Orion/Millennium 1993, Art: Yoshitaka Amano
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
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
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).
Mayflower 1973/75, Art: Bob Haberfield
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
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").
Dell 1976-78, Art: Richard Courtney
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.
Dell 1981, Art: Ezra Tucker
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).
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|
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|
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,
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)|
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)
Next: The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century (1976)
White Wolf 2000, Art: Walter Simonson