|White Wolf 1997, Don Maitz|
This Mabden Dream
The worlds of the earlier Eternal Champions each seemed to have parallels with some historical aspect of Great Britain: Elric's Melniboné echoes the end of the British Empire after a century of global imperialism, John Daker comes from an apparently passionless, domesticated modern London, Hawkmoon's world is a portrait of a future Great Britain dominating the world in a drunken, post-apocalyptic frenzy of debauchery and oppression. Continuing this trend of Anglophilic extrapolation, the first Corum sequence draws from the rural color and Celtic/Cornish mythology of southwest England, inspired by the author's memories of childhood days in the region as well as a more recent holiday in Cornwall, ensconced with a Cornish-English dictionary.
Aside from these sense-memory impressions and reference texts, Moorcock also drew inspiration absorbed from adolescent readings of authors such as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Daphne Du Maurier, R.D. Blackmore, Maurice Baring, Jeffrey Farnol, Rafael Sabatini "and all those others who made brigandry and piracy seem such attractive careers".
"...perhaps my main inspiration came from a later novelist and poet, Henry Treece. For me his stories of Celtic and Dark Age Britain remain the very best of their kind and include such wonderful novels as The Golden Strangers and The Great Captains. He was the first author I ever read who made Arthur a living Celtic prince with human needs and ambitions. With Graves’s The White Goddess, Mackenzie’s Myths and Legends of the Celts and Padraic Colum’s The King of Ireland’s Son, Treece’s books are the greatest influence on these particular stories..."With all that said, it's probably worth noting that it's really not necessary for readers to be familiar with Cornish lore in order to enjoy the stories (I certainly wasn't when I first read them). In fact, despite the Celtic window-dressing, this sequence is probably more meaningful to fantasy/SF readers as a further solidification of Moorcock's own multiverse concept, and contains links both to the past and to the future of Moorcock's more than half-century long literary corpus.
- Corum: The Coming of Chaos, Omnibus Introduction 1995
|Mayflower 1970s, Bob Haberfield|
Many of the stories of the Eternal Champion begin with his role as an outsider of his own race, which itself is frequently on the verge of extinction (due to the rise of mankind, or at least Granbretan). In the Swords Trilogy, the Champion Eternal known as Corum is a member of the Vadhagh, a somewhat effete race in which fortress fiefdoms devote themselves to introspective study of science and culture within isolated castles. On the other hand, the Nhadragh, a related race of antiquity (as old as "a million or more years"), devote themselves to studies of sorcery. The first book of the Corum series, The Knight of the Swords, begins some time after a great war has been fought between the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh, leaving both races decimated and scattered over the region.
While these elder races fall into a kind of intellectual ossification, mankind, also known as the Mabden, begin to develop into the dominant civilization, with some tribes being fairly progressive, and some oppressively barbaric. The Mabden race are essentially replacing the "Old Races" of the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh as the inheritors of the Earth, just as the Old Races had once replaced a prior people (whose last survivor, the amusingly petty Prince Shool, Corum meets early on in his quest). The first book describes in particular the encroachment of a barbaric tribe of Mabden from the north. Moorcock cites the barbarian settlement of Penzance and St Ives as being analogous to the movements of these Mabden.
Fortunately, that not all of the Mabden are slaughtering barbarians. After Corum's family is killed and himself tortured by the evil Earl Glandyth-a-Krae ("of Krae", leader of the Denledysshi, self-proclaimed "murderers"), Corum finds new allies in the western Mabden of Lywm-an-Esh ("the Sinking Land"), a human nation of scholars and priests. It's interesting to compare the historical conflict between the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh with these young Mabden nations (wars never seem to go out of style). At the same time, a third bilateral struggle persists between the Higher Beings of Law and Chaos...
|Berkeley 1980s, Robert Gould|
The geography of Corum's first saga is partly modelled on southwest England, particulary Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The main site of the first book, the island-bound Moidel's Mount, stands where St. Michael's Mount does now, and both are accessable through a long causeway reaching from the mainland (but is sometimes submerged, as seen below).
|St. Michael's Mount|
|("Max von Bek")|
In the background of Corum's world exists Moorcock's multiverse, introduced in The Eternal Champion, The Sundered Worlds, and the Elric books (most notably Stormbringer). A omnipotent, usually terse (and often mute) force holds the Cosmic Balance, and weighs the opposing influences of Order and Chaos against each other on a multitude of parallel realities. The Balance employs various incarnations of a warrior-avatar, the Eternal Champion, to help maintain an equilibrium between these two extremes.
