The Citadel of Forgotten Myths by Michael Moorcock

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by | Dec 10, 2022 | Books

The new Elric of Melniboné novel, from the master of fantasy that many have copied, but few have equalled

Wow, A new Elric novel The Citadel of Forgotten Myths from Michael Moorcock. The White Wolf returns to show us how fantasy should be done.

Who is Elric of Melniboné?

In my opinion he is the best sword and sorcery character of all time, mainly because he is so different from every other. He’s not a muscle-bound hero – he’s an albino, drawn and sinewy who can barely lift his own sword without the aid of drugs and sorcery. He has no concept of good and evil – in the Young kingdoms there is only the eternal struggle between Law and Chaos. His sword, Stormbringer, has no honourable history, it is possessed by a Duke of Hell and drinks peoples souls, feeding Elric with its eldritch power. He doesn’t gain the love of the princess and live happily ever after, instead he plunges Stormbringer into her heart and drinks her soul in the very first book of the series.

Get the picture? The Elric saga is a complete rejection of the familiar ‘heroes journey’. Every character has their own agenda driven by their experiences and desires, the idea of a higher-purpose or questing to save the world has no place. There is definitively no living-happily-ever-after, no happy ending, as Elric is eventually responsible for the end of the World in a Ragnarok style cataclysm, sowing the seed for the birth of our own world from its ruins.

The Citadel of Forgotten Myths

the citadel of forgotten myths book reviewMoorcock wrote the first Elric stories in the early 1960s and despite delivering the final installment (where everyone dies) in 1965 , he has continued to craft short stories and novels fleshing out the Albino sorcerors life and adventures for the last six decades. The Citadel of Forgotten Myths is set between the short stories Kings in Darkness and The Flame Bringers, both written in 1962.

Reading this book with some knowledge of Elric’s backstory will make it all the better, there are lot’s of resources out there, or grab a copy of Elric of Melniboné and read that first. Check out the recent set of editions celebrating the 60th anniversay.

However you get here the pleasure of new stories of Elric, Moonglum and Stormbringer are a treat. All of the style and atmosphere of Moorcock’s best work is present and correct. Elric and Moonglum journey to the ‘world below’ to search for survivors of Elric’s own Melnibonéan race who are rumoured to have settled amongst the dragon-like race known as the Phoorn. Our protagonists are soon dragged into Phoorn’s dynastic in-fighting. Elric goes on to lose his hell-sword to the Chaos Lord Xiombarg, Queen of the Swords. I won’t detail any more of the plot, but rest assured this is a first rate addition to the doomed heroes life story. Moorcock is on fine form.

Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock is without doubt one of the founding fathers of modern fantasy and science fiction, yet surprisingly his huge influence and legacy is rarely acknowledged. He was the first author to convincingly write stories set in a multiverse, he had a race of power-crazed dragon riders before GRR Martin, he wrote high-stakes fantasy and science fiction where simplistic good/bad tropes had no place. His characters did good and bad things and an awful lot of them got killed off.

You can see his influence in everything from The Witcher to Game of Thrones, novels that eschew the all too common medieval ideas of chivalry and Victorian tropes of high minded colonial arrogance that pepper so much fantasy writing.

Moorcock was quite the agitator, regarding the likes of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis as peddlers of infantile stories dressed up as adult literature. He wrote an incisive essay on all of this called Epic Pooh that rings true in so many ways. You might find it a tad dismissive, as there is a place for stories which act as a kind of comfort food. I read The Lord of the Rings in my early teens and found it wonderful escapist fun. Then I read Stormbringer by Moorcock and found something much more substantial on an adult level. I eventually re-read LOTR and found it to be deeply anachronistic, Epic Pooh dissects it extremely well.

“The sort of prose most often identified with “high” fantasy is the prose of the nursery‐room. It is a lullaby; it is meant to soothe and console. It is mouth‐music. It is frequently enjoyed not for its tensions but for its lack of tensions. It coddles; it makes friends with you; it tells you comforting lies. It is soft”

The contrast here is that Moorcock doesn’t create endless tracts of faux history and lore, there’s no ‘legendariums’ (what an awful word that is), he builds just enough backstory and detail to make the words on the page have the tension they need in that moment. You can enjoy each book on its own, there is no need to read in any particular order, you can jump between Elric and his other characters like Hawkmoon, Jerry Cornelius and The Dancers at the End of Time and constantly find new connections between them.

Tor.com say of him:

Michael Moorcock is one of the most important and influential figures in fantasy literature. He has published nearly one hundred novels and over 150 short stories, and won lifetime achievement awards from SFWA, World Fantasy Awards, Bram Stoker Awards, and the Prix Utopiales. He is also featured in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Famously called the “Anti-Tolkien” by The New Yorker, acclaimed writers like J.G. Ballard, Angela Carter, Michael Chabon, William Gibson, and Tad Williams all credit him as a “giant” and major influence on their work.

Ultimately there is room in the world for every shade of fantasy tale. The Citadel of Forgotten Myths stands out as a shining jewel from the master of the genre.

Written by Iain Hazlewood

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