The Rageaholic on Elric of Melniboné

Tuesday , 7, February 2017 38 Comments

You have to see this video.

  • Razör has read all of the Elric books and all of the Elric comics and his excitement for this character is positively infectious.
  • He intercuts interviews with Michael Moorcock, making this even more informative.
  • He puts forward the claim that French comics have actually improved on the original stories.
  • He uses the term “pulp” to describe the freaky science fantasy scene of the sixties– and far from being a slur, it’s actually a selling point here.
  • Several times he alludes to how the video game industry has appropriated this character in some of their most successful properties.

Now… if you aren’t familiar with this reviewer, you might want to know that he has a pronounced tendency to employ… er… particularly colorful metaphors. So save this one back for when after the kids are in bed. You’re not going to find a better primer on this character anywhere else.

Thanks to Nathan Housley for bringing this to my attention…!

  • keith says:

    I’ll take a look at this, but I must say that I’m not enamoured with Moorcock. Much of his career was made of attacking the likes of Tolkien or Robert E. Howard and their creations, and claiming to be a revolutionary that “saved” fantasy, when those authors he attacked were in my experience far superior writers to himself and while his fiction was anything but revolutionary. And then there’s the pretentiousness and snark. In many ways, he is a forefather of the worst among our modern genre writers.

    • Jeffro says:

      Yeah, I wrote negative reviews of Moorcock in Appendix N. And plenty of Pulp Revolutionaries will go to bat for Howard and co against their New Wave counterparts.

      Nevertheless, Elric is a major component of the fantasy canon. You can’t understand D&D without being familiar with him. And you can’t understand where today’s fantasy came from without being cognizant of him, either.

    • David says:

      Moorcock LOVES Robert E Howard. And he never attacked Tolkien, only his work.He knew Tolkien and CS Lewis personally and liked them. He didn’t ‘make a career’ of these things. Do you even know what New Worlds is? lol

  • deuce says:

    I’m with Keith in many ways vis a vis Moorcock. He is certainly hitting for the other side. His “Bastable” novels are just vile.

    That said, I watched Razorfist’s vid last night and it is very well done. If anyone could get me excited again about Elric, whom I discovered 41yrs ago and abandoned 20yrs ago, it would be RF. His Shadow vids are must-watch. He’s a huge pulp fan.

    • Carrington Dixon says:

      All the Elric I ever expect to reread are the early stories that first appeared in Science fantasy and formed the original two British hardcovers, The Stealer of Souls and Stormbringer. All the rest is rehash and often tired rehash.

  • Nathan says:

    Moorcock is strange. He is Lester Dent’s disciple, as his Three Day Novel is the expansion of Lester Dent’s Master Formula to longer works. Yet he is also the leader of the British side of New Wave. (Harlan Ellison might be considered the American leader, and, as Dangerous Visions showed, Damon Knight was whispering into the ears of both.) He is too enamored with the idea that fiction must challenge people, unlike Ellison’s realization that works must entertain first before they can educate.

    Perhaps Moorcock should be considered the Prodigal Pulpist?

  • deuce says:

    I give Razorfist props for actually pronouncing words like “Melnibone” and “Yrkoon” correctly. Always a pet peeve of mine.

  • icewater says:

    Elric “subverted” and “revolutionized” what exactly? Dark fantasy, “moral ambiguity” and antiheroes were very much extant in fantasy. Clark Ashton Smith anyone, his Hyperborea and Zothique fantasies? And so many other pulp authors has such stories or even series.

    Though, to be fair, Moorcock backtracked on some of his 60s, 70s crap… I have those illustrated paperbacks that collect Elric fictions as well as selected other Moorcock fictions and essays. In one of introductions, he very much wrote that what he wrote about Tolkien in the past was BS (though, he tried to justify it with claiming that he his comments on Tolkien were often taken out of context or misrepresented), as well as admitting that he was barely familiar with Conan or much of US pulp fantasy back when he was bragging about “””subverting””” it…

    • Mark says:

      He was a huge fan of Conan when he was a teenager, and some of his earliest works were Conan pastiches. He’d read pretty much all of ‘pulp fantasy’ before he wrote Elric, because at the time there wasn’t that much of it to read.

