fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Eternal Champion: Book One by Michael Moorcock The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock

Though I have read a handful of Elric stories and several comics — new and old — based on the character, The Eternal Champion is the first complete novel of Michael Moorcock’s that I have read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Erekosë, another character in Moorcock’s larger ETERNAL CHAMPION series, is a fascinating character who, as a warrior with ethical concerns about war, allows Moorcock to reflect upon weighty matters via his fictional narrative. But most importantly, it’s a wonderfully fun book to read. Great ideas are not of much use if nobody even wants to read the novel.

The plot is simple: A man in the present is called via magic to return as the Eternal Champion and defender of humanity in a King’s war against “The Eldren Threat,” an enemy that, while clearly not human beings, may or may not lack humanity. Erekosë must decide how much he should follow the orders of this King, this leader of human beings, and how much he should question the King and his loyal followers in their bloodthirsty campaign against an enemy that seems never to attack, at least as far as our Champion can tell.

What drew me into the story initially is the serious but humorous premise faced by the main character, John Daker: He lives in the present but is pulled into another timeline and/or place to act out his role as Erekosë, The Eternal Champion, a role that Daker never knew he had. So he is quite bewildered, and I loved that part of the novel: Daker is confused, and his memories as Daker keep overlapping with those of Erekosë. He seems to know exactly what he is to do as a warrior in another time and place, but the identity of Daker inside him is still shocked at what another part of his identity is capable of doing.

Eventually, this part of the book, this enjoyment, fades, as it should, since an entire book based on this “shock” at being in a different world would most likely cease to amuse the reader. I honestly didn’t think Moorcock could keep me interested in The Eternal Champion, since I’ve never really liked fantasy in general and warriors with swords specifically. I was prepared to stop only a little bit into the book. I did not want to read of battles on horses.

Moorcock, however, did manage to engage me both in terms of plot and in terms of his ideas, which I will touch on at the end of this review. I found that there were a wide variety of characters that added tension to the narrative. Should Erekosë question the King? How much danger is he in by the King’s greatest supporter? How wary should he be of falling in love with the King’s daughter? And halfway through the book, we finally watch Erekosë get to know well some of those in the enemy camp. They are not exactly as he has been led to expect, and his internal conflicts increase, resulting in greater conflicts with those who brought him there as Champion of Humanity to begin with.

I think I am not reading too much into The Eternal Champion if I say the Moorcock is suggesting that we are all a bit like Daker: We all have multiple selves that don’t seem in agreement, as if we are a little bit at war within, at times acting according to a script we never knew we had and at other times acting as if we are in control of what we do, individuals asserting our wills against a script written by those around us or against a larger Script writ by Destiny himself. Do we have freewill or is there an Eternal Script that no living being can contradict or change no matter the strength of his will? Moorcock asks us to consider these competing forces of society, self, and fate. From this perspective, the novel rises above mere plot.

I think the novel also has thematic interest because Erekosë spends much time thinking about what it means to be human and what it means to have a code of honor, particularly in a time of war. In relation to these concerns, Moorcock asks why human beings have a tendency to ascribe a lack of humanity to those we decide are our enemies, or, as we would describe it now, why we perceive the “other” as lacking in humanity and therefore the vessel for all that we consider truly evil in the world. Erekosë is ultimately perplexed by the fact that those he has been told are most evil are the ones who have the highest codes of honor, the greatest love of true peace, and the most hesitancy to kill others, even those who want to kill all of their kind.

Perhaps the novel is at times too didactic; perhaps the novel is dated. I didn’t mind the first, and I wouldn’t know about the second since I’ve never read much fiction of this kind before. And I’m not sure I ever will be that interested in this particular subgenre, with one definite exception: My thorough enjoyment of The Eternal Champion: Book One, along with what I’ve read of Elric, will lead me to read the second book about Erekosë and certainly more books in Moorcock’s THE ETERNAL CHAMPION series.

The Eternal Champion Sequence — (began in 1970) Young and old, familiar fans and newcomers, will be captivated by Michael Moorcock’s legendary Eternal Champion collection. Timeless, classic and beyond a doubt one of the foundations of modern Fantasy, the Eternal Champion is a series of stories that no Fantasy aficionado should pass up. John Daker dreams of other worlds, and a name: Erekosë. He finds the strength to answer the call, travelling to a strange land ruled by the aging King Rigenos of Necranal. Humanity is united in a desperate fight against the inhuman Eldren, and he must fight with them. But the actions of his brethren turns his loyalties, and as Erekosë he will take a terrible revenge.

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  • 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.