science fiction and fantasy book reviewsThe Bull and the Spear by Michael Moorcock fantasy book reviewsThe Bull and the Spear by Michael Moorcock

This review contains spoilers for the first three books in the Corum series.

Michael Moorcock’s CORUM series is comprised of two trilogies. In the first trilogy, Corum defeated the three Chaos rulers of the fifteen planes, giving Law back much of its lost power and thereby restoring the Balance. Starting eighty years later, the second trilogy starts with The Bull and the Spear (1973). As the book starts, we find that Corum has lived in peace with his great love, Rhalina; however, since he is one of the Vadhagh race, Corum lives much longer than humans do. As a result, he must watch Rhalina grow old and die along with all the people of her generation, all Corum’s friends and extended community. As time passes he grows more and more isolated instead of forging new friendships. Corum’s days of happiness and adventure seem over.

Soon, though, Corum is called into action yet again, but this time, his calling is not based on revenge, nor is it a clear message. Corum is disturbed by strange voices that come to him in his dreams. At first, he tries to ignore them, but an old friend, a Companion to the Champion, arrives and convinces him to listen to those voices: Jhary-a-Conel encourages Corum to play again the role of the Eternal Champion. The request for help, it turns out, is being sent from the future by the descendants of Rhalina’s people. Corum, therefore,

garbed himself in all the martial finery of the Vadhagh and … he went riding on a red horse into the future to meet the folk of Cremm Croich and to battle the horrible Fhoi Myore, the Gods of Limbo, the Cold Folk, and the People of the Pines.

The severest threat comes from the seven terrible gods, the Fhoi Myore, who are on the brink of destroying all of the Mabden race (the race of man). In order to defeat these gods, Corum learns that he must seek out the Black Bull of Crinanass. Corum goes on his quest, encountering strange beings and overcoming difficult trials. One of those he meets, an old woman, acts as an oracle, offering this warning: Corum “should fear a harp, a brother, and beauty.” This dire warning will haunt Corum throughout the entire trilogy. Of course, this novel closes with Corum’s momentary triumph after his successful quest, and yet, when the book is finished, more remains to be done, as two more books follow to wrap up this trilogy.

One of my favorite aspects of Moorcock’s novels is his discussion of gods. Throughout his many Eternal Champion books, Moorcock writes about the relationship between religion and storytelling, betwen gods and imagination, including all kinds of stories, myths, and legends. Corum once warned a traveller with a prophecy: Mabden “imaginations will make your race the most exceptional this Earth has yet known, but those imaginations could also destroy you!” The traveller responds with a question meant to show that Corum is wrong: “Did we invent the Sword Rulers whom you so heroically fought?” Corum says that yes, human beings do create such gods and asserts that they are more than mere fictions:

They’re real enough …. Reality, after all, is the easiest thing in the world to create. It is partly a question of need, partly a question of time, partly a question of circumstance.

In The Bull and the Spear, Moorcock again returns to the subject of gods and imagination. He talks about the Fhoi Myore and other creatures, but the one who fascinates me the most is Corum. After years of living after Rhalina’s death, Corum becomes isolated, and though no Mabden have contact with him anymore, stories are circulated about him as his legend grows. As the stories become more and more embellished, people began to “build shrines to him” and they made “crude images of him to which [they] prayed as they had prayed to their gods.” Moorcock continues: “It had not taken them long to find new gods and it was ironic that they should make one of the person who had helped rid them of their old ones.” Moorcock seems to be noting an irony that is very much present not only in our history, but also in our present society.

Though I like the second trilogy in the CORUM series a little less than I like the first trilogy and the ELRIC tales, I still love these short novels, each of which can be read in an afternoon. In this book, we meet Medhbh, the daughter of the King whose people called for Corum, and she’s one of my favorite characters: She’s a woman with a strong personality as well as a strong body. In fact, she is one of the great warriors in the kingdom. I also find the return of Prince Gaynor a great strength of the book; in fact, Gaynor, Corum’s enemy, is one of my favorite characters throughout the second trilogy. I suppose I like the wide cast of characters in this story more than the plot. The characters are what stick with me the most. In the first trilogy, I found the plot and world-building were what drew me.

In some ways, it’s hard to compare the first three books in the series with the last three books, but though The Bull and the Spear seemed a little weaker, it’s still a solid four stars. And if you’ve already read the first three books, you won’t be able to stop yourself from continuing on with Books 4-6.

Published in 1973. In the ancient Castle Erorn, Corum of the Scarlet Robe dwells in isolation and sorrow. He has out-lived his great love, Rhalina, and is tormented by voices in his dreams—a crowd of shadowy figures chanting his name. Unable to ignore their calls for help any longer, he will travel through eons of time to an age of tragedy, where the people of Tuha-na-Cremm Croich, descendants of Rhalina, are persecuted by the giant gods of the Cold Folk. A great black bull has the power needed to defeat the monsters of a new age. But to tame the bull, the Eternal Champion must travel to the fatally beautiful island of Hy-Breasail to find the invincible and magical Spear Bryionak…

Corum (Eternal Champion) — (1971-1974) The ancient races, the Vadhagh and the Nhadragh, are dying. By creating Mankind, the universe has condemned Earth to a pestilence of destruction and fear. Prince Corum is the last remaining Vadhagh. He sets out on a crusade of vengeance against the forces that slaughtered his family and his race, to challenge the unjust power of the puppet masters of Man: the Lords of Chaos. Along the way he will barter with his soul for the limbs of gods to repair his mutilated body, and will encounter a member of the very race who caused the mutilation, the irresistible Rhalina…

Corum - The Knight of The Swords: The Eternal Champion Corum - The Queen of The Swords: The Eternal Champion Corum - The King of Swords: The Eternal Champion Corum - The Bull and the Spear: The Eternal Champion Corum - The Oak and the Ram: The Eternal Champion Corum - The Sword and the Stallion: The Eternal Champion


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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