Preferred reading order? Or; Whatever Happened to Series-Linear Narrative?

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,889
Grimward posed an interesting (and seemingly simple) question in the "When Fantasy Is Just Too Dark" thread in response to one of my posts:

Regarding "the next cycle of the universe", I've never figured out Moorcock's timeline for the Eternal Champion (although I haven't really investigated this on-line, either, and probably should for my own curiousity). Which aspect of the Eternal Champion does Elric precede? Recalling in the one book (Sailor on the Seas of Fate?) how most/all of the other aspects showed up at one point and actually merged into one being to counter some threat that menaced the entire multi-verse, maybe they're mostly meant to be considered concurrently...?

The answer, on the other hand, is anything but simple, unless you wish to answer the later bit with "Yes... and No.":rolleyes:

Part of the problem is thinking of the Eternal Champion cycle as linear narrative or perhaps, more broadly, conventional narrative, in structure. Again, it is... and it isn't.

I'll give an example. In The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (and later, in The Vanishing Tower/The Sleeping Sorceress), there are several aspects of the Champion that unite to resolve a problem. But they are far from being most or all. They comprise a fairly manageable number (four in one case, three in the other), but the fact is that nearly all of Moorcock's fiction utilizes the Eternal Champion as its core. Here is what Moorcock says about it:

[The novel The Eternal Champion] is the "first" book in the Eternal Champion cycle which includes [the] Elric books, seven Hawkmoon books, six Corum books, three Michael Kane books, the von Bek books, the stories of Jack Karaquazian and his associates, several science fiction novels and record albums and, more or less directly, almost all my other books, where the idea is often used as metaphor. Together with the idea of the multiverse and Tanelorn, it forms the chief rationale and central symbol to my fiction.

-- The Eternal Champion (Am. omnibus ed.), p. viii​

He goes on to include the Cornelius books, the Oswald Bastable books, the Dancers at the End of Time sequence, etc. He also adds this:

This new edition [the American omnibus set] of the sequence [...] attempts to put some sort of linear form on a sequence that is fundamentally non-linear.

-- ibid., p. vii​

And, in one sense, Grimward is right. All the tales (or at least the series and novels) may be happening simultaneously. Then again, they may be happening at vastly different periods in relation to each other, and what may be the resolution of the entire series may have taken place long before the "first" story of the set.

Nonetheless... there is a certain degree of order (or at least development) to the series, as the Champion learns from his various incarnations, while at the same time Moorcock both broadened and deepened his handling of his various themes and their implications. My strongest suggestion would be to read the final three Hawkmoon books (also called the Castle Brass Trilogy -- Count Brass, The Champion of Garathorm, and The Quest for Tanelorn) at least well into your reading of the series, as it provides a resolution to the tale... but not the only one; The Dragon in the Sword provides another, equally fitting, and equally possible in Moorcock's multiverse of being "the" resolution to the Champion's dilemma.

Here's a post I made a long time ago on the subject of Moorcock's writing, which touches on this particular point to some degree:

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/207406-post7.html

The pertinent bit is this:

I once set out my own preferred order for his books, but that tends to vary with each reader. The Hawkmoon books -- at least the final three -- tend to thematically tie everything together with the end of the Eternal Champion cycle, but reading them before you've read some of the others really doesn't matter; in Moorcock's "multiverse" (I use the quotation marks in deference to Chris) there's an element of chaos and randomness, so that things don't necessarily happen in the ordered pattern we might perceive -- that's part of the philosophical underpinnings to his work.

However, I would say, myself, that as far as the "major" aspects of the Champion (I use quotation marks because I'm referring to the "heroic fantasy" aspects, which totally ignores the fact that Jerry Cornelius is, after Elric, the major incarnation of the Champion) are concerned, Elric should probably be followed by Corum, then Michael Kane, then Dorian Hawkmoon. The cycle should probably be begun with John Daker/Erekosë/Urlik Skarsol/Clen of Clen Gar/Flammadin, with The Eternal Champion, which introduces the concept, followed by The Blood Red Game, which expands on his concept of the multiverse and the "Ghost Worlds".... You can go from there to Phoenix in Obsidian/The Silver Warriors and (if you have or can get a copy) The Swords of Heaven, the Flowers of Hell (though this one is not "necessary", it does develop certain ideas and themes, albeit it was chiefly written by his collaborator, Howard Chaykin, based on a quite detailed outline worked out between the two). Whether you proceed to The Dragon in the Sword or not is a matter of preference. It can be read as part of that sequence, or after The Quest for Tanelorn. (Or, for that matter, it can be read as part of the von Bek sequence!) Daker should be followed by Elric.

Incidentally, to prove my point about Cornelius: the first two Cornelius stories (the earlier parts of the novel The Final Programme, following the prologue) are retellings in contemporary terms of the first two published Elric tales, "The Dreaming City" and "While the Gods Laugh"; underlining the point that Cornelius is a version in the modern world of what Elric was in his.