  • icewater says:

    That said, extent to which Witcher lifted from Moorcock is surreal, it boggles the mind that fans keep writing it off as mere coincidence. And Moorcock was very much available on the other side of Iron Curtain, I have a friend from Croatia that owns local translations of Elric from 70s or 80s and I suppose that it is much the same for Poland.

    • icewater says:

      And to add a bit more, I very much love the goodish chunk of Moorcock’s work. But man’s the most uneven of major genre fiction authors, he’ll go from first class to utterly forgettable trash in the matter of two subsequently released books.

  • Nathan says:

    In the comments to this video, Razorfist makes the following claims regarding the Witcher.

    “The Witcher’s author (Andrzej Sapkowski) worked as a translator of Sci-Fi and Fantasy fiction during the 1980s. Around the same time Elric of Melniboné was first translated into Polish (1985), suddenly Sapkowski began writing the first draft of The Witcher. He lifted way more than the protagonist. Stealing everything from the way magic works, its relationship to Chaos, the ‘Law vs. Chaos’ moral theme, the event that caused magic to be unleashed into the world, it goes on and on, but that’s a story for another video.

    “For the record, he steals from way more than Elric. (He stole hobbits, for crying out loud) It’s just fairly clear Elric was the primary focal point of his mimiographic inclinations.”

    I intend to take a look for myself, but it will take a few months.

    • deuce says:

      I’m sure the commissars/Ministers of Truth were familiar with Moorcock’s hatred of the UK and the West.

      • caleb says:

        Melniboné IS the UK. And what can one say about them villains from Hawkmoon (which were so comically, two-dimensionaly degenerate and EEVEEL that I keep thinking that Lynch’s take on Harkonens was inspired by them).

        Oh, and Elric killing his home country, once great empire and now utterly degenerate and decadent, by leading this vibrant conquering army of rapey, savage foreigners is all kinds of hilarious from the current day POV.

        • deuce says:

          Moorcock has never tired of beating the Brit Empire/UK horse. He’s addicted to it, apparently. Moorcock and Roger Waters should organize a circle jerk.

  • deuce says:

    “Elric “subverted” and “revolutionized” what exactly? Dark fantasy, “moral ambiguity” and antiheroes were very much extant in fantasy. Clark Ashton Smith anyone, his Hyperborea and Zothique fantasies?”

    Moorcock is a huge fan of Leiber. Leiber certainly took notes from CAS’ early S&S stories like “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros”. In fact, there is a very good case to be made that CAS was the second sword and sorcery author EVER, right after Robert E. Howard.

    • John E. Boyle says:

      I agree with you regarding CAS and sword & sorcery; a shame too many people don’t even know his work exists.

      Thanks for that link!

  • caleb says:

    Regarding this Moorcock – Sapkowski issue: it’s not that Sapkowski plagiarised Moorcock wholesale, as there are substantial differences between Geralt and Elric, and between their worlds and the tone of their adventures. It is that he was obviously influenced by him, yet never once – and I wish that I am wrong here, and that someone corrects me if I am – admitted that it is so. If he named Moorcock as inspiration and said that he payed homage to Elric, there wouldn’t be any sort of animosity towards him. And then there’s this thing with Witcher fans reacting to any mentions of similarities between the two as if such talk is haram. You can see some of that in yonder YT video’s comment section too.

    • PCBushi says:

      Yeah. I observed a while back on my blog about the similarities, but I was unable in my research to find anything linking the Witcher to Elric as an inspiration. Could be because of the language barrier and the relevant stuff hasn’t been translated or Sapkowski just hasn’t been asked…but in this day and age, yeah, I think he’s maybe just unwilling to give credit. Shame if that’s so – I’m a fan of the Witcher properties.

      • keith says:

        Author of that video wrote this in the comments:
        “The Witcher’s author (Andrzej Sapkowski) worked as a translator of Sci-Fi and Fantasy fiction during the 1980s. Around the same time Elric of Melniboné was first translated into Polish (1985), suddenly Sapkowski began writing the first draft of The Witcher. He lifted way more than the protagonist. Stealing everything from the way magic works, its relationship to Chaos, the ‘Law vs. Chaos’ moral theme, the event that caused magic to be unleashed into the world, it goes on and on, but that’s a story for another video.

