Elric of Melniboné: Thought-provoking sword & sorcery

book review Michael Moorcock Elric of Melnibone audiobook review Michael Moorcock Elric of MelniboneElric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock

Elric, emperor of Melniboné, is not your typical fantasy hero. He’s an albino with white skin, long white hair, and slanting red eyes. He’s weak and has to take drugs every few hours just to maintain the strength of a normal man. He’s a brooding and contemplative scholar, which makes him dull at parties.

Some people think Elric is a demon — he sure looks like one — and many of his subjects would prefer to have the throne of Melniboné occupied by Elric’s charismatic cousin Yyrkoon who looks and acts like a leader should. He’s strong, agile, and nationalistic, and he wants to restore Melniboné to its former greatness.

While Yyrkoon is dancing, acting like a proper nobleman, and plotting to kill Elric, Elric spends his time thinking about tradition, social justice, and his duty to his country. Is it Elric’s job to give the people of Melniboné what they want — tradition, a powerful leader, war, and dominance over smaller states — or is it better to be universally humanistic and to try to lead Melniboné, against its wishes, into cooperation and peace with its neighbors? Should Elric sacrifice his personal ideals in order to be the leader his people demand? Is his responsibility to his country or to the world at large?

Elric of Melniboné, by Michael Moorcock, is a thought-provoking work but, at the same time, it’s appealing to those who just want to read a good sword & sorcery story — sea battles in grottos, ships that sail on land or sea, magic mirrors that wipe out memory, and fights with demons in the underworld. Many of the Elric stories were originally published in pulp magazines or as novellas, so they are fast-paced with sketchy scene and character development. This is likely to be unsatisfying to some readers, but I enjoyed the quick pace and appreciated Elric’s introspective concerns about his duties.

I listened to Audio Realms’ production of Elric of Melniboné. Jeff West was an excellent narrator, but I was annoyed by the music which plays behind the entire book’s text — not just at the beginning of chapters or scenes (listen to sample). It is soft and doesn’t cause any trouble with hearing the narration, but it’s clearly designed to add drama and emotion to the story and I prefer to let Moorcock do that himself. I would have enjoyed Elric of Melniboné more if there had been no music at all and I’ll be careful about Audio Realms’ productions in the future.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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4 comments

  1. I think I liked this book to about the same degree that you did, Kat. Sometimes stories age well and other times they can become a little dated, and that’s kinda how this book felt to me.
    However, there is no denying the widespread influence Elric has had.
    Many times I find myself as intrigued about the main character’s side-kick as I do the main character, which was the case for me with this book. I can’t help but wonder about Moonglum’s loyalty to Elric. I know its initially for profit since Moonglum is a mercenary, but something else kept him hanging around, because not only is Elric dangerous company, he would be a hard person to like.

  2. I think you read further than I did, Greg. There are different ways these stories are packaged, I think. I read the first set, but you read beyond what was in that book.

    I like to read classic SFF, even if I’m not sure I’ll like a particular story. I’m interested in the roots of modern SFF and feel like I should be knowledgeable about these classics. It turns out that I do enjoy most of them.

    I actually liked Elric (he’s such a thinker) and I’m going to read on. Unfortunately, it seems that if I want to read by audio (the only thing I have much time for these days), I’m going to have to deal with the background music in these Audio Realms productions.

  3. Yeah I think you are right. The book I read was the first in a collection by Del Rey Books (to kinda go along with their awesome Robert E. Howard Library collection I think). It did seem like we were reading somewhat different stories. From what I understand the books in the Del Rey collection are exact re-prints of the orginials, in the same order they were released, which might also explain why they seemed a little more dated to me. I think some early Elric books may a have been changed by Morcock to not be exact, word-for-word copies of the pulp magazine stories.

    I could be wrong though. It was kinda tricky to figure out for sure.

  4. I am just assuming that more stories were incorporated in the first Elric book you read. You talked about some events I hadn’t come to yet.

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