when the world was young: elric

The latest in a series about influences from my childhood


As I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere, as a child I was into science fiction, thanks to Star Wars and Star Trek.  As a teenager, I immersed myself in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition, of course!) and largely abandoned sci-fi literature for fantasy. 


I soon came across the sword-and-sorcery stories of Elric, the albino anti-hero created by Michael Moorcock.  Unlike Conan, Elric is physically weak but a genius, well-versed in wizardry and often engaging in philosophical musings.  Unlike Arthur, he is a reluctant king, unsure of himself and given to bouts of callousness and cruelty. 



At the beginning of his adventures, Elric rules the island nation of Melniboné (pronounced “mel-nib-on-ay”), populated by a race that appears human but is not.  For many centuries, the Melnibonéans ruled the world (and the human “Young Kingdoms”) thanks to their knowledge of sorcery and their alliance with dragons and the Lords of Chaos; eventually, they became decadent, losing interest and retreating to Imrryr, the “Dreaming City,” where they indulge themselves. 


Curious about the outside world, Elric chooses to leave Melniboné, whereupon he meets and adventures with many other characters (notably his sidekick, Moonglum); clashes with gods, monsters and villains (his treacherous cousin, Prince Yyrkoon; the wizard Theleb K’aarna); and—most importantly—gains the sword Stormbringer.  Stormbringer is actually an intelligent demonic entity, bound into the shape of a blade, that devours souls and increases Elric’s strength and vitality to normal or even superhuman levels, alleviating his physical weakness at great personal cost, as the sword is fond of killing Elric’s friends….


Elric appeared in several short stories and novellas before Moorcock fleshed out his adventures into the following six books, which I read: 


  • Elric of  Melniboné
  • The Sailor on the Seas of Fate
  • The Weird of the White Wolf
  • The Vanishing Tower
  • The Bane of the Black Sword
  • Stormbringer


Moorcock later published more Elric books, the only one of which I’ve read is The Fortress of the Pearl.  Though most people outside of fantasy circles have never heard of Elric, Moorcock had a huge influence on fiction and games within the genre (for example, Games Workshop’s popular Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 milieus owe much to Moorcock).      


Elric Then and Now

Back then, I devoured the Elric books, re-reading them several times, working many elements from the stories into my D&D adventures (hells yes, I had the Deities & Demigods  rulebook with him in it), even briefly running  a Stormbringer role-playing game campaign.  Being small and spindly, very intelligent but already cynical and alienated at a tender age, I readily identified with him.  The Elric saga is a tragedy, announced by Moorcock right at the beginning of the first book, and that reverberated strongly with Angsty-Teen Me.


 Some of Elric’s AD&D stats from the original Deities & Demigods


A few years ago, I re-read some of the books, and though Adult-Me still appreciated the imagination, I was disappointed at some of the ham-fisted dialogue and the “telling-not-showing” style that Moorcock suffered from in his early days.  I loaned the first book to my younger daughter, but she was not impressed enough to continue on in the series.


Bring Elric to the Screen!

It flabbergasts me that in 2013, 30 years since I first picked up an Elric book (and more than 50 years since the character debuted), there has been no movie adaptation, not even direct-to-video schlock.  Given the popularity of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, not to mention the pervasiveness of CGI, it’s a no-brainer to me to do a series of Elric movies. 


There were six original books, but the novels themselves were short and not all of the adventures presented were essential.  Unlike The Lord of the Rings, the books were not a continuous narrative; mostly, they were episodic stories.  A trilogy of 3-hour movies would do; I suggest the following (SPOILERS):


Part 1: “Elric”.  Combines the novel Elric of Melniboné with the first part of Weird of the White Wolf.  Elric struggles to overcome Yyrkoon’s treachery for control of the throne; summons and allies himself with the Chaos Lord Arioch; gains the sword Stormbringer; sacks Melniboné and destroys the kingdom, slaying Yyrkoon but losing his love, Cymoril.


 Arioch, Elric’s evil patron deity


Part 2: “The White Wolf.”  Set a few years after the first film.  Combines stories from Weird of the White Wolf, The Vanishing Tower, and The Bane of the Black Sword to portray Elric’s adventures as a freebooter, meeting his companion Moonglum, attempting to find the Dead Gods’ Book of wisdom, and battling Theleb K’aarna.  K’aarna is an agent for the nation of Pan Tang, human worshippers of the Chaos gods, who are attempting to fill the power vacuum left by Melniboné’s destruction, setting up…


Part 3: “Stormbringer” (based on the novel).  The Pan Tangians, led by the Theocrat Jagreen Lern, attack each of the Young Kingdoms of mankind, unleashing demons to conquer and subsume the world into the realm of Chaos.  Elric turns against Arioch and calls upon all of his sorcerous might and Stormbringer’s power to kill several of the Lords of Chaos and thwart their plans.  Evil is defeated, but the world as Elric knows it is destroyed and remade into a new one: ours.


High in the wintry sky climbed the huge reptiles and Elric’s long white hair and stained black cloak flew behind him as he sang the exultant Song of the Dragon Masters and urged his charges westward.


High soared the dragons until below them was the heaving black mass, marring the landscape, the fear-driven horde of barbarians who, in their ignorance, had sought to conquer the lands of Elric of Melniboné.


“Ho, dragon brothers—loose your venom—burn—burn!  And in your burning, cleanse the world!”


–From The Bane of the Black Sword



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2 Responses to when the world was young: elric

  1. It really is shame they haven’t come out with an Elric movies. The perfect actor to play the part isn’t getting any younger either:

    David Bowie

  2. Administrator says:

    Bowie would have been great as Elric about 30 years ago, but I think a younger actor needs to play him, as Elric is only in his 20s when the story opens, and is definitely a young man searching for himself. However, Bowie would be great in flashbacks as Elric’s father Sadric.