In his early days, Michael Moorcock made ‘novels’ by putting three novelettes between bright covers and calling the stories Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3. They were great. ‘The Citadel Of Forgotten Myths’ continues this tradition in that the first two tales are basically novelettes but the third one is a full-fledged novel in its own right, albeit a short one by modern standards.
The chapter numbers are continuous so it all pretends to be one book and in the sense that it’s a continued story, that’s fair enough but there are three distinct adventures.
I read online, so it might be true, that the first two stories are reworked old stuff and the bulk of the book, part three, is new. This makes sense as the openers are fast-paced adventure stories, old-style Moorcock, and the third has a more meditative tone in places, though there’s still plenty of plot. In the chronology, this book fits between ‘The Sailor On The Seas Of Fate’ collection and ‘Stormbringer’. Elric is betrothed to Zarozinia, Princess of Karlaak by the Weeping Wastes but has left her behind, partly at her urging, to ease his soul by finding the true origins of his people. To this end, he has travelled to The World Below, accompanied by his sidekick Moonglum, who seeks knowledge and treasure.
Elric’s world is egg-shaped but the people on the bottom half, The World Below, do not fall off for some reason. However, access there and back is difficult. To get there, he sails off the edge of his ‘world’ on a trading ship accustomed to the voyage. For fun at night, he has Princess Nauhaduar of Uyt. Zarozinia accepts that he needs female company and doesn’t mind as long as he comes back to her. Moonglum has a barmaid for a bedmate.
At the first port of call, they meet Lady Forentach whose sister married Sadric, Elric’s father. So she’s his auntie. Lady Forentach lives in a nice mansion and carries the White Sword but she wants the Eyes of the Skaradin, also called blood pearls, so they go on a quