Germanic resistance fighter Dorian Hawkmoon, the scientists of Granbretan implant a Black Jewel into his forehead which allows the Dark Empire to exert control over their reluctant slave. Hawkmoon eventually overcomes the Black Jewel, and with the help of supernatural allies eventually overthrows the despotic Dark Empire. Part of his quest also involves the mysterious Runestaff, which is able to somehow influence events in favor of its wielder (or at least inspire victory through its presence). (The History of the Runestaff)
  • On apparently yet another plane of reality (but possibly another era of Elric and Hawkmoon's Earth), Prince Corum of the Vadhagh (a supra-human race now dedicated to internal exploration of the arts) is the last survivor of his race. He fights against barbarians and the forces of the Chaos Lords in his realm in order to bring peace to the new race dominating the land, called the Mabden ("mankind). In the end, he is victorious and mankind is saved but, unwilling to further serve the Cosmic Balance, Corum's life ends in violence. (The Swords Trilogy, The Chronicles of Corum
  • The mysterious Blind Captain and his Steersman navigate their Dark Ship through the planes of the multiverse and pick up four key Eternal Champions: Erekosë, Corum, Hawkmoon and Elric. The Champions are picked up from near the end of their individual sagas (or near the beginning, in Elric's case) and then brought to a version of Tanelorn devoid of hope. There they battle the alien beings Agak and Gagak for the survival of the entire multiverse. In the process, the multiverse is destroyed and then recreated. (The Quest For Tanelorn, The Sailor On the Seas of Fate)
  • After defeating Agak and Gagak, Elric and Corum return to their own planes to continue on to their final fates. Hawkmoon and Erekosë remain amongst the ruins of Tanelorn and vow to defy any future whims of the Cosmic Balance and its gods and demons. The "true" Tanelorn materializes, an idyllic city where all of the Eternal Champions of the multiverse are honored after the end of their adventures. Hawkmoon and Erekosë allow the Black Sword (Stormbringer) to destroy the Cosmic Balance, after which they use the Runestaff to shatter the Black Jewel, which in turn causes the destruction of the Black Sword. Erekosë dies in the process, but Hawkmoon lives out the rest of his life with his wife and children at Castle Brass. (The Quest For Tanelorn)

(The 2013/2014 Michael Moorcock Collection, Gollancz (image from http://jaydedesign.com)
The Chronicle of the Eternal Champion

New readers sometimes express interest in a "suggested reading order" for Moorcock's Eternal Champion saga. Although the "Tale of the Eternal Champion" has been presented in an official reading order in several omnibus collection series (Orion/Millennium, White Wolf, Gollancz), it might be worth listing my own preferred sequence, which is simply based on the order in which the stories were actually published. Reading the series in this manner might impart a greater sense of the prismatic nature of the multiverse itself (or it might just drive oneself crazy!). 

The below list also includes books from the Jerry Cornelius, Oswald Bastable and "Dancers At the End of Time" series. These are not as directly involved in the Eternal Champion saga as the stories of Elric, Erekosë, Hawkmoon and Corum are (they are also more science fiction than heroic fantasy), but they add to the richness of Moorcock's literary tapestry and are of course, recommended. Most of these are available in novel form, but the short stories can be tracked down in the various omnibus collections mentioned earlier.

  • The Eternal Champion (featuring Erekosë, expanded in 1962)
  • “The Dreaming City” (Elric, 1961)
  • “While the Gods Laugh” (Elric, 1961)
  • “The Stealer of Souls” (Elric, 1962)
  • “Kings in Darkness” (Elric, 1962)
  • “The Flame Bringers” (Elric, 1962)
  • “To Rescue Tanelorn...” (Rackhir, 1962)
  • “The Greater Conqueror” (Simon & Abaris, 1963)
  • Stormbringer (Elric, 1963/64)
  • “Master of Chaos” (Earl Aubec, 1964)
  • The Jewel in the Skull (Hawkmoon, 1967)
  • “The Singing Citadel” (Elric, 1967)
  • The Final Programme (Jerry Cornelius, 1968)
  • The Mad God's Amulet (Hawkmoon, 1968)
  • Sword of the Dawn (Hawkmoon, 1968)
  • The Runestaff (Hawkmoon, 1969)
  • Phoenix in Obsidian/The Silver Warriors (Erekosë, 1970)
  • A Cure for Cancer (Jerry Cornelius, 1971)
  • The Knight of the Swords (Corum, 1971)
  • The Queen of the Swords (Corum, 1971)
  • The King of the Swords (Corum, 1971)
  • The Sleeping Sorceress/The Vanishing Tower (Elric, 1971)
  • The Warlord of the Air (Bastable, 1971)
  • An Alien Heat (Dancers, 1972)
  • Elric of Melniboné (1972)
  • Count Brass (Hawkmoon, 1973)
  • The Champion of Garathorm (Hawkmoon, 1973)
  • The Bull and the Spear (Corum, 1973)
  • The Oak and the Ram (Corum, 1973)
  • The Hollow Lands (Dancers, 1974)
  • The Land Leviathan (Bastable, 1974)
  • The Sword and the Stallion (Corum, 1974)
  • The Quest for Tanelorn (Hawkmoon, Erekosë, 1975)
  • The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (Elric, 1976)
  • The Steel Tsar (Bastable, 1981)
  • The End of All Songs (Dancers, 1976)

