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Authors: Michael Moorcock

The Whispering Swarm

BOOK: The Whispering Swarm
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For

JEAN-LUC FROMENTAL

and a thousand long lunches at the Goncourt

 

CONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Epigraphs

Book One

  1. My Realities

  2. Friar Isidore

  3. The Fish Chalice

  4. The Abbot's ‘Cosmolabe'

  5. Protecting the Protector

  6. Moll

  7. Looking in to Life

  8. Literary Life

  9. Romance

10. The Stolen Albino

11. Engagement

12. Scenes from Urban Life

13. Marriage

14. Children

15. Christmas Day 1966

16. Succumbing

17. The Temptations

18. Rallying the Troops

19. The Larks

20. Retreat

Book Two

21. Comrades All

22. My Games

23. My Ghosts

24. Something Like Remorse

25. The Chinese Agent

26. The Mysteries

27. Counting Losses

28. My Inductions

29. Mrs Melody

30. English Diversions

31. American Diversions

32. Rolling in the Ruins

33. Dicing with the Deity

Book Three

34. The Absence of Memory

35. Another Fine Christmas

36. Stolen Breath

37. Natural Philosophy at the Abbey

38. Commitment

39. Knowing

40. Melancholy Baby

41. Puritan Clothing

42. Cocke o' the Heap

43. Preparing

44. The Shadow of the Scaffold

45. Setting the Compass

46. Secrets and Surprises

47. Pursued by Puritans

48. A Death

49. The Fall of the Axe

50. Conference

51. All for One …

52. Soldiers at the Gates

53. Across the Ice!

54. Remember!

Tor Books by Michael Moorcock

About the Author

Copyright

 

“We do not move in one direction, rather do we wander back and forth, turning now this way and now that. We go back on our own tracks…”
That thought of Montaigne's reminds me about something I thought of in connection with flying saucers, humanoids, and the remains of unbelievably advanced technology found in some ancient ruins. They write about aliens, but I think that in these phenomena we are in fact confronting ourselves; that is our future, our descendants who are actually travelling in time.

—ANDREI TARKOVSKY

Through profound metaphysical meditation we reach fulfillment of our deep desires. First comes death; then comes the unending dream.

—WHELDRAKE,
THE PINES OF SPARTA,
1913

And Cyrus recalls that from our hopes and fears

We conjure creatures who shed true tears.

—WHELDRAKE,
THE BABYLONIANS

 

 

BOOK ONE

For all forlorn was the Bride of Morne,

And sare alone were she,

She sailed that night from Flete's narren sleets,

So to flee the whispering swarm.

—FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLISH BALLAD (COLL.
C
HILD)

 

1

MY REALITIES

Every day of my life, after all I have learned and the many dangers I have survived, I still reflect on the circumstances which drew me to that part of the City of London I know as ‘Alsacia', which her inhabitants call ‘the Sanctuary'. I learned that magic is as dangerous as we are told it is and that romance can be more destructive than reality. Worse, I came to know and fear the fulfillment of my deepest desires.

I suppose I'm a pretty typical Londoner of my generation. Born at the beginning of the Second World War, in 1940, I was brought up in Brookgate between Grays Inn and Leather Lane. We never moved away, even when the whole city surrounded us in yelling flame. By the time I was born, my family worked chiefly at the lower end of the entertainment business. People had to go on making a living as best they could. And they wanted to be entertained. We were settled Roma intermarried with Jews, cockneys, Irish. Culturally, we were metropolitan Christians. We had barely heard of Alsacia, which was no more than a bit of local folklore. There was plenty of that in London.

SEEING GHOSTS PROFESSIONALLY

From the age of eleven in 1951, I earned my own living, first in The Gallery, Oxford Street, then, after I left school at fifteen, as a journalist (mostly a stringer for the
Evening Standard)
and writer of fiction. As an early reader, I especially enjoyed P.G. Wodehouse, Edgar Rice Burroughs and George Bernard Shaw, and when I first began writing I habitually used my middle initial because I thought the best authors all had three names. I had been telling stories since I was four or five, mostly as little one-act plays. Adults said they were amazed at my imagination. I had the sense not to tell them that I could see ghosts as well. I knew I could impose images on the air and taught myself not to be frightened by them, that they were a phenomenon which could be explained. Occasionally, I glimpsed trails not much wider than a high wire, stretching off into shivering emerald and silver. I took it for granted that this was some occasional trick of the eye. It went away soon enough. As I grew older and read Jung I became even more convinced that what I saw wasn't real. Not, at any rate, in any other shared reality. Jung had analysed perfectly rational people who believed they had travelled in flying saucers. I was a perfectly rational person and I didn't believe in flying saucers or any of the other stuff Jung wrote about. It soon became second nature to check when I saw something odd and remember that only crazy people had visions.

