The Eternal Champion of Ideas

Sundays are weird days, for me and for blogging. Because of my work schedule, they’re right in the middle of my four-day weekend. I usually wind up watching everybody around me go through the bittersweet motions of a last evening before the workweek begins again. Knowing that I myself didn’t have to be anywhere besides my own writing desk (and to be fair, one of the good parts of being a writer is that I can put that writing desk absolutely anywhere… a café, a bar, a bench in the Atlanta Botanical Gardens) for another day gives me a odd perspective on everyone else, I think, and I become more introspective than I usually am. Of course, I often am a little too introspective… sometimes I might drop everything I’m doing just because I’m trying to think of puns in other languages, or wondering what a tree would sound like if you sped up its sounds a thousand times, and if it sounds different in a forest where no one is there to hear it… jazzy, more independent, perhaps. Today, though, I’m thinking about Michael Moorcock’s seminal creation, the Eternal Champion. I believe I’m at a moment in my own reading where my tastes are changing again, so I’ve been thinking about what I’ve read and what I want to read next.

I devoured the six Elric books (most of which were either linked novellas, or books that really should have just been novellas) in a couple of weeks during tenth grade, a year that saw me moving twice for the first and second times in my waking life, my parents’ divorce, my discovery of an awesome D&D group mere months before the guy running it moved away, and my third, but most serious, bi-polar episode. Reading of a hero who often wanted to do the wrong thing for selfish reasons, who hated his existence and was doomed to suffer it for no known reason, really spoke to my emo-goth-ridden brain. Combine that with my discovery of The Black Company, and, well, I had quite a bit to think about and quite a bit of inspiration for my own writing.

About eight years later, White Wolf Publishing began releasing fifteen volumes full of all of the books and stories that Moorcock wrote concerning his concept of The Eternal Champion, of which Elric was perhaps the most depressive example. Of course, I started buying them; I was a horrible completist back then, something that my constant traveling, my library cards, and my lack of book space (along with my Kindle) have made a little better, though blanks spots between the books in a series still bothers me, even if I know I don’t plan on reading them. For the most part, though, I’d only read a fraction of the novels within. From Manteca, California, to Napoli, Italia, to Taura, Yokosuka, Japan, to Newport, Rhode Island, and finally to Atlanta, Georgia, they’ve followed me, taking up most of a shelf, taunting me with their unread contents. A little over a month ago, I decided I was going to finally make my way through them once and for all, and then decide whether they were worth keeping and dragging around with me or if I should find them a new home, freeing up space for books I probably really would read.

I’m about finished with the sixth novel and the second volume, and I’m honestly not sure if I’m going to read every single one of the fifteen volumes, now. They’re odd books, yes, but they’re repetitive. More than a romantic comedy, more than a Michael Bay exploding thriller, more even than Michael Bay blowing up things in a romantic comedy, they’re mostly the same idea played out many many times. And while one part of my brain says, “Well, that’s the premise… a warrior is doomed to countless incarnations in the battle between Law and Chaos, kind of like the Libertarians,” I’m finding too much repetition. 1400 pages in, and I know what will happen, for the most part, at the end of every chapter, every book. On top of that, one of the novels I’ve read so far is one I read back in ’95 and I remember liking it at the time; this time it was dry, repetitive, derivative, and mostly boring. I know this isn’t the fault of the Sword-and-Sorcery genre, either. I fully recognise the problems in the original Conan stories, or the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, but they’re entertaining and enjoyable reads. In the one I’m reading now, a ghostly hero straight from the Magical Kingdom of Plot Contrivances spends two pages explaining what the heroes will have to do, and even pointing out the puzzles they’ll face along the way. In an adventure game tutorial, that’s somewhat acceptable, but not in a book. Half the fun of reading is watching the protagonists figure things out along the way, not to watch him get a standard operating procedure (complete with safety notes) before he goes to free the dragon from the sword that will stop his twin sister from taking over the Multiverse.

Why would I keep reading the series, if I do go on and read it and don’t just decide to find a bookstore that would like to buy them? The ideas.

The ideas in these books are brilliant and chilling. Certain images, like the Red Weepers, who wear wire cages around their eyes to keep them propped open at all times, or the lands of ice and obsidian, glowing red in the light of the dying sun, or psychics escaping a dying universe and fighting a mental battle with complete and utter aliens. For every chapter that I complain about stilted writing, tired plots, and way way WAY too much explanation and little actual action (odd for an action genre, isn’t it) I’ll find myself setting the book down in awe of a vision or an image.

The jury’s still out on the series. I may finish it, and I may go to my bookstore up in Chamblee with eight kilos of Elric. I will say to anyone who does read them… the ideas really are mind-blowing. Perhaps some day I’ll work them into my own stories, after first making sure that why I’m writing are actually stories. You know, that work as a narrative that engages the reader and all.

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