Nov 11, 2020

The Chronicles of Corum: The Prince with the Silver Hand (1973-74)

Berkley 1986, Art: Robert Gould

The Last Vadhagh Returns

In the 1970s, one of Moorcock's most sympathetic (relatable) heroic fantasy characters was Prince Corum of the supra-human Vadhagh race. Corum was first introduced in 1971's "Swords Trilogy", comprised of The Knight of the Swords, The Queen of the Swords and The King of the Swords. In that initial sequence, after Corum's "elder people" are destroyed by human "barbarians", the last Vadhagh allies himself with the more civilized members of humanity to resist the onslaught of these destructive agents of the demi-godlike Chaos Lords. In the process, he also comes into conflict with the Chaos Lords directly, while receiving aid from both "Dead Gods" and the Lord of Law. At the end of that sequence, the gods have all been banished from Corum's plane, and Corum is apparently set to live "happily ever after" with his beautiful bride, the Margavine Rhalina.

Orion/Millennium 1993, Art: Yoshitaka Amano
Two years later (in 1973), a new Corum sequence began appearing, this one mostly taking place centuries after the events of the first trilogy. Hearing a call for help from Rhalina's descendents, Corum allows them to transport him to their future era (although still essentially in a medieval state by our standards) where an alien force named the "Cold Folk" (unrelated to Law, Chaos or the Cosmic Balance) has descended upon the world, requiring the aid of a Champion to once again take up the sword of resistance against oppression. 

Berkley 1974, Art: David McCall Johnston

A More Cornish Corum

The absence of Law and Chaos Lords in this trilogy (as well as the Cosmic Balance, multiverse, etc) allows Moorcock to develop a mythopoeic epic even more informed by Celtic folklore elements than the first trilogy. Many of the place names identified in the original "Swords Trilogy" were derived from Cornish forms, but "Chronicles" uses more directly identifiable archetypes from Celtic folklore to set up Corum's second great struggle as the "true" source of a mythology (almost definitively identifying Corum's world as our own, but in ancient Druid times). In some ways, the "Chronicles" trilogy is stronger than the "Swords" trilogy because it spends more time working to establish Corum as a unique Eternal Champion. Although for many fans a more "fun" epic, the Swords trilogy was probably best appreciated as an expansion of the Eternal Champion struggle established in Erekosë and Elric's sequences (in fact, both characters appeared as "guest stars" in The King of the Swords). Corum's world of the Sword Rulers is very distinct from Elric's, but both are still highly conscious of "sword and sorcery" devices (the first and foremost being the Hand the Kwll and the Eye of Rhynn) and demi-gods of one type or another. 

In the "Chronicles", Corum has given up his alien Hand and Eye, and sardonic magical superbeings (Arioch, Kwll, Teer) are no longer at large in the world. Supernatural creatures still appear but these are largely made up of mythic archetypes based on Earthly fauna (the stallion Splendid Mane, the Black Bull of Crinanass, the Silvern Ram), flora (an Oak Woman, Brothers to the Pines) or forces coming out of horror traditions (the half-dead Ghoolegh, the vicious Hounds of Kerenos, the inscrutable Cold Folk, ice phantoms, etc.). This element of "fantasy horror" nicely distinguishes Corum's second trilogy from the sagas of Elric, Hawkmoon and Erekosë, whose sequences could be said to hew closer to heroic fantasy, science fantasy, and dark fantasy (to put it somewhat crudely).

(Actually, one source states that the Fhoi Myore are a derivation of "Fomóiri", who are essentially "like the powers of chaos, ever latent and hostile to cosmic order" - so maybe there's some multiverse Chaos in there after all!)