In Corum's world the higher beings which stand for Law include Lord Arkyn. Opposing Arkyn are the Chaos-aligned Sword Rulers, the Knight of the Swords (Arioch), the Queen of the Swords (Xiombarg) and the King of the Swords (Mabelode, frequently misspelled "Mabelrode"). Interestingly, these Sword Rulers also exist in Elric's world but are portrayed with quite different characterizations. If the Chaos Lords of Elric's world are the same beings as those featured in Corum's world, their contrasting characterizations might be an example of how different natural forces are characterized uniquely by different civilizations (thunderstorms, for example, have been construed by different peoples as either an exclamation of celebration or one of wrath).
|Berkeley 1971, David McCall Johnson|
Agents of the Multiverse
Although familiarity with the exploits of Elric and Erekosë are not a prerequisite to enjoying the Swords Trilogy it certainly doesn't hurt, since Moorcock here begins adding more characters who are consciously aware of this Cosmic Struggle, and their sometimes cryptic pronouncements make more sense in context of the greater scheme of things. One of the most likeable of these "conscious" avatars is Jhary-a-Conel, Corum's "Companion" for this sequence (a role taken by Moonglum in Elric's tales and Oladahn in Hawkmoon's). Moorcock fans can easily recognize Jhary's name as another variation on "Jeremiah Cornelius".
Because he is consciously aware of his previous incarnations and of the part he must play in the larger cosmic drama, Jhary is both more casual about his own physical being and more insistent about the Champion's mission. In Queen, he mentions his other names as being Timeras and Shalenak, and recalls adventures with Rackhir the Red Archer ("to Xerlerenes where the ships of the Boatmen sail the skies as your ships sail the sea"), Elric ("at the Court of the Dead God"), Asquiol of Pompeii and Hawkmoon.
“I have been heroic, I suppose, as some would see it. Perhaps I have even been a hero of sorts. And, there again, it is sometimes my fate to be one aspect of a particular hero—a part of another man or group of other men who together make up a single great hero. The stuff of our identities is blown by a variety of winds—all of them whimsical—about the multiverse. There is even a theory I have heard that all mortals are aspects of one single cosmic identity and some believe that even the gods are part of that identity, that all the planes of existence, all the ages which come and go, all the manifestations of space which emerge and vanish, are merely ideas in this cosmic mind, different fragments of its personality.”
- The Queen of the SwordsJhary's supposition above that all identities may simply be parallel (or sequenced?) incarnations of one single identity would have repercussions throughout Moorcock's bibliography, and hints at the answer to the question of who is or isn't an Eternal Champion. Answer: possibly everyone at one time or another. Another possible tease arises when Jhary says, "I have seen the future and the past. I have seen a variety of planetary systems and I have learned that time does not exist and that space is an illusion.” This revelation brings to my mind a scenario demonstrated in the 1963 story "Flux", which, notably, is included in the White Wolf Eternal Champion multi-volume series.
|Grafton 1986, Mark Salwowski|
“HE WAS ONCE a hero,” said Jhary as they stood on the walls that night, peering out at the thousand campfires of the Chaos army surrounding the city, “this Prince Gaynor. He, too, fought on the side of Law. But then he fell in love with something—perhaps it was a woman—and became a renegade, throwing in his lot with Chaos. He was punished—punished, some say, by the power of the Balance. Now he may never serve Law or know the pleasure of Law. Now he must serve Chaos eternally, just as you, eternally, serve Law…”Gaynor's history and future are actually filled in at much greater length in future books, most of them not featuring Corum in them at all. Perhaps, because Gaynor is conscious of the forces at work, he is sometimes more interesting than the usually-oblivious Eternal Champion featured on the cover. Just as Milton made Satan more interesting than the other more "respectable" angels, I think Moorcock has had a good deal of fun with Gaynor over the years.
