The Michael Moorcock Library: Elric of Melniboné adapted by Roy Thomas

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Michael Moorcock Library (Vol. 1): Elric of Melniboné adapted by Roy Thomas

ELRIC OF MELNIBONE COMIC VOL ONE“Melniboné has never stood for good or for evil, but for herself and the satisfaction of her desires.”

Michael Moorcock’s Elric cannot follow this line of thinking that is prevalent among his people, the people of Melniboné; in fact, it’s so prevalent that even his lover, whose words I quoted above, believes that they are a race of people above ethics, above good and evil, in the way we think of such concepts. Elric is odd, therefore, not merely for his pale skin, but also in his way of thinking about the world. His way of thinking, though, is why Elric has appealed to so many who find the internal struggles of the hero of more interest than the external battles he fights.

I came to Michael Moorcock late in life, and I wish I had read him as a teenager. So, in missing Moorock’s novels, I certainly missed his adaptation to comics in the early 1980s. I am thankful that they are being republished. The first volume of The Michael Moorcock Library is Elric of Melniboné. Roy Thomas’s adaptation is quite true to the feel of Moorcock’s writing, which is remarkable considering how little text can be employed per panel by a comic book writer, and the art of Michael T. Gilbert and P. Craig Russell brings Elric’s world to life in all its magical splendor. Russell, one of the greatest artists of our time, is a modern day Aubrey beardsley-arthur-armourBeardsley. Beardsley, who followed the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite Artists and their love of Arthurian legend, illustrated Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, and so Beardsley is an appropriate inspiration for Russell both in terms of style and subject matter (The one black-and-white image I’ve included in this review is from Beardsley’s Morte D’Arthur illustrations).

The stories in Elric of Melniboné are great fun, and though there is much action, Roy Thomas, in faithfully following the original story by Moorcock, makes sure that he does not pass over, through abridgement, Elric’s introspective moments: Elric frequently considers the dangers of becoming dependent upon sorcery, even though he is a great sorcerer. I love that Elric comes to question the accepted values of his society via his time spent reading (he grows up often bedridden by a mysterious illness). Education, according to Moorcock, seems to ruin the happiness of a great ruler by preventing him from being a mere tyrant who pleases only himself. At times, though, Elric curses the books that have led him to question the views of his own people. But, he follows the path of his own truth, wrestling with the gods, standing up to the Lord of Chaos and even attempting to control his great sword Stormbringer, refusing to do what it demands of him, even refusing to kill his greatest foe, just to make sure that he is in control of his own destiny as much as any one person can hope to be.

Moorcock Library One 2In terms of the artistic scenery, I am particularly impressed with the pictures of Elric’s time under the sea and his time in the alternative world he must travel through to seek out his sword, the powerful Stormbringer. I also think the artists have done a remarkably good job showing Elric’s interactions with Straasha, Lord of the Water Elementals; Straasha’s brother Grome, Lord of the Soil; and Arioch, the Lord of Chaos. Arioch, reminded me of Lucifer in Gaiman’s The Sandman, and since Elric resembles the character Sandman (and inspired him, from what I understand), the conversation between Elric and Arioch visually looks much like those between Sandman and Lucifer in Season of the Mists, volume four of The Sandman. Their conversations even have a similar tone, too, since the personality of each character matches his visual counterpart.

The only complaints I have are, surprisingly, visual. First, I found off-putting some of the melodramatic facial expressions, particularly of Elric’s enemy, his own cousin, who continually tries to wrest royal power away from Elric. But my complaint is a minor one considering how intricate and awe-inspiring the artwork is throughout most of the book. My second complaint is the more serious one, and from what I can tell, it is the fault of the publisher. Apparently, the original comics had more vivid color than this re-issue, which has a very washed-out look. The colors are odd and look like an old comic with colors that have both faded and changed in quality, with the reds turning into pinks, for example. I just assumed that the original comic looked this way, but from what I’ve read online, that’s not the case.

Moorcock Library OneThe current publisher has really done such a bad job with the coloring of this reissue that many online reviewers who owned the original comics and have repurchased this edition have given the new edition one out of five stars on Amazon. I’m not willing to go that far. I’d give this book at least four stars if the colors were done properly, but I still enjoyed reading it and looking at it visually. I still found the artwork stunning, though I almost wish it had been published in black-and-white instead of these odd colors. But I’m not willing to dock the book more than half a star for this failure on the publisher’s part. I still recommend this book highly. If you are a fan of Elric and have never read these, it’s a must-own as far as I’m concerned. I’ve already purchased the second volume, The Michael Moorcock Library: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, and I’ll get the next two volumes that have already been scheduled. So, if you’re an Elric fan, go ahead and get this volume, unless you know you’ll be too upset about the color reproduction to enjoy it at all. Even with the coloring as is, there are panels that took my breath away they are so perfect. Today, I’m going to be a glass-is-half-full kind of reviewer and say that Elric fans should be glad they can read these comics again. I’ve already read The Michael Moorcock Library (Vol. 1): Elric of Melniboné twice, just in the past few days.

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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. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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  1. Did you try the French interpretation by Julien Blondel (Author), Didier Poli (Illustrator), Robin Recht (Illustrator)? Sure, I read the novel a looong time ago but the graphic novel felt good – and it seems quite different from this one!

  2. I had no idea this adaptation was so beautiful! I read the Elric books a long time ago, and I really only remember the last line of that last book (or I think I do, anyway), which is not spoken by Elric. This looks wonderful, though.

    Moorcock, for me, was wildly uneven, something I understand better now that I realize that, like Silverberg, he was cranking out a 150-page book in about two weeks (and he was probably high). Ah, the glorious 1960s.

  3. I definitely need to get into Elric, and there’s so many other Moorcock characters to get to know like the Eternal Champion, Jerry Cornelius, etc. especially just after reading Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword!
    He was definitely up on his Norse mythology and down on Tolkien.

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