Quartet 1973-75, Art: Patrick Woodroffe

Homagery

In the introductions to the 1990s omnibus editions of the Chronicles (Orion/Milennium, White Wolf, retitled The Prince With the Silver Hand), Moorcock writes that this second trilogy "draws on images and ideas inspired by the Cuchulain stories and other Irish tales, of a time when the dark Gods of Ireland were still abroad, threatening all we hold dear..." They are also an "acknowledgement of the huge debt I have to both the mythology and the modern literature of Ireland, especially Yeats." He also cites Irish writers like Charles Lever (Cornelius O’Dowd, Dodd Family Abroad, the Harry Lorrequer and Charles D Malley stories), Garrison Ainsworth (tales of Dick Turpin and the Tower of London), the darker stories of C.S. Lewis and Sheridan Le Fanu, Charles Maturin (Melmoth the Wanderer), Jonathan Swift, and Lord Dunsany (The Gods of Pagana, The Sword of Welleran) as early inspirations.


Allison & Busby 1973, Art: Keith Roberts
The Bull and the Spear (1973)

This story begins many years after the end of the Swords trilogy, finding Corum mourning his now-deceased wife Rhalina and without much purpose. However, he soon receives a summons in his dreams (much like Erekosë did in The Eternal Champion and its sequels) and is transported to a future era of Earth where Druid King Mannach and his people are threatened by alien beings called the Fhoi Myore, or "Cold Folk", from Limbo (specifically, "in between" the planes of the multiverse). The Fhoi Myore have at their disposal zombie-like slaves, four-legged beasts and ice phantoms, as well as the ability to freeze entire armies at a glance. Corum goes on a quest to obtain the fabled Spear of Bryionak, a weapon which will help him summon the mythic Black Bull of Crinanass, who will in turn drive off the Fhoi Myore's ghoulish army. Along the way, Corum encounters a devious wizard named Calatin with a ghoul-controlling horn, the ancient Sidhe dwarf-giant Goffanon, and the unexpected return of Prince Gaynor the Damned, last seen serving the Lords of Chaos in The King of the Swords

A ringfort at Grianan of Aileach, probably related in structure to King Mannach's Caer Mahlod.
As mentioned earlier, Corum here encounters creatures more closely aligned with nature, such as the Hounds of Kerenos, Hew Argech (a wooden "brother of the Pines") and the titular Bull of Crinanass (whose spilt blood results in the growth of spontaneous vegetation). Corum also finds new love in the form of Medhbh who, in contrast to the courtly widower Rhalina, is a young, impulsive female warrior (but one with an education in supernatural lore). The tone of this first volume also establishes that the Chronicles trilogy will concentrate less on character grotesques (like the Chaos Lords of the Swords trilogy) and more on a desperate conflict between humanity and truly alien invaders (who generally do not engage in playful banter or make bargains). 

Wikiverse Entry


Allison & Busby 1973, Art: Keith Roberts
The Oak and the Ram (1973)

In this episode, Corum is called upon to rescue the Mabden High King Amergin from Caer Llud, where he is being held captive by the gathered Fhoi Myore. Unfortunately, once rescued, Amergin is discovered to be under an enchantment of idiocy, and the mythic Golden Oak and Silvern Ram are the only objects which might cure him. Reunited with Jhary-a-Conel and Goffanon (and soon joined by another surviving Sidhe giant named Ilbrec), Corum and his friends eventually reach Caer Garanhir where the Oak and the Ram can be found. There, a great battle ensues between the fortress defenders and the Fhoi Myore's tree-folk army. In the final act, the heroes race against time to summon the mysterious Oak Woman to help them restore Amergin before he dies. The highlight of this volume is probably the defense of Caer Garanhir, in which the tides of battle swing back and forth during several pitched battles.

Wikiverse Entry


Allison & Busby 1974, Art: Keith Roberts
The Sword and the Stallion (1974)  

With High King Amergin restored, the Mabden prepare for a final all-out attack on the Fhoi Myore. When Fyean pirates arrive and claim that Corum's "evil double" has been attacking them, Corum and Ilbrec head to the Shadow Isle of Ynys Scaith to investigate. There they find the vengeful Sactric, Emperor of Malibann, last survivor of a lost empire from another plane. In return for his aid against the Fhoi Myore, Corum and his friends reunite Sactric with the head of his sister, Terhali. The last stand against the Fhoi Myore occurs amongst a monumental circle of "standing stones". A final confrontation between Corum, his evil twin, Prince Gaynor and Medhbh finishes off the Chronicles of the Prince with the Silver Hand in epic fashion.