Other locales and artifacts of the multiverse also appear in this saga, including the Moorcock multiverse's "Valhalla", Tanelorn (first visited back in 1962's "To Rescue Tanelorn..."), and the mysterious, destiny-shaping Runestaff, featured most prominently in Hawkmoon's 1960s sequence. Another minor reference occurs in the first book where the story of the Mabden folk hero Mag-an-Mag and his companion Jhakor-Neelus is mentioned. Jhakor-Neelus obviously hints at yet another incarnation of Jeremiah Cornelius (I suppose Mag-an-Mag might be "man of the people", ie - an Eternal Champion). Jhakor-Neelus is also gifted with the head of a stork, which brings to mind the Dark Empire's fetish with animal masks.
Having now reached a fourth Eternal Champion to have his own extended sequence, it might be interesting to briefly compare these four incarnations of theoretically the same being.
Erekosë is in one sense probably the most psychologically-complex, as he is conscious of his role as an endlessly-reincarnated pawn of cosmic forces. However, although he may be the most noble at heart of the four, he is also probably the most guilty, having directly caused the complete slaughter of his own race. Unfortunately, the weight of his existence doesn't permit him to be particularly witty as a conversationalist, making him kind of a "straight man" in comparison to the more sardonic characters...
Elric has a different kind of complexity, being of a nonhuman race and brought up as a sorcerer-emperor amongst an intellectually-advanced, alien culture. Unlike those of the other Champions, his race is cruelly-indifferent to brutal torture, which accentuates their alien nature. However, Elric is also the most sardonic of the four, and his cutting sense of twisted humor makes his inhuman nature a bit more palatable. Elric is also the Champion seemingly most indifferent to his own death, as long as it is by his own hand and not at the whim of a higher being.
Dorian Hawkmoon of the Runestaff quartet is probably simplest Eternal Champion, at least at this point in his sequence (he deepens somewhat during the subsequent "Castle Brass" trilogy). Hawkmoon is simply a man, deposed from his position as the Duke of a small Germanic territory by an evil empire. He seems stalwart enough, but is not particularly cultured or witty. Hawkmoon's appeal comes from the fact that he is a resistance fighter whose admirable persistence leads to a fairly reasonable happy ending. Unfortunately for some readers, Hawkmoon's general disposition is a bit "domestic", and not quite as extreme (interesting) as the others. Fortunately, the frequently laughable intrigues found in the Dark Empire's ranks make up for this in the Runestaff quartet.
For many Moorcock fans, Corum is their favorite Eternal Champion, probably in large part because Corum is simply the most likeable. He comes from a cultured race, is able to overcome unspeakable mutilations without retaining any great psychological wounds, has a gift for dry understatement, and even composes music. Like Erekosë and Elric, Corum eventually becomes aware of the higher cosmic forces at work, but in contrast to those heroes, largely manages to carve out his own destiny. Erekosë and Elric are essentially gothic (or "Byronic") heroes heading towards an apocalyptic climax of some sort or another, whereas Corum's path leads to long-term friendships, romance and freedom. Also, despite Elric's background in sorcery, Corum seems to be the most comfortable at traveling between planes of the Multiverse, making him closer to a scholarly Professor Faustaff (Rituals of Infinity) than a "Conan the Cimmerian". Aside from all this, Corum and Jhary-a-Conel may have the best sense of comic timing in the Multiverse (see their Monty Python-esque turn on Duke Teer in The King of the Swords).
|Mike Mignola/P. Craig Russell 1986-88|
As mentioned above, Corum seems to "get around". His own world contains a full fifteen parallel planes (five of which are still reachable to those with certain mental powers), but Corum actually spends more time in realities even beyond those five his people are familiar with. Each of Corum's novels includes a visit with its titular Chaos Lord, and each of their realms actually have their own repulsively-flavored definition. In addition, in the final volume Corum even visits Cornwall itself (named by its native name "Kernow"), and the reader gets a taste of what might be considered as An Eternal Champion in King Arthur's Court.
