Elric of Melnibone: Elric

No excuses for the delay. My apologies.

I first heard of Elric from Neil Gaiman. His story “One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock” describes a troubled boy who emerges himself in Elric’s world. I later heard about him again from I think TV Tropes (though I’m not 100%). Wherever it was, it talked of how Michael Moorcock created a hero that went against the norm of the beefy, super strong fantasy warrior hero.

Then I saw the book appear at my library. I was initially wary. I love high fantasy and swords and dragons but there are so many books in this genre that get more caught up in their world-building than the character development. It’s gotten to the point that if the novel begins with a treatise on that world’s mythology, I stop reading. Especially if there’s one god who is “The Dark One.” Especially if the whole opening prologue is in italics.

Elric has restored my faith in high fantasy.

Elric is king of Melnibone. Melnibone is a wealthy island kingdom, steeped in magic. The cultural norm is to strive to seek out pleasure, whether through sex or violence.

And they are cruel and clever and to them ‘morality’ means little more  than a proper respect for the traditions of a hundred centuries.

It is not that they are evil, they are simply amoral. Elric however, the king of Melnibone is not like his people. He has always been weak and is kept alive only by taking several drugs and potions a day. This was the first thing that attracted me, the fact that Moorcock made a hero with a serious weakness and didn’t give him an easy way out of it.

Because of this weakness, the only thing he could spend his time doing was reading. So he learns about his kingdom and the lands around it “called the Young Kingdoms) and he could conquer them if he wanted, but he also has learned something of morality.

This sets up the conflict between Elric and his people and specifically Elric and his cousin Prince Yyrkoon who hungers for the throne. He is arrogant and seeks out pleasure, making him the ideal King for Melnibone. He wants that throne. And he’ll do anything to get it. Even kill. Even use Elric’s intended and one true love, Yyrkoon’s sister Cymoril.

I get the sense that Elric is beautiful but not in the conventional way, certainly for 1972 fantasy standards. No broad shoulders and glorious pecs here. He’s quite slender and an albino.

It is the colour of a bleached skull, his flesh; and the long hair which flows below his shoulders is milk-white. From the tapering, beautiful head stare two slanting eyes, crimson and moody, and from the loose sleeves of his yellow gown emerge two slender hands, also the colour of bone, resting on each arm of a seat which has been carved from a single, massive ruby.

The white hair doesn’t lose points with me. I’ve been on a steady diet of anime since junior high so I’ve seen plenty of this:

And this:

And some of these:

(I apologize for that. But you know you liked that too.)

The fact that he’s an intellectual loner appeals to me also. His people don’t get him but they tolerate him because he is King.  His closest friend Dyvim Tvar and his love Cymoril are also befuddled. They don’t understand why he isn’t more cruel, why he doesn’t act like everyone else. But because they love him, they support him even when they think he should be more harsh.

I’m going to assume that every one of you has either been a geek or has some nerdy  hobby their friends don’t understand.  While I’m at it, I’ll just assume that everyone has been left out at some point. That’s what makes fantasy good for me, when I can find that human quality I can relate to. Even if the story is about elves. Or dragons.

The story, while chronicling Elric’s power struggle with Yyrkoon, also deal with Elric’s struggle with morality. The Elric we are first introduced to is arrogant in how he disdains his kingdom’s frivolity but he is otherwise a likable, if emo character. Elric is not the sort of man his forefathers was, he does not kill his cousin for his treasonous thoughts or have large public executions for those who might insult him. There is an obvious tenderness between him and Cymoril as they ride horseback together and make love.

There’s always a heavy mood of doom and gloom  even in these light areas though. Elric often wonders if he should have been born, if it wouldn’t have been better for him to die in the womb. It could have gotten to be too much but because Elric really can’t do anything but read and brood, it’s acceptable.

There’s a large shift in Elric’s character however when they fight an attacking army from on of the Young Kingdoms. It’s precipitated in one of those iffy parts where Elric, as king is required to watch a spy from the Young Kingdom be tortured for information.

He felt no sympathy for them. They were spies. Their actions had led them to this pass. They had known what would happen to them if caught.


The scalpel flashed. There was a groan, Doctor Jest tossed something onto the fire. Elric sat in the chair prepared for him. He was bored rather than disgusted by the rituals attendant upon gathering information…But it was one of his kingly duties to attend such rituals.

Which is followed up with this to soothe us:

It was not that Elric was inhumane; it was that he was, still, a Melnibonean. He had been used to such sights since childhood. He could not have saved the prisoners, even if he had desired, without going against every tradition of the Dragon Isle.

See? This is iffy. In my post about Hannibal, he lost points for his torturing and killing. Murder is murder. Yet Elric doesn’t lose as much points with me. I think I’m willing to be a little easier on him because he was raised in an amoral culture. It’s a miracle he has any ethics at all.

Right after this Yyrkoon succeeds with his plan to assume the throne. Don’t worry, Elric manages to escape with the help of a water elemental. Once he’s back, he decides that the way he’s running the country is obviously not working. So he decides its time to be cruel. Its time to be like a true Melnibonean.

Yeah that doesn’t go well either.

Yyrkoon makes off Cymoril and takes over the Young Kingdoms. Adventure ensues.

Elric’s true test happens near the end of the book. He rescues Cymoril but she has been cast into an enchanted sleep (my God if she wasn’t so likable I’d hate her for being such a friggin damsel). The only one to break the spell is Yyrkoon who is going after the legendary black swords Mournblade and Stormbringer. Elric follows.

The two blades themselves have long been rivals. When Elric and Yyrkoon have their final battle it is less between them and more between the swords themselves. Elric realizes this. He realizes that for energy Stormblade needs to kill and feed on souls. And he will have no part of it.

Again Stormbringer darted through an opening, and again Elric made the blade pull back and Yyrkoon was only grazed.

Stormbringer writhed in Elric’s hands.

Elric said: ‘You shall not be my master.’

He becomes himself again, somewhat moral Elric who will not let others dictate his path. He wins and…

…makes Yyrkoon king?

Well, king in his stead. Defeating yyrkoon has apparently taught him a lesson that will stay so Elric can go adventuring for a year before returning to his throne. I…am certain this is going to go bad. But as this is the first book and I have not read the rest yet. For now, I’ll just have faith…


Appearance: Pale with white hair and red eyes, slender and fragile.

Personailty: Intelligent, brooding, melancholy

Best Quality: His intelligence, his strength of character despite his relapse

Worst Quality: He’s sooo emo.

Grade: B


2 Responses to “Elric of Melnibone: Elric”

  1. 1 Mary May 3, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I knew 3 out of the 5 white haired people right away: Sesshomaru (I would cry if I didn’t recognized him), Yoko-Karama (You would cry if I didn’t recognized him), and Eyes Rutherford. The other two I don’t really recall…hmm

    Anyways, it seems like it is a decent book, but does he over play the emoness? I really can’t stand reading books about emo people, it drives me nuts!

    I agree with you, the whole giving his cousin the throne while he goes on adventure seems really shaky…also, how is he going to bring all his magical needs to survive a daily life? I guess I don’t understand how an adventure is truly possible for one in his position.

    • 2 allyjs May 3, 2010 at 11:48 pm

      There are far more emo protagonists out there I think. He’s a pretty good hero, I think you’d like it.

      The other two are Leon from Kaleidostar and Yue from Cardcaptor Sakura

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