The Runestaff: Old-school sword and sorcery

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsepic fantasy book reviews Michael Moorcock Hawkmoon: RunestaffHawkmoon: The Runestaff by Michael Moorcock

This reissue reveals how much epic fantasy has changed since the 1960s. It’s hard to believe that there is an epic fantasy stretched over just four 200-page entries. Certainly, Hawkmoon: The Runestaff is an old-school sword and sorcery tale. Originally published in 1969, Michael Moorcock’s The Runestaff is the fourth entry in The History of the Runestaff. Tor has now released the story as Hawkmoon: The Runestaff. How have things changed?

The premise is archetypal. Duke Dorian Hawkmoon, an Eternal Champion in the conflict between universal forces of Law and Chaos, must find the Runestaff in order to defeat the Dark Empire of Granbretan. With the Runestaff, his companion D’Averc, and his Sword of the Dawn (which magically summons a Legion of the Dawn), Hawkmoon may be able to defend Castle Brass, Europe’s last holdout against King-Emperor Huon. Complicating things is Meliadus, who may not be as loyal to King-Emperor Huon as he seems. This is epic fantasy: plenty of swords, a handful of magical artifacts (actually, one jewel is lodged in Hawkmoon’s face), and an extra helping of bizarre names.

Honestly, what a collection of names. Moorcock’s supply of appellations is as inexhaustible as the anonymous soldiers that fight for Hawkmoon’s magic sword. My favorite name may well be Hawkmoon’s love interest, “Yisselda,” though the locations are nearly as varied. Hawkmoon’s story is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and while spellings like “Dnark” may seem alien, it’s often helpful to sound things out (try “Granbretan” one more time).

All naming aside, Hawkmoon: The Runestaff is pretty fun, especially if contemporary readers approach it as a classic work of epic fantasy and adventure from a legend in the genre. Moorcock’s characterization here is very direct — Hawkmoon is a straight-up good guy — and the battle lines are clearly drawn. The novel has most conspicuously aged in its stilted dialogue.

“Let’s enter the city,” Hawkmoon said resolutely, “and find out why we have been taken here as soon as we can. Then, perhaps, we shall be allowed to return to Castle Brass!”

At times, Hawkmoon: The Runestaff is as heroic as prose can get. Fortunately, it pays to be heroic in this world. Hawkmoon and his friends — who now include the mysterious Knight of Jet and Gold — find themselves under attack from flying beasts, treacherous noblemen, and an impressively large supply of Dark Empire soldiers. And this new edition offers dynamic illustrations of knights as well.

Hawkmoon: The Runestaff is the final novel of a series, and is consequently packed with a lot of climactic adventure and marshaling of forces. Although Moorcock would expand on the conflict between Law and Chaos in other series, he would focus on other characters. In comparison to Elric and other Eternal Champions, Hawkmoon stands among the most straightforward of Moorcock’s heroes. Still, readers prepared to explore an epic fantasy from the 1960s should enjoy this re-release of Hawkmoon: The Runestaff.

Hawkmoon: The History of the Runestaff — (2010) These are reprints of The Eternal Champion: Hawkmoon series (see above) Publisher: Fantasy legend Michael Moorcock won hundreds of thousands of readers with his vast and imaginative multiverse, in which Law and Chaos wage war through endless alternative universes, struggling over the fundamental rules of existence. Moorcock’s heroes of the multiverse have been lauded as some of the most influential characters in fantasy. Among the Eternal Champions, Dorian Hawkmoon is one of the most loved. In the far future, Hawkmoon is pulled unwillingly into a war that will eventually pit him against the ruthless Baron Meliadus and the armies of the Dark Empire. Antique cities, scientific sorcery, and crystalline machines serve as a backdrop to this high adventure. Dorian Hawkmoon, the last Duke of Koln, swore to destroy the Dark Empire of Granbretan.  But after his defeat and capture at the hands of the vast forces of the Empire. Hawkmoon becomes a puppet co-opted by his arch nemesis to infiltrate the last stronghold of rebellion against Granbretan, the small but powerful city of Kamarang. He’s been implanted with a black jewel, through whose power the Dark Empire can control his every decision. But in the city of Kamarang, Hawkmoon discovers the power inside him to overcome any control, and his vengeance against the Dark Empire is filled with an unrelenting fury.

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RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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