        For the record, he steals from way more than Elric. (He stole hobbits, for crying out loud) It’s just fairly clear Elric was the primary focal point of his mimiographic inclinations.”

        Unless he is maliciously stretching the facts, this makes Mr Sapkowski look pretty bad.

      • keith says:

        Also this, again with the same caveat:
        “Big difference: Michael Moorcock wears that influence on his sleeve. He will talk anyone’s ear off – AT LENGTH – about what a huge inspiration Monieur Zenith was for Elric. In fact, the only reason Zenith is back in print…? Is because Michael Moorcock paid OUT-OF-POCKET to re-publish his old stories! That’s not plagiarism. That’s inspiration.
        Sapkowski, on the other hand, has been given opportunities beyond count to note the inspiration, yet has refused at every turn. He even published his official ‘Canon of Fantasy fiction’ in the confines of a novel called ‘Manuscript Found in a Dragon’s Cave’ some years back. He listed Elric in said canon… and REFUSED to credit it as an inspiration for The Witcher.
        The line between inspiration and plagiarism… is called citation.
        That’s the difference.”

        • PCBushi says:

          All of this may make Sapkowski an asshole, but doesn’t make him a plagiarist. I mean how many countless games and stories out there have ripped off Hobbits? Or Tolkien-style Ents, Elves, or Dwarves? Plenty. Does every Middle Earth pastiche need to declare Tolkien as the progenitor of their denizens? It might be nice, but it doesn’t happen. Does every story with a gangly, regenerating troll have to cite Poul Anderson?

          So far as I know, RA Salvatore has named Tolkien as an inspiration, but I seem to remember him flat out denying Elric inspired Drizzt, which seems like utter bullshit to me.

          Some writers have egos, and some are assholes. That doesn’t mean their work is crap (though it may be), and all writers steal ideas from older works and artists. So for me, anyway – would I like it if Sapkowski admitted inspiration from Elric and Moorcock? Yup. Does it taint my enjoyment of the Witcher stories? Nope.

  • Bies Podkrakowski says:

    Witcher as an Elric’s rip-off? Nah.
    Both have white hair, both drink magical potions, both can mope. Apart from that they are as different as day and night. Too many differences in behaviour, social standing, morals, etc.

    Of course Sapkowski could steal Elric’s white hair, but not much more.

    When Sapkowski was creating Witcher’s world he raided polish and Russian folklore, Arthurian legends, took hobbits and elves from Tolkien and many things from many other worlds.

    If you steal from more than three sources it is not stealing but research.

    • Andy says:

      Yeah, aside from “albino fantasy dudes” and the White Wolf nickname (hardly a strikingly originally term for a long-haired pale guy), I just don’t see it. And even if Sapkowski did get the idea from Elric, he went off in his direction almost immediately, so all we’re left with are the superficial similarities. Also, from what I’ve gathered from Polish speakers, Sapkowski is reputed to be a brilliant stylist who does clever and hilarious things with archaic language, yet this doesn’t come across in the fun yet workmanlike English translations.

      I started re-reading the Elric stories not too long ago. The original short stories were quite enjoyable sword-and-sorcery yarns. Stormbringer, however, was a bit awkward to me because Elric is so passive in it that it gets tedious.

      • icewater says:

        Albino sellswords who dabble in alchemy and sorcery, use ability enhancing substances of their own making, and are nicknamed “White Wolf”. That ain’t no coincidence, surface deep as those similarities might be. As was already said, it is the Pole’s refusal to so much as acknowledge those similarities that is the problem here. Moorcock never once tried to hid that Elric was based on older pulp character and to what extent.

        I don’t like Moorcock as a person, ideologue or genre critic anymore than anyone else here apparently does, but I won’t try to excuse the other guy because of that. And from what I gather, Sapkowski ain’t “one of us” either: back when The Witcher ans Cd Projekt were under attack due to lack of “colored” characters, libs who were doing that were trying to support their claim that game couldn’t be based on Slavic culture and mythology because “there is no such thing” , they often used these comments he himself made:

        And from what i gather, man is very much a far leftist, just like Moorcock, is he not?

        • caleb says:

          I know not what to make out of those obviously butchered comments, other than they don’t make him look too likeable.

