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


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 (, 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!)