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Authors: Michael Moorcock

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To give something of the flavour of the time in which the stories were published, we have reprinted the introductory material Carnell attached to them when they appeared for the first time. There are no “early drafts,” I fear, since all the stories were first draft and the only carbon copies were given away to various charity auctions soon after they were published. I have no idea who owns these manuscripts. In a subsequent volume, however, I shall be publishing Elric’s first appearance in the guise of Jerry Cornelius.

It is still a little strange for me to accept that Elric has become part of the pantheon of epic fantasy. I suppose I hoped for something of the sort when I was sixteen or thereabouts, but my ambitions changed. Or so I thought. I have been extraordinarily lucky in doing pretty much all I ever dreamed of doing as a teenager. Indeed, various ambitions came together in the late 1980s when Hawkwind, the band with which I frequently performed, staged a rock version of
The Stealer of Souls
, put out as
The Chronicle of the Black Sword
, complete with a mime troupe enacting the story. I also had a great time collaborating with Eric Bloom on Blue Öyster Cult’s version of “Black Blade,” which I first performed in a different form with my own band the Deep Fix at Dingwalls in the late 1970s.

It seems Elric will, like the Eternal Champion he is, keep coming back in various incarnations, but this version is without doubt my favourite and probably the last I shall produce. I must thank Betsy Mitchell for her commitment to this project. And finally I thank my friend John Picacio who, by coincidence, began his professional illustrating career with my
Behold the Man
and followed it with a representation of Elric in
Tales from the Texas Woods
. If you are familiar with Elric, I trust you enjoy revisiting him in this present form. If you are new to him, I hope you find him good, rather dangerous company.

Michael Moorcock
Rue Amélie, Paris/Lost Pines, Texas
October/December 2006


I’m inclined to forget how many contributions I made to fanzines between, say, 1955 and 1965. I continued to contribute to them while I was editor of
Tarzan Adventures
and even wrote the odd letter while I was editing
New Worlds.
One of the finest of these fanzines was
essentially a serious magazine for that handful of people then interested in fantasy fiction and specifically—thus the title—the work of Robert E. Howard. Run by an enthusiast, George Scithers, who is still involved in enthusiast publishing (most recently
Weird Tales)
to this day. By the evidence of my approach, I must suppose that Fritz Leiber had not yet taken part in the correspondence and had therefore not come up with the terms “sword and sorcery” or “heroic fantasy.” Actually, I still prefer my own suggestion. I would not include the Peake books in that list anymore, and there are a few others I would mention if writing the piece today. It was probably written in the middle of 1960. I reprint it here because, with my “Aspects of Fantasy” essays, which became
Wizardry and Wild Romance,
it immediately precedes the Elric stories and gives some idea of the atmosphere in which “The Dreaming City” was published, at a time when supernatural adventure fantasy (to give it another tag) was thought to have only a very limited readership….



myself, and until recently had convinced myself, that names were of no importance and that what really mattered was the Thing Concerned, not the tag which was put on said Thing. Although in principle I still agree with the idea, I am having to admit to myself that names are convenient and save an awful lot of wordage. Thus with “Science Fiction”: a much disputed tag, agreed, but one which at least helps us to visualize roughly what someone who uses the words means.

We have two tags, really—SF and “Fantasy”—but I feel that we should have another general name to include the sub-genre of books which deal with Middle Earths and lands and worlds based on this planet, worlds which exist only in some author’s vivid imagination. In this sub-genre I would classify books like
The Worm Ouroboros
The Lord of the Rings
The Once and Future King
, the Gray Mouser/Fafhrd series, the Conan series,
The Broken Sword
The Well of the Unicorn
, etc.

Now all these stories have several things in common—they are fantasy stories which could hardly be classified as SF, and they are stories of high adventure, generally featuring a central hero very easy to identify oneself with. For the most part they
works of escapism, anything else usually being secondary (exceptions, I would agree, are
The Once and Future King
). But all of them are tales told for the tale’s sake, and the authors have obviously thoroughly enjoyed the telling.

The roots of most of these stories are in legendry, classic romance, mythology, folklore, and dubious ancient works of “History.”

In a recent letter, Sprague de Camp called this stuff Prehistoric-Adventure-Fantasy and this name, although somewhat unwieldy, could apply to much of the material I have listed. PAF? Then again, you could call it Saga-Fantasy or Fantastic-Romance (in the sense of the Chivalric Romances).

What we want is a name which might not, on analysis, include every book in this category, but which, like “Science Fiction,” would give readers some idea what you’re talking about when you’re doing articles, reviews, etc., on books in this genre. Or for that matter it would be useful to use just in conversation or when forming clubs, launching magazines, etc.

Epic Fantasy
is the name which appeals most to me as one which includes many of these stories—certainly all of the ones I have mentioned.