MY MUM AND SHOW BUSINESS

My mother, who let people think she was a widow, seemed to understand. She loved me unreservedly but didn't spoil me when I was growing up. She was the first to understand what my ‘visions' really were and try, with her friend Mr Ackermann's help, to channel that imagination. She ran a tent show in Brookgate Market, where it widens, near the church, putting on melodramas like
Sweeney Todd
or
Rookwood
to audiences of the elderly and lonely. ‘And the downright creepy,' she'd laugh. But it kept a few old actors in work. She was a kind-hearted if eccentric woman whose own life, in the telling, was a bit of a melodrama. When I was eight or nine my friends and I grew bored during the school holidays so she let us perform a couple of my pieces on slow afternoons. To the applause of an audience mostly made up of other market traders,
Red Swords of Mars
starred me as the hero, my friend Keith Rivers as the villain and a bunch of little girls we'd recruited in all other parts. It ended with everybody dying, including the hero and heroine. My first successful stab at pulp SF, with the accent on the stab! Mum had encouraged me to channel an overactive imagination into a useful craft. But Mum's shows weren't to last. Public taste changed, so she switched to running mostly short silent film comedies and cartoons until TV got into its stride. Then it was over.

Mum's brother, Uncle Fred, who lived upstairs next to my room, owned The Gallery. This was long before Centre Point was built. The place was bang next door to Tottenham Court Road tube station, round the corner from Charing Cross Road and opposite the Lyon's Corner House where a ‘gypsy' orchestra still performed for lunch, tea and supper. They played selections from
Maid of the Mountains, The Desert Song
and
The Bandit King,
as well as
In a Monastery Garden
and
In a Persian Market
. Cheap romantic music to go with cheap romantic adventure books and films! My mum used to say I was born out of my time. She loved taking me to the revived silent classics at the National Film Theatre and the Dominion.

MY MUM'S SENSE OF DRAMA

In order to pay for the extra archery and fencing lessons my friend Keith and I took at Brookgate Institute, I worked for Uncle Fred after school and at weekends. I gave change or cashed up the slots. Our family had survived the Blitz but Uncle Fred got a gammy leg at Dunkirk. My dad, a radio operator on Lancaster bombers, was shot down over France in 1943 and hidden by a French family for the duration. He became so comfortable that he stayed on there after the war, with the daughter of the house. My mother said she hadn't minded much—she wasn't cut out for marriage. She had me and the business, which, she said, was actually all she wanted from the bargain. I've never known how much of that was really true but I'm pretty sure I benefited by his absence, and it meant I spent my holidays with Dad in Toulon and Paris when most of my contemporaries were lucky to have a few days at Butlin's every year. I had to tell strangers that I was visiting a family friend. Our immediate family knew the truth about Dad leaving her, but my mum, though sweet-natured, was an habitual fantast. To hear her tell it, she'd travelled all over the world. Actually, she'd hardly been out of Brookgate. She went abroad once, on a day trip to Boulogne, and didn't like it. All foreign food, she would proclaim afterwards, was greasy, fantastic and inedible.

They used to say that Mum would climb a tree to tell a lie rather than stay on the ground to tell the truth. Nobody believed most of her stories. Only Uncle Fred and Mr Ackermann, a local tailor who spent quite a lot of time in our front room, visiting, continued to be sympathetic and supportive of her. Mr Ackermann had lived in Czechoslovakia before the war. A tall, slender man with pale, ascetic features, he dressed like a prewar dandy. His voice was very soft, his face gentle, with long jowls and large brown eyes that gave him the appearance of droll melancholy. He was very well educated. He had been a scientist doing something with radium but he needed fresh qualifications in England, where they were suspicious of him as an ‘alien'. He eventually took over his cousin's thriving bespoke tailoring business at the Theobald's Road end of Brookgate Market. He was a kind, rather introspective man, who also gave me books to read. Years later I came across his rather frustrated love letters to my mum. I wasn't shocked. I'd known he loved her and I think, by association, me. He had left all his family behind. Few had survived. He was the only man I ever told about my ‘ghosts'. He was sympathetic. ‘When they begin to tell their stories, that's when you should be worried.' He smiled.

LONDON SEASONS

Keith and I got bored with the archery but we kept up our fencing, particularly after seeing
The Prisoner of Zenda
at the Rialto, Clerkenwell. I broke my mum's favourite chair trying the trick James Mason played on Stewart Granger and Keith wasn't allowed to see me for a week. Soon after that his mum and dad moved the family out to Epping. They said our neighbourhood was getting too rough. I felt very sorry for Keith, being so far from the centre of things. He wasn't even living in a suburb of London. He was in the
country
!

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