After touching upon some folkloric elements in Cornwall (elves, witches, forest trolls, etc), Corum is whisked to the opposite extreme, where he goes deep into Moorcock-ian multiverse territory to ally himself with Erekosë, Elric, and even the Runestaff to penetrate the mysteries of the Vanishing Tower (Moorcock "prepares" the reader earlier in the story by having Corum and Jhary see fleeting visions of scenes from Stormbringer, The Eternal Champion and The Runestaff). In a further demonstration of deft literary recursion, this episode is later retold in a Rashomon-like mirror-narrative found in the Elric novel The Sleeping Sorceress/The Vanishing Tower. Although Hawkmoon misses out on this particular adventure, he will eventually join his Eternal Champion brethren four years later in a second "team-up", first described in The Quest For Tanelorn and again in The Sailor on the Seas of Fate.
Aside from these overtly post-modern reality-skips, several episodes also imply connections to other literary realms. Corum's journey through the Queen of the Swords' realm reminds me of Dante Alighieri's journey through the Inferno in The Divine Comedy, while the dead Margrave of Corum's lover Rhalina apparently captains a ship belonging to the Flying Dutchman's fleet. Even more literary realms are probably implied within the Swords Trilogy, and would likely be more easily detected by those readers more familiar with the authors Moorcock has cited above as his influences for this sequence.
|Orion 1992, Yoshitaka Amano|
Returning back to the original genesis of Corum's sequence, Moorcock frequently uses variations of the Cornish language (as well as Welsh) to generate exotic-sounding names for the Mabden landmarks of Corum's world. In fact, "mab" translates to "youth", making the rise of the Mabden race parallel the rise of the Young Kingdoms in Elric's world (the title of the famous Welsh manuscript, the Mabinogion, translates to "account of youthful adventures"). Within the narrative itself, Corum even translates some names from the Mabden language to Vadhagh and then to English. For example, King Lyr-a-Brode translates to "King of All the Land", and the island Svi-an-Fanla-Brool translates to "Home of the Gorged God". It's beyond the scope of this post to get too deep into the etymology of the many names found in the Swords Trilogy, but its worth mentioning that the name of Corum's race, the Vadhagh, has some similarity to the name for Daghda, an Irish deity known for hidden knowledge and "four-angled" compositions for harp (Corum later becomes haunted by a harp). However, the Swords Trilogy is really more about the Mabden - Corum's Irish roots would be explored in a second trilogy.
Structure and Intuition
In the 1992 book Death Is No Obstacle, basically a series of interviews given to Colin Greenland, Moorcock describes the writing technique he employs to structure his heroic fantasies, essentially charting out episodes organized in arcs distributed across novel-length volumes of about 50,000 words each. However, one revealing passage also describes how the author allows intuition and whimsy to direct his hand, sometimes without a specific endgame in mind.
In the Corum books, there’s the Wading God who is constantly trawling in the sea. I didn’t know until the end of the series that the Wading God was Rhynn, whose eye Corum’s got, and that he was looking for his eye. I just had him as a mysterious character like the Warrior in Jet and Gold, who I hadn’t explained yet, even to myself.
- Death Is No Obstacle (1992)
At the end of The Swords Trilogy both the Chaos and the Law gods are destroyed (or banished) from Corum's world. Although a similar outcome was depicted with more Wagnerian bombast in Stormbringer, here the "twilight of the gods" happens offstage. Since Elric literally fought the gods in that earlier sequence, it's a nice change of pace to have Corum reach a climax by simply resolving his conflict with Earl Glandyth, the barbarian Mabden who had caused him so much personal discomfiture. In any case, the subtext here is that humanity should free itself from the whims of higher beings and improve the world on their own.
