Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Citadel of Forgotten Myths [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Michael Moorcock, related to The Elric Saga series.
While promotional copy insists that this latest addition to Moorcock’s tales of the last Emperor of Melniboné “takes place between the first and second books of the Elric Saga,” that refers to their current packaging in the Saga Press edition. For those of us more familiar with the old mass market paperbacks and their omnibus collections, that makes it fall between “The Weird of the White Wolf” and “The Vanishing Tower.” Elric’s peregrinations with Moonglum in the Young Kingdoms are interrupted with a trip to “the underside of the world,” where the moody kinslayer traces the origins of the Melnibonéan race and their relationship to the dragons with whom their culture is in symbiosis.
The first half of the book consists of two novellas previously published under other titles. I had read “How Elric Pursued His Weird into the Far World” when it was called “Red Pearls” in the 2010 collection Swords & Dark Magic. I liked it then, but it was too long ago for me to assess how “substantially revised” (per the appended note) this new version is. The story here is interesting, but often told at a somewhat chilly level of abstraction. The second novella is “How Elric Discovered an Unpleasant Kinship,” published before revision as “Black Petals,” serialized in Weird Tales (2008-9) and collected in Elric: Swords and Roses. Despite owning the latter volume, I had never read this story. It felt very much like a return to form, with a mood that matched “The Stealer of Souls.”
The second half of The Citadel of Forgotten Myths is centered on the citadel of the title, the stronghold of Kirinmoir. This polity in the World Below compares to Elric’s own Imryrr as an age-old capital of his race. It is matriarchal, however, with an apiary-centered economy. The story starts with some adventuring, and it builds to a great military conflict driven by Melnibonéan grudges and the scheming of gods of Chaos.
Particularly in the final part, this book has many “Easter eggs” for longtime readers of Moorcock, and not merely of the crossover variety that tie this story into his multiversal hyperwork of the Eternal Champion, Cosmic Balance, and moonbeam roads. For example, he alludes to his own song lyric in mentioning “veterans of those dreadful psychic wars” (184) and to his recent autobio-fantasy in “a whispering swarm constantly reminding him of his own mortality” (185).
Some contemporary political sarcasm is evident in naming a throwaway character G’nilwab Sirob–an anagram of “Bawling Boris” (205). (I suspect that I failed to catch yet other references built into character names.) Moorcock also has deranged Chaos Queen Xiombarg extol herself as “Goddess made Great Again” (284), and Elric expresses his resentment that his countrymen wanted him to “make Melniboné great again” (314).
The inhuman Elric is veritably the apotheosis of the sword & sorcery murder hobo. As an inversion of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, the point that stands out in these particular tales is the ineluctable net of dependencies and obligations that bind Elric to his race, his cursed sword, and his patron demon. Where Conan prizes his freedom and independence, Elric seems unable even to conceive of such a condition. I don’t think this book would make an especially effective point of entry for the Elric stories, let alone the larger Eternal Champion quilt. Still, I enjoyed it, and it fueled my appetite for re-reading Moorcock’s prince of ruins.