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.