I really do think that if we make an effort to love one another we could produce a pretty good quality of life all round. On the other hand, as someone active in politics, I know how hard that can be to achieve. So I’m trying to deal realistically, if you like, with very romantic ideas. I think some aspects of The Eternal Champion...such as in Corum and Hawkmoon, are fundamentally humanistic - we can change if we get rid of ‘gods’. I have a belief in the randomness of the natural world, but I do not believe in ‘fate’. I am involved in politics. That means I believe it’s possible to change the human condition for the better (or the worse) - I’m just not sure to what degree.
- An Interrogation of Fantasy (Gardiner, 2000)
|Mike Mignola 1986|
In The Knight of the Swords, Vadhagh Prince Corum loses an eye and a hand (as well as the lives of his entire family) to the cruel Mabden barbarian Earl Glandyth. Maimed and embittered, he finds some relief with a woman named Rhalina, the benevolent ruler of a border outpost established by the cultured Mabden of the west (Lywm-an-Esh). However, Glandyth tracks down the mutilated Vadhagh Prince, forcing Rhalina to resort to sorcery to repel their Mabden attackers. Unfortunately, this places her under the power of dark supernatural forces (specifically her dead husband, the Margrave Earl Moidel). In order to win Rhalina's freedom, Corum learns that he must obtain the crystal heart of the Knight of the Swords (the Chaos Lord Duke Arioch). Equipped with the supernatural Eye Of Rhynn and Hand Of Kwll grafted onto his body, Corum proceeds to overcome several human and inhuman adversaries in order to gain entrance to Arioch's realm. He eventually destroys Arioch's crystal heart, banishing the Chaos Lord from Corum's world and freeing Rhalina from her sorcerous bonds.
Note: Corum's first book starts out gently enough, but soon becomes quite horrific when Earl Glandyth starts in on his atrocities. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. However, once past this brutal sequence, the pseudo-historical romance make it all worth it. Corum's new Hand and Eye present some interesting ideas. First of all, Rhynn and Kwll are apparently "lost gods" from before the coming of the Law and Chaos lords. It may even be possible that Rhynn and Kwll are one of the "Dead Gods" named in the Elric story "While The Gods Laugh". This opens up a tempting line of speculation regarding the mythology of the "pre-Balance" era. In any case, the Hand and the Eye allow Corum to draw on reanimated undead adversaries from a netherworld "capsule reality" to help fight his battles, after which the newly-defeated enemies take the place of the old ones in the netherworld pocket. This is a pretty cool device to introduce into the Eternal Champion fantasy cycle, and may be a development of certain mechanisms presented through earlier SF concepts, such as Professor Faustaff's "shifter" mechanisms (Rituals Of Infinity) and even possibly Jerry Cornelius' "randomizer machine" in The Cure For Cancer.
|Jackson Guice 1987|
Joined by the multiverse-trotting poet/writer Jhary-a-Conel, Corum seeks out Mabden aid to help him resist further invasions being organized by Earl Glandyth's Chaos-aligned chieftan, King Lyr. After consulting with Lord Arkyn of Law, Corum and his friends journey to the realm of the Queen of the Swords, Xiombarg. After traversing a surreal landscape of desolate despair, they eventually come across a lost colony of Corum's Vadhagh people, marooned from a much earlier disaster. While preparations are made for the Vadhagh "City in the Pyramid" to return home, Corum returns ahead of time to help Rhalina's people stave off an army of Lyr's Mabden invaders, now aided by Prince Gaynor the Damned and his Chaos Pack. Once the City in the Pyramid finally arrives, the battle seems to be won, but then Xiombarg herself suddenly appears and threatens to destroy all of her enemies. Subsequently, Lord Arkyn of Law also materializes, and invokes rules set down by the Cosmic Balance: the Higher Lords are only permitted to employ "agents" in foreign planes, and are forbidden to visit and take direct action themselves. Xiombarg is then promptly banished from Corum and Arkyn's plane.
