Thursday, 6 June 2013
‘The Chronicles of Corum’ – Michael Moorcock (Grafton)
The other day, I was trying to remember just what Moorcock book I actually read first; I’ve got a feeling that whatever I may have said in the past was wrong. I was about eleven and the school library had a shelf full of his books. It might have been ‘Elric at the End of Time’, it might have been ‘Nomad of the Time Streams’ or it might have been this one. Back in the day, I read this book as ‘The Prince with the Silver Hand’ but my recent attempts to locate a second hand copy saw me balk at the prices; seriously, check Amazon. ‘The Chronicles of Corum’ though? Same collection but a whole lot cheaper, you might want to bear that in mind although the new collection from Gollancz does look rather nice and has the better sounding name.
These three books (‘The Bull and the Spear’, ‘The Oak and the Ram’ and ‘The Sword and the Stallion’) have long been among my favourite ‘Eternal Champion’ stories as we start off with a man who has nothing to fight for anymore. His wife has just died of old age (you can’t blame anyone for that) and his people died a long time ago. Corum truly is the last of his kind and what we see at the start is a man on his own whose contemplations have seen him reconciled with his eventual fate (until the voices kick in). Corum believes there is nothing left and this lends a much more sombre and thoughtful tone to these books (much more so, I think, than any of the others). Even when he is given a purpose, Corum knows deep down that there will eventually be no more need for him and his time will be over.
And what a purpose… To fight for people (far in his future) who believe him to be the physical incarnation of one of their legends. It’s a big struggle for Corum to connect with these people (on more than one level) and I think Moorcock handles this struggle very well, particularly regarding Corum’s growing relationship with Medbh. Life is never easy for the Eternal Champion, whoever he may manifest as.
What proves far easier for Corum to get his head around though is the enemy that he must defeat and the means by which he will accomplish this. Yep, you guessed it. Corum must quest for objects of power that will turn back the Fhoi Myore and their cold legions. Having read a few of the Eternal Champion books now I’m kind of used to this structure although I think it works far better in individual volumes than it does in a collection like this. When you have a couple of hundred pages left to go that early cliffhanger doesn’t seem quite as urgent as it did before. You know that Corum will be around, in some shape or form, come the end (and more on that ending in a minute). Having said all that though, the final book does give the last battles a real sense of uncertainty that keeps the interest at just the right time.
But again though, you can’t deny the power and sense of adventure in the meantime with Corum battling his way through all sorts of enemies to reach his goals. Moorcock may take a lot from Celtic mythology but he still brings his own cosmic mythos and sense of the weird to the proceedings. The result is a land of tree men and evil wizards who will play both sides against each other; a land of marooned dimensional beings and a land where promises are double edged in the best traditions of heroic romance.
Yeah, that ending. In some ways it’s a foregone conclusion for long term readers of the series but I was eleven when I read this and had no idea what happens to Moorcock’s Eternal Champions when the multiverse has no more use for them. That final abrupt sentence (all three words of it) blew my mind way back when. Even now, it still has the power to shock as Moorcock really makes you think that everything could turn out ok, even though he has also been planting the seeds of this ending for quite a while.
I think these books work a whole lot better as individual volumes and I would have loved to see Gollancz re-publish them as such. Realistically though, that was never going to happen (different world and all that) and there is still plenty of magic here to lose yourself in. If you haven’t already got this collection (and the other one) then do yourself a favour, it’s well worth the read.