Most of the tales listed have a basic general formula. They are “quest” stories. The necessary sense of conflict in a book designed to hold the reader’s interest from start to finish is supplied by the simple formula:

A) Hero must get or do something;

B) Villains disapprove;

C) Hero sets out to get what he wants anyway;

D) Villains thwart him one or more times (according to length of story); and finally

E) Hero, in the face of all odds, does what the reader expects of him.

Of course E) often has a twist of some kind, to it but in most cases the other four parts are there. This is not so in
nor in White’s tetralogy admittedly, but then
is definitely an allegory, while in
The Sword in the Stone
and its sequels it is the characters which are of main importance to the author.
only just manages to squeeze into the category anyway.

Also, it can be argued that this basic plotline can apply to most stories. Agreed, but the point is that here the plotline tends to dominate both theme and hero, and is easily spotted for what it is.

Conan and the Gray Mouser generally have to start at point A), pass wicked points B) and D), and eventually win through to goal—point E). Anything else, in the meantime, is extra—in fact, the extra is that which puts these stories above many others. The Ringbearers in Tolkien’s magnificent saga do this also.

Now, the point is that every one of these tales, almost without exception, follows the pattern of the old Heroic Sagas and Epic Romances. Basically, Conan and Beowulf have much in common; Ragnar Lodbrok and Fafhrd also; Gandalf and Merlin; Amadis of Gaul and Airar (of
The Well of the Unicorn
). And I’m sure many of the unhuman characters (elves, orcs, wizards, and such) and monsters these heroes encounter can trace their ancestry right back to the Sidhe; Lord Soulis; Urganda the Unknown; Grendel; Siegfried’s dragon; Cerberus; and the various hippogriffs, firedrakes, and serpents of legend and mythology.

As de Camp showed in his “Exegesis of Howard’s Hyborian Tales” and as I did in my earlier and not nearly so complete article “Historical Fact and Fiction in Connection with the Conan Series” (
, vol. 2, no. 16, August 1957), the names for characters and backgrounds in Howard’s wonderful series were nearly all culled from legendry. Most of Howard’s sources are easily traced, for he did not even change names. The same goes for
The Broken Sword
; and the Ring tetralogy is obviously based (only
, mind you) on Anglo-Saxon foundations.

This, of course, does not detract one iota from the stories themselves. In fact all the authors have done much, much more than simply rehash old folk literature—they have taken crudely formed and paradoxical tales as their bases and written new, subtler stories which are often far better than the ones which undoubtedly influenced them. Also, when I compare Conan with Beowulf and so on, I am not saying that these characters were the originals upon which Howard, Leiber, Tolkien, and the others based their own heroes and villains—I am simply trying to point out that the
was there.

So, all in all, I would say that
Epic Fantasy
is about the best name for the sub-genre, considering its general form and roots. Obviously, Epic Fantasy includes the Conan, Kull, and Bran Mak Morn stories of R. E. Howard; the Gray Mouser/Fafhrd stories by Fritz Leiber; the Arthurian tetralogy by T. H. White; the Middle Earth stories of J.R.R. Tolkien;
The Worm Ouroboros
by E. R. Eddison; the Zothique stories of Clark Ashton Smith; some of the works of Abraham Merritt (
The Ship of Ishtar
, etc.); some of H. Rider Haggard’s stories (
Allan and the Ice Gods
, etc.);
The Broken Sword
by Poul Anderson; the Gormenghast trilogy of Mervyn Peake (it just gets in, I think); the Poictesme stories of James Branch Cabell (including
The Silver Stallion
, and others); and
The Well of the Unicorn
by Fletcher Pratt.

I would appreciate other suggestions for possible inclusions.
Titus Groan
and its sequels by Mervyn Peake actually do not have the form nor roots I have described but they have the general atmosphere and are certainly set outside of our own space-time Earth.

The question might be raised as to whether or not to include Alternate Space-Time Continuum stories such as de Camp’s and Pratt’s Harold Shea tales, Anderson’s
Three Hearts and Three Lions
, Mark Twain’s
A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur
(obviously the main influence for many subsequent stories), L. Ron Hubbard’s
Slaves of Sleep
, etc., in which present day heroes enter worlds of legend and myth and don’t take the idea altogether seriously. The basic difference is in the treatment, I think. In the Epic Fantasy group the author more or less asks you to accept the background and so on as
because his characters consider it important, then take the story from there, respecting the laws and logic which are to be taken for what they are, and taken seriously.

In the AS-TC group the treatment is often humorous, the author having the attitude of a teller of tall stories who doesn’t expect to be believed but knows that he is entertaining his hearers—which is all that is required of him. Thus, although several of the AS-TC group could just about fall into the Epic Fantasy group, I consider it best to describe them as simply “Fantasy” (which I usually interpret to mean the kind of stuff which filled the majority of
’s pages).

What do you think?


For my mother.

This is the first of a new series of stories by a new author to our pages. Unlike many central characters, Elric is puny on his own, but as a wanderer in another place and time he has the power of sorcery to boost his strength.

—John Carnell, SCIENCE FANTASY No. 47, June 1961

BOOK: The Stealer of Souls
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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