As for how many aspects of the Champion there are... well, when you read The Eternal Champion (the novel), you'll find Erekosë having memories of all his various incarnations, with what amounts to a roll-call occurring in his dreams, backed by specific memories from various ones. The list is quite considerable. Here are a couple such moments you'll encounter:

Was I John Daker or Erekosë? Was I either of these? Many other names -- Corum Jhaelen Irsei, Aubec, Sexton Begg, Elric, Rackhir, Iliam, Oona, Simon, Bastable, Cornelius, the Rose, von Bek, Asquiol, Hawkmoon -- fled away down the ghostly rivers of my memory.


-- ibid., p. 6​

John Daker? No -- John.
And then, as if to confuse me further, the names began.[...]
Aubec. Byzantium. Cornelius. Colvin. Bradbury. London. Melniboné. Hawkmoon. Lanjis Liho. Powys. Marca. Elric. Muldoon. Dietrich. Arflane. Simon. Kane. Begg. Corum. Persson. Ryan. Asquiol. Pepin. Sewart. Mennell. Tallow. Hallner. Koln. Carnelian. Bastable. von Bek...

-- ibid., p. 63​


These (and other such passages) include not only the protagonists of novels, but also of shorter works. And each one is, indeed, a true aspect of the Champion.

While I do have a preferred reading order of my own, I'm not sure that it would make much sense to anyone else, as it is a blending of a more-or-less chronological sequence of Moorcock's career, intermixed with entire series and thematic developments. Yet, as I've tried to indicate above, it does provide a very coherent picture of the amazingly complex concept that is the Eternal Champion Cycle... but it is by no means the only one. One can also read his work in the order it was published, and receive such a coherent picture, albeit enormously different in some ways. To me, that's one of the beauties of Moorcock's incredibly vast and varied tapestry -- However one reads it, a coherent picture emerges, but said picture may be quite different from reader to reader, yet each still addresses Moorcock's concerns and, in the end, presents (and this is addressing the points I was making in the other thread) a rather hopeful view that is filled with optimism for the future of the human race.

Perhaps, in the end, the best way to look at the "order" of Moorcock's cycle is a metaphor he himself uses now and again, and to simply view it (or through it) as a kaleidoscope....
 
Last edited:

Pyan

Great Old One
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Jul 29, 2005
Messages
10,327
Location
Sarf'ampton
Woo...
You've convinced me into giving them another try, j.d.

I read the Count Brass series a looong time ago, but can't remember a lot about them...if I pick though the above post correctly, your recommendation is to start with The Eternal Champion (the novel): is that right?
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,889
Woo...
You've convinced me into giving them another try, j.d.

I read the Count Brass series a looong time ago, but can't remember a lot about them...if I pick though the above post correctly, your recommendation is to start with The Eternal Champion (the novel): is that right?

LOL... Yes, it is a bit of a "tangled web", isn't it? My own suggestion (as well as that I've seen with most others, including Moorcock) is, if you're going to try the series, yes, that's the best one to begin with. If you're only interested in certain character series, that's another matter; and they are designed so that they can be read independently of the whole -- it's just that in context they become much larger themselves, as well as a lot of the richness of the ideas he is exploring becoming more apparent.

On the other hand, as I said, there are many takes on where to go from there; there's such a thread, iirc, at Moorcock's Miscellany, with discussion of the "proper" order; and Moorcock apparently worked out another such list some years ago (though I believe this was before he did the one for the American White Wolf edition, and certainly before his more recent additions to the cycle, such as The Dreamthief's Daughter, The Skrayling Tree, White Wolf's Son, The Metatemporal Detective, etc.....)

In some ways, as I noted in another thread I began here, I see some of this as similar to the way Cabell pulled so many of his works together, because all of them were dealing with the same themes and ideas, and together they formed an enormous exploration of the major philosophy of his fiction and an examination of his thoughts on life....
 

Pyan

Great Old One
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Jul 29, 2005
Messages
10,327
Location
Sarf'ampton
Well, I'm starting with a blank sheet, so to speak: looking at my shelves, the only Moorcock I've there is The Ice Schooner....

Looking back, I think I tried Moorcock too early in my SF reading...at the time I was still reading my way for the first time through the likes of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Niven, etc....good writers all, but a lot "easier" than Moorcock.
Time for a challenge, I think...and from your posts on the man's œuvre, I think that's just what I'll get.....:D
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,889
Well, I'm starting with a blank sheet, so to speak: looking at my shelves, the only Moorcock I've there is The Ice Schooner....

Looking back, I think I tried Moorcock too early in my SF reading...at the time I was still reading my way for the first time through the likes of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Niven, etc....good writers all, but a lot "easier" than Moorcock.
Time for a challenge, I think...and from your posts on the man's œuvre, I think that's just what I'll get.....:D

The thing is, some of his earliest novels in the field may seem a bit simplistic at times; yet he's exploring some very complex issues, but with perhaps a bit too much emphasis now and again on the allegorical aspect. Nonetheless, he is tackling very big ideas, and even at his wonkiest, if one reads him carefully (rather than quickly), he's extremely thought-provoking. And, of course, as he went along, both his ability to blend the two (storytelling and allegorical significance) and his style improved considerably, until he developed what is now an extremely impressive range of styles suited to different approaches, from very lush, textured prose to very lean, sparse text. Definitely a writer worth exploring; and yes, in many ways his work is definitely a challenge.

