Who is Elric of Melniboné?

A brooding anti-hero of truly epic proportions

Book cover artwork by Michael Whelan

Most fantasy readers have heard of him but many don’t know him. To some, he is just a pathetic weakling who relies upon drugs or herbs to support his frail being until he finds a sword to take their place. If you take the time to read Michael Moorcock‘s writings concerning this unique man, you will find out he is much, much more than some weakling with a powerful toy coming back to sling vengeance upon former bullies.

Elric was created in Moorcock’s novella, “The Dreaming City” (Science Fantasy No. 47, June 1961) and it later bacame part of the “final” novel of Elric titled “Stormbringer”. This was not a Tolkeinesque adventure of faith and hope but rather a venture of doom seeking to find its place in the annals of the multiverse. After Elric’s creation, he became a popular fictional character after which Moorcock wrote more stories about him and then wrote several novels. The short stories were arranged into novel formats an published in a sort of chronological order and contained several side characters who became other protagonists in their own books. Most notably, Corum, Erekose, and Hawmkoon. Elric, as these other related heroes who become known as a single identity of the Eternal Champion, seems to attract companions able to ignore the doom and death that follows him on his journeys.

So, just who is this lanky albino, 428th emporor of the ruby throne with crimson eyes that leaves behind his royalty upon an ancient island kingdom of sorcerers to see what lies out in the world of man? To the casual observer, he is of a distant race born with bizarre hereditary ailments that make him seem frail and vulnerable except for that demonic sword he carries with him called Stormbringer.

A complex man with exceptional empathy: Elric is not content sitting upon a throne issuing edicts all the day long. No, Elric must know the meaning of life and what it is in the world that makes men of other nations fear him so much. His life is embroiled with complex situations as he finds affection for one of his cousins and strife with another that desires the throne more than he. Those relationships drive him to his fate of a road of love and hatered in which he duels for survival and eventually becomes armed with the most powerful weapon perhaps ever held in the hands of a mortal. Already endowed with arcane powers, Elric finds that this sword has more than a mind of its own and can aid him in sustaining the life of his ailing body and can provide blood and souls to his patron, Arioch in order to summon aid whenever the fickle deity feels the desire to answer his call.

Therefore, we see Elric, a man with complex curiosities concerning his world and his role driven to the edge by more complexities caused by the evil power he possesses and attempts to justify but in the end seems to possess him. But through all the turmoil and struggles he undergoes, we see a man who commits great evil that is constantly trying to make it through life answering the greatest questions of life all the while never wanting to do harm to anyone, especially those most loyal to him. As fate would have it, it doesn’t always work out that way and that causes Elric great grief.

Shares the soul with a million incarnations: Elric is a man of incredible power in spite of his weakling appearance. His mind is sharp, his desires are strong, and his sword is malevolent. You cannot label him as good or evil. He simply is himself wanting to find out the answers to life’s most complex puzzles. However, as much as he desires to explore freely and satisfy his own curiosities, he discovers little by little that his possession of the black sword that screams, howls, sings, and drink souls is only permitted because he shares the fate of a million other individuals throughout the known planes of existence known in Michael Moorcock’s writings as the Multiverse. That fate is the role we come to know as the Eternal Champion. The Eternal Champion never seeks to be the flag bearer of humanity or the eternal balance but once that role is realized, it is impossible for him to rid himself of the mantle. The more he resists, the more the calling drags him into the massive struggles on truly epic stages involving gods and great demons of the higher worlds.

Thus Elric is merely one incarnation  that spans the ages of worlds and planes of existences that reluctantly and without purpose, serves the eternal balance, rescues humanity or dooms it, whichever is necessary at the moment, and challenges the gods who threaten the civilizations with destruction as they use the lower worlds for their great chess games.

Moorcock's Stormbringer, a facinating conclusion to the Elric saga from the short story and short novel era, is fast paced, adventurous, and to the point without unnecessary subplots focusing mostly upon one character - Elric. It contains a host of epic level mind candy to awe readers consuming only about 80K words.

Moorcock’s Stormbringer, a facinating conclusion to the Elric saga from the short story and short novel era, is fast paced, adventurous, and to the point without unnecessary subplots focusing mostly upon one character – Elric. It contains a host of epic level mind candy to awe readers consuming only about 80K words. Book cover artwork by Michael Whelan.

Is forced to bear the weight of many burdens and destined to fulfill a cruel fate: Fate can be an ugly thing and that is an understatement for Elric. As he seeks to embark upon journeys to learn the ways of the Young Kingdoms, he learns more about himself instead. He learns that his burdens are to be great, that anyone he starts to like becomes doomed to have ever known him, and that his end will erupt in cataclysmic results. We learn that only one incarnation has ever been able to be reincarnated many times over and remember his fate. Perhaps Elric is lucky he is not that incarnation and that there could come a day when his burdens will end and all is fulfilled. What that fate entails could be answered at the fabled city that spans the planes of the multiverse, Tanelorn. That is the only city that Eternal Champions can seek for solace but it seems so elusive that the only alternative for Elric is . . .

In some ways, he is like all of us but painted in a role of the most epic proportions: In some ways we are all like Elric. We seek answers to life. We seek the end of misery. We seek that state of being where we can be satisfied and simply live out our life on a plateau of satisfaction. However, like Elric, we seem to always be met with disturbing ironies of fate that seek to dash our hope and serenity. The main difference we see is that with Elric, once again, his tragedies and his fates take place on epic stages where the gods act out their plays of extreme power.

Is there a little of Elric in all of us? Does Elric embody the trials and tribulations we all face in life to some degree? I think we can all say that no matter how hard we try, things just don’t end up quite as lovely as we plan. For any fantasy reader who hasn’t read these yet, you have deprived yourself of a wealth of fantastic fiction accounts that contain a big bang without all the wordiness and fluff that authors today stuff between covers of their books. Don’t let the scant girth of these books fool you for they contain more thought and mind candy than you will find in most other writers whose prose are multiplied in the word count category. Reading the books that make up the story of Elric of Melniboné, we see that Elric is you and Elric is me.

– by J.Wade Harrell,

author of Shadows of Siernod and Flames of Palamarr

About J. Wade Harrell

A native of rural SW Oklahoma, I currently write swords and sorcery fiction which I publish in electronic format on Amazon. My interests and hobbies include shooting, riding motorcycles, fishing, watching college football, playing games, and most of all, spending as much time as possible with my better half, Kathy. I hope you enjoy my blog and that it might lead you into my fantastic worlds of swords and magic. -J. Wade Harrell
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