Note: As mentioned above, Jhary-a-Conel is generally more conscious of the forces at work in the Multiverse, making him a somewhat "cosmopolitan" figure amongst the more medieval-flavored main players. For those unfamiliar with the rest of the Eternal Champion volumes, Jhary's pronouncements might whet their appetite to learn more. For those more well-traveled along the Multiverse (Megaflow, Moonbeam Roads...), Jhary's asides act as authorial "winks" to the reader. Overall, Jhary is one of Moorcock's most appealing characters simply for having a positive attitude, being the smartest person in the room, and for having a flying, telepathic cat named Whiskers as his friend. In order to balance out the introduction of Jhary's cheerful character, Moorcock also introduces Prince Gaynor the Damned, who is also self-conscious of his eternal subservience to the Cosmic Balance. As mentioned earlier, Gaynor's backstory will be greatly expanded upon in decades to come. The inclusion of so many "multiversal actors" in Corum's saga brings a greater sense of mythology to the whole affair, while at the same time Corum's personal struggle with the Mabden satisfies the need for a more intimate conflict.
|Mike Mignola/P. Craig Russell 1988|
In response to the setbacks suffered by Lyr's Mabden in the previous book, a desperate Earl Glandyth asks for aid from Chaos to guarantee a victory against Corum. Thus empowered, his now-airborne warriors force Corum and his friends to flee into the Multiverse, where they unfortunately end up in the realm of the King of the Swords, Mabelode. Narrowly escaping the diabolical denizens of Mabelode's Chaos-plane, Corum accidentally stumbles into the pseudo-historical world of Kernow, also known as Cornwall in south England. This post-modern excursion is followed by an even more bizarre scenario when Corum meets Erekosë and Elric, and together they rescue Jhary-a-Conel from a "vanishing tower", ruled by an odd dwarf-sorcerer named Voilodion Ghagnasdiak. Corum eventually finds his way to the legendary city of Tanelorn, where he comes across the ancient god Kwll, the original owner of Corum's superntatural, grafted-on Hand. After returning his borrowed body appendages, Corum returns to his own plane and finally defeats Earl Glandyth in single combat. Kwll then appears at Corum's home and reports that he has destroyed all of the Chaos Lords on this plane - as well as all of the Law Lords.
Note: In the Swords Trilogy, the relative size of each of the Sword Rulers' realms increases with each book, and this expansion is also reflected in the regional scope of Corum's adventures within each volume. Arioch's plane seems to be about the size of a large palace. Xiombarg's realm stretches across more territory, but is still limited by terrestrial landscaping like cliffs, rivers, falls and stairs. Mabelode's realm is closer to an acid trip in outer space, where the physical landscape continually transforms from one scene into another, frequently with surrealism-tinged absurdity. A somewhat proportionate magnification also happens in the geographical reach of each book. Knight spends most of its time on Earth, where Corum travels around by horse, boat and kite. Queen includes accounts of Earl Glandyth amongst his northern Mabden allies through Whiskers' eyes, and later Corum is reunited with a lost colony of Vadhagh (making him no longer the last of his kind). King goes both outside the "fantasy" Multiverse (Cornwall) and deeper into its interstitial fabric (the Vanishing Tower). The first part of Kings also features the appearance of a Chaos demon named "Yyrkoon", whose name of course, is the same as that of Elric's ambitious Mournblade-wielding cousin.
The Swords Trilogy skillfully manages to deepen the "lore" of the Multiverse with some very entertaining personalities, and goes out of its way to unequivocally tie together the various major strands of the Eternal Champion saga. And by the third book, elements of historical fiction start to appear in the form of a folktale-tinged Cornwall. This kind of thread would eventuall lead to the even more historically-informed sequences featured in the Von Bek volumes. However, before that was to happen, Corum would return in a second trilogy where the struggles surrounding the Cosmic Balance are left behind for an encounter with his Irish roots.
|Titan Books 2015|
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