(As an aside... I can't help but wonder what, once you've accustomed yourself to him a bit, you would make of the Cornelius tales. Those tend to have very mixed reactions even among die-hard Moorcock fans....:rolleyes:)
 

Urlik

Noise Warrior
Joined
Mar 21, 2007
Messages
789
J.D. has said it all really.

I never set out to read Moorcock in any order, I found my first (Lord of the Spiders) at a jumble sale and set about finding the other two in that series. whilst looking for those, I found some Elric and Corum, then the Hawkmoon books in omnibus, and so far, apart from the later additions, I've read most of the Eternal Champion books up to The Dragon in the Sword, and have reread the individual Champions in their order, but with no care to how they fit with the others as they are in different planes and spheres of existence where time doesn't run in the same direction.

on a side note. are there any books set in Corum's world that recount the first war with the Fhoiye Miore?
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,889
on a side note. are there any books set in Corum's world that recount the first war with the Fhoiye Miore?

Moorcock hasn't written any such; that sort of tying of such things together doesn't seem to be of interest to him; rather it's the themes and subtler connections that fuel his creative imagination. I don't believe any other writers have done so, either, though it's been some time since I read Pawn of Chaos -- an anthology of stories about the Champion's various incarnations written by several other writers (with Moorcock's permission and including a contribution by him), and when I did I wasn't in a particularly good place in my life, so my memory of it isn't as clear as it might be; however, I don't recall anything there on that, either....
 

Urlik

Noise Warrior
Joined
Mar 21, 2007
Messages
789
that's a shame, because I would have enjoyed reading about those times.
still, Moorcock paints such an evocative picture of them without overdoing it that I can almost imagine them anyway (it's a shame I'm not a good writer or I might have a go myself, if the great man authorised the attempt. but I'm not a good writer :( )
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,889
that's a shame, because I would have enjoyed reading about those times.
still, Moorcock paints such an evocative picture of them without overdoing it that I can almost imagine them anyway (it's a shame I'm not a good writer or I might have a go myself, if the great man authorised the attempt. but I'm not a good writer :( )

Well, while it isn't quite the sort of version Moorcock has, you might look into various source-books of Irish and Welsh myth, as the second Corum set is based very strongly on such....

Nuada Airgetlám - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

Urlik

Noise Warrior
Joined
Mar 21, 2007
Messages
789
thanks JD
I sort of knew some of that, especially the Fomorrians, Balor and although not mentioned there, Cernunnos and his hunting horn.

but knowing the scraps of legend that have managed to survive to this day isn't as good as reading MM's descriptive prose.
he may not be factually accurate, but he does bring it all to life in such a vivid way.
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,889
thanks JD
I sort of knew some of that, especially the Fomorrians, Balor and although not mentioned there, Cernunnos and his hunting horn.

but knowing the scraps of legend that have managed to survive to this day isn't as good as reading MM's descriptive prose.
he may not be factually accurate, but he does bring it all to life in such a vivid way.

Agreed. Plus he has his own peculiar vibrancy that he brings to such material....
 

Urlik

Noise Warrior
Joined
Mar 21, 2007
Messages
789
Agreed. Plus he has his own peculiar vibrancy that he brings to such material....

VIBRANCY!!!!!
that was the word I was looking for, but had to settle for vivid as I was getting tired and frustrated :confused:

but I was right, it did begin with a "V" :D
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,889
VIBRANCY!!!!!
that was the word I was looking for, but had to settle for vivid as I was getting tired and frustrated :confused:

but I was right, it did begin with a "V" :D

LOL!

I recall, when I first really got into Moorcock and was reading my way through everything of his I could lay my hands on, that there were certain peculiarities of his which recurred throughout much of his early work (a different set of traits appeared later on) -- a certain use of very vivid tableaux with striking use of almost primitive washes of color (that is, the visual imagery brought to mind, not necessarily the way these were phrased) that I found quite captivating; and the use of such an approach repeatedly, began to draw my attention to one of his major themes: that of how we create archetypal images and myths to capture certain aspects of both our existing humanity and our aspirations, and then use those myths to inform our actions... in essence, creating our future by use of storytelling.

His techniques, of course, became more sophisticated over time, but I still find those passages fascinating, because they remain a very powerful mixture of the primitive (almost iconic) "still-life" that nonetheless practically bubbles over with latent emotional/psychological energy. As a consequence, I found it very interesting when he himself explored this idea more specifically through later books, beginning (iirc) with Blood, where extremely primitive versions of "hero tales" (so primitive that they make the penny dreadfuls look almost refined in comparison) nonetheless tapped into the culture's zeitgeist and even aided in the characters -- and their world -- realize their potential... an extremely controlled use of varying literary techniques which gradually merged; a very controlled performance indeed....
 

Similar threads


Top