Stonehenge (could this be the circle of standing stones feared by the Fhoi Myore?)
Perhaps fittingly, this final episode finally reaches back into the multiverse to involve some elements seemingly connected to Elric's world. The rogue Malibann Emperor Sactric obviously recalls the name of Elric's father, Emperor Sadric of Melniboné. Sactric's sister Terhali may be the notorius sorcerer-empress of Melnibone featured in "A Sword Called Stormbringer"/"The Green Empress of Melniboné" (Conan the Barbarian #14, 15) and mentioned in Elric of Melniboné (1972). Sactric spends part of the book with his consciousness inside of a cat's body, just as the sorcerer Drinij Bara's soul had been trapped inside a feline form in "The Flame Bringers" ("The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams"). Additionally, Corum's sword "Traitor" is hinted to be yet another incarnation of the black blade, Stormbringer. Putting an even "finer point" on things, Corum meets a final fate not too dissimilar to the one Elric found at the end of Stormbringer.

Wikiverse Entry


Martínez Roca 1994
Alien Tongues and Ancient Archetypes

Of all of Moorcock's books examined so far, the Chronicles probably appear to have the most tongue-twisting proper names. Because the names are derived from Celtic sources, their pronunciation differs dramatically from the more common English methods. For example, "Medhbh" is pronounced "May-ve", and "Sidhe" is pronounced "Shee". On one forum, Moorcock has stated that he personally pronounces "Fhoi Myore" as "Foy ME OR". However, he has also never insisted on any kind of "definitive" pronunciation, and instead merely recommends that a reader "pronounce names the way that suits you." In any case, the more idiomatic pronunciations certainly roll off the tongue a bit better than what I had originally come up with!

As mentioned earlier, some of the characters and creatures in the Chronicles were apparently inspired by figures from Celtic mythology. Below are a few which have been identified (through Wikipedia, Wikiverse (multiverse.org), and luck...).

  • Tuha-na-Cremm Croich ("the people of Corum's Cloak/Mound"): Crom Cruach - "crooked mound", a pagan god worshiped through human sacrifice.
  • Corum Llew Ereint ("Corum of the Silver Hand"): Lludd Llaw Eraint - "Lludd of the Silver Hand", Welsh king who saved Britain from three plagues.
  • Fhoi Myore ("undeRsea ones", re-dubbed here as the "Cold Folk"): Fomóiri - "the undersea ones", destructive beings of nature who opposed the first Irish settlers and are rivals of the more "constructive" Tuatha Dé Danann.
  • Medhbh: Medb - warrior queen of Connacht in the mythological Irish Ulster Cycle (possibly inspiration for "Queen Mab").
  • Goffanon: Goffanon - a blacksmith god in Celtic mythology and Middle Welsh literature.
  • Sidhe: Aes sídhe/Aos sí ("people of the mounds") - comparable to "elves or fairies" in Irish/Scottish mythology, possibly from another plane.
  • Hounds of Kerenos: Cŵn Annwn ("coon anun") - the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth (dubbed "Dogs of Hell" by Christians).
  • Amergin: Amergin Glúingel - in Irish myth, a bard, druid, judge and king who helped conquer Ireland for mankind by commanding natural forces.
  • Dagdagh: An Dagda - "the good god", a druid king (one of the Tuatha Dé Danann) associated with growth, plays harp, somewhat similar to Odin of Norse mythology.
  • Balahr the One-eyed: Balor of the Fomorians, personifies drought, blight, and the scorching sun.
  • Bress: Bres of the Fomorians - as their king, he betrayed the Tuatha Dé Danann (his mother's side).
  • Kerenos: Cernunnos - “horned one”, the Gaelic god of beasts and wild places (related somewhat to "unicorn", see Martínez Roca covers above).
  • Hy-Breasail: Uí Breasail - a mysterious lost island covered in mist.
  • Ynys Scaith: Isle of Skye(?) - island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, recently featured in the Star Wars movies as the home of the Jedi (opponents of the Sith - i.e. "Sidhe"!).
  • Laegaire: Lóegaire - possibly Lóegaire Búadach, hapless would-be hero of the Ulster Cycle.
  • Craig Don: Don Craig - a fictional character on Days of Our Lives. Don came to Salem as a successful and wealthy attorney. After fourteen years he went to the mail to post a letter and hasn't been seen since. (haha, joke).

Grafton 1989, Paul Damon
The Fates of Corum

One of the funny things about Corum is that he has two endings, one described in The Sword and the Stallion and another described in the last Eternal Champion book of the 1970s, The Quest For Tanelorn. Who knows, maybe the Corum of Quest is an alternate Corum? Anything's possible in Moorcock's Multiverse. I'll revisit this question in the next chapter.

Next Chapter: Hawkmoon: The Count Brass Trilogy

Previous Chapter: Tales From the End of Time (1974-77)

Mayflower 1979 (a Ghoolegh?), Art: Rodney Matthews (1)
Mayflower 1981, Art: Melvyn Grant (2, 3)


Detailed Synopses (Spoilers!)