          Anyway, if folks wanna make comments about there being no genuine surviving Slavic mythology, then they should understand that very same argument can be made for Celtic mythology. Lack of direct, unbiased written records, Christianisation, much of it being provably concocted during the last few centuries and so on.

        • Bies Podkrakowski says:

          So in your opinion he is guilty. Because he doesn’t want to admit that he is guilty – that makes him double guilty?

          And yes, Sapkowski has leftist tendencies, but those are old school leftist tendencies. He is anticlerical but he also mercilessly mocks various progressive imbecilities. He is also reputed to have a problem with a bottle and was described as an unpleasant asshole by various people.

          He is also a very good writer.

          • caleb says:

            Truth be told, majority of European genre fiction and comic book authors are men of the Left. ‘Tis something I came to terms with long ago. I tend to be fine with it as long as they aren’t openly growling at people like me or pushing their art too far in the direction of leftist didacticism.

      • Bies Podkrakowski says:

        Can confirm the stylist bit. I have read Sapkowski in Polish and in English. English version is OK but flat. Polish version is full of funny world plays and references to other books, movies, historical and cultural facts. You probably have to be a native to catch them all.

        • Nathan says:

          Could you suggest some good Polish SFF writers? I am interested in the various international science fictions (and fantasies) that get passed over because they don’t fit the fairly restrictive ideas of our New York City publishers.

          • Bies Podkrakowski says:

            I don’t read as much polish Fantasy and SF as I used to but I can recommend Stanislaw Lem. Always and everything. I think that “Tales of Pirx the Pilot” can be a good introduction to his writing. Very old school, from the sixties with electronic brains instead of computers, those stories read a bit like old marine tales. Only instead with an astronaut in place of old mariner.

            There is also “The Invincible”. The main hero is a bit boring but firepower his expedition uses during scientific exploration is simply… beautiful.

            And here my recommendations must sadly stop, because authors I like haven’t been translated into English.

            I have checked Amazon and found only Jacek Dukaj. It seems that he has only one short book translated – „The Old Axolotl: Hardware Dreams”. It’s OK, but unfortunately his much better “The Other Songs” and “Ice” weren’t translated.

          • caleb says:

            I started reading Grabinski recently. Occultish horror (sometimes with folkloric feel to it, in stories like “Fumes”) rather than SFF, but nonetheless quite excellent. Sadly, only a limited portion of his work is available in English at this point. (tho, from what I realize, he isn’t that widely read in Poland either?)
            Lack of interest in genre fiction translations from certain parts of the world, be they from older or contemporary authors, never ceases to disappoint me.

  • Cameron says:

    Death and darkness aren’t any less prevalent in Tolkien than in Moorcock, but, by dammit, I have a hell of a lot more sympathy for why Samwise et al are out and about than for Elric’s bopping around without any purpose not centered in his eternally adolescent and angry spleen.

    I’ve had my fill of that mopey albino.

  • Oghma_EM says:

    I love both intellectual properties equally. My father loved Elric and I was reading them very early in life. (And not understanding them much) I was always struck with just how ‘weird’ the writing was. His later comments on Howard turned me off to the man personally. Like Gaiman ive relegated him to ‘insufferable cunt’ status.

    Not to say I don’t reread them on occasion as I do. But it’s with a more acrid lense.

  • Salamandyr says:

    For the record, Sapkowsky does not steal hobbits from Tolkien. He steals them, and a lot else, from Dungeons & Dragons.

    Remember the Three Jackdaws, who was a GOLD dragon, and the other dragons were red, black, green & white? (Obviously Sapkowsky played B/X)

  • Bies Podkrakowski says:

    I can’t reply to Caleb’s post from February 8, 2017 at 10:35 pm. Does Castalia has some limit on post depth?

    About Grabinski – yes, he is rather unknown in Poland.

  • icewater says:

    @Bies Podkrakowski

    I’ve read some high praise of Dukaj. “Ice” sounds particularly fascinating, both its premise and setting, and its themes. Doesn’t look like there’s any hope of more his stuff being released around here though, at least not anytime soon. It’s like publishers are only interested in modern Eastern European SFF/horror fiction if said fiction manages to produce successful video game or movie adaptations…

  • Nathan says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions.

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