East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Skeptic heroes

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I’ve been spending the last two hours trying to find my way around the various reprints and repackagings of Michael Moorcock’s Elric series. I read the books out of order, part in English and part in Italian translation, back when I was in high school.

Now, much as I enjoyed the stories back in the ’80s, and for all of their role in shaping the sword & sorcery genre, Elric is not my favorite Moorcock character or series (I prefer Gloriana, or The Dancers at the End of Times).

But I wanted to read through some of the stories because… ok, you know why.
Because I’m writing a series about a time-displaced heroine that’s deployed through history, by unseen masters, as a mystical troubleshooter.
And that’s the Eternal Champion, of course*.
So I wanted to take a look at the original.

Anyway, while I was picking lost books out of dusty boxes, I read the letter to the reader which opens 1993 Gollancz/Millenium collection, Elric of Melnibone.

And apart from Moorcock’s list of influences – Pratt’s The Well of the Unicorn, yes, Fritz Leiber and Poul Anderson, but also Lord Jim – there’s a passage that I thought I’ll post here…

There is a level at which the hero becomes fairly ridiculous, often because he never fundamentally questions his society. John Wayne was always basically in favour of old-fashioned paternalism, no matter how much a rugged individualist he claimed to be.

And indeed – if heroes speak for a collective, for a civilization, what is that civilization like?

And what of alienated heroes, detached from a single here and now, missing a reference group, a society to back them up, a civilization to identify with?

Moorcock again…

The ‘alienated’ hero or heroine is often able to stand back a little and work out what’s really going on.
I have nothing wrong with heroes that reflect the best that we would wish to be and do. I still have unashamed affection for my heroes who remain skeptical of authority and its pronouncements.

And this really helps me set straight a few things in what I’m writing.
Advice from the best – accept no substitute.

* Yes, it’s also JOhn Brunner’s The Traveller in Black, and Sapphier & Steel, among others, but let’s not get into that at the moment.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

One thought on “Skeptic heroes

  1. The saga of Gloriana is a good story, but I prefer the more grim view of the Albino…


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