The Stealer of Souls

June 20, 2014


The Stealer of Souls
Michael Moorcock

What better hero could we ask for? A psychopathic, albino sorcerer, totally dependent on a hell-blade, Stormbringer, for his strength and vitality! Oh, yes. And that damned sword is the stealer of souls – semi-sentient, it consumes the living souls of its victims! Feeds Elric, the albino, with the vitality of its sorry victims.

So, a correction. It’s the black-bladed sword that’s the psychopath – not poor, ill-used Elric. The five stories within this book:

The Dreaming City

While the Gods Laugh

The Stealer of Souls

Kings in Darkness

The Flame Bringers

I Read these when originally published – stories owing a huge debt to Robert E Howard. And again we have civilizations in decline, decaying cities – Clark Ashton Smith eat your heart out…But, oh, too late, Stormbringer probably got there first!

The tone of these stories is tragic. Elric in attempting to rescue his lover, Princess Cymoril, not only fails to achieve his heart’s desire, but ultimately brings down his own, 10,000 year old Empire!

Oh, well…having muffed it big time what’s left? A question I’m sure we all must ask. And Moorcock’s Elric provides the answer – he embarks on a variety of quests with his pal, Moonglum. One only hopes he has more luck with him than with his Princess!?

Ummmm. That seems a tad homoerotic to me? I must take care where my keyboard takes me – it’s a bit like Elric’s Stormbringer! Has a life of its own…

So, are these stories little more than fuel for the Testosterone-driven daydreams of adolescent boys?

Yes, yes, of course they are that. But they also give us a glimpse of civilization in decline – a pawn in the control of vast, incomprehensible powers, Elric demonstrates that civilization is unnatural, that it must of necessity fall, and chaos rule in its stead.

Elric, poor cynical Elric, demonstrates all you need to survive is a sharp sword and a straight path to your enemies.

Ah, what pleasure I derived from these tales in my youth – cliché-ridden adventures, wherein we are confronted by dusky, naked maidens, sorcerers with blood-red eyes, and pale-skinned Elric ready to take on all comers…

Moorcock claimed that he created Elric as a deliberate reversal of Sword & Sorcery clichés, and that his weak, half-blind albino was the antithesis of REH’s Conan. Most of Moorcock’s S&S fiction contains elements of parody and satire of the genre as a whole (and long may it be so, for one should never take these things too seriously). However on a recent rereading of his tale “The fortress of Pearl” I was struck by the fact that the death toll ran into many hundreds of people by the tales close (I suspect parody or perhaps satire, rather than blood-lust?).

And truth to tell, Mr Moorcock at times was “a lazy stylist” in his early S&S works, which he banged out at a rate of knots for ready spending money to keep “New Worlds” from folding. Ah, yes, those were the days.

Yet, despite that, these tales are worth reading. The sword here is mightier than the pen. Yes, pure escapism – so what? We can walk with Elric, with the gods of chaos…gods of ecstasy and berserker furies who control his (and our) destiny.

Read these stories, boy and girls, and enjoy them for what they are.