The Knight of Swords
The Queen of Swords
The King of Swords
(1971) by Michael Moorcock
I haven’t had much luck with new(ish) books lately. So, I went downstairs to my library to find something to re-read. I can’t say why “The Sword Trilogy” caught my whim, but it did. I first read it as a dewy-eyed teen in high school, many years ago. I know I haven’t read the whole thing thru since then, but I’ve definitely sampled excerpts.
Well…it didn’t hold up. Mr. Moorcock’s heroic high fantasy work always fell short for me, even in the once upon a time, because of one phrase: “the Eternal Champion”. Is there any Moorcock book where Elric doesn’t make at least a cameo walk-on? The Eternal Champion muck intrudes into the Prince Corum/Swords Saga much more than I recalled, and that is not a fact to make me smile. I use the word “intrudes” quite purposefully. In 2016, several superhero movie franchises are chastised in reviews for devoting too much time shilling for next summer’s blockbusters and not staying on the plot. Moorcock does much the same thing, essentially flogging all his books in each novel.
As a teen, I found the Elric-Champion intrusion annoying, but revelled in the high fantasy environment and descriptions. In the modern day, perhaps I’ve become too experienced, even jaded. The settings are no longer as sublime nor macabre. Moorcock has written some fascinating passages of strange realms, but they feel like padding. Filler. Endless, mostly pointless stage sets for Corum & Co. to wander thru before finally getting to a piece of plot/action.
After reading the trilogy, I went researching Mr. Moorcock. I found an eyebrow-raiser of a factoid. He claims, especially in his youth around the late 60’s or early 70’s, that he could pound out 15,000 words a day on his typewriter! That’s an insane output. Nobody can write quality work at that pace. It also explains the shallowness of the Sword Trilogy. With my modern vantage point atop years of experience, I can well see how 15,000 words can be achieved when 25% of those words are repetitive runs on the Eternal Champion stuff. No real workout for the creative mind there. It also serves to explain the aforementioned meandering across alien landscapes that have little impact on the plot. Bizarre, wild and provocative word paintings they might be, but pretty much serving only to pad out that page count.
This blazing word production also serves to offer a reason why some names for places and characters are unpronounceable collection of letters, as if he just hit the keys with his forehead. Conversely, it also explains why some names are simplistic in the extreme. “We travel to the west where we shall find the City of the Western Reaches”.
A final criticism would be the hero. Prince Corum of the Scarlet Robe is quite the sad sack. He becomes quite angry at how he is manipulated by the Gods of the Fifteen Planes. This is a form of “lampshading”, because he truly wanders thru the tale doing their bidding, reacting and rarely acting. Corum never comes up with a bold deed or a cunning plan. None of the main characters do, except maybe for Whiskers the flying cat.
Perhaps I should have a look for what Mr. Moorcock has written in the more mature years of his career. If he has hopefully stopped trying to break speed typing records and let that amazing imagination create a proper story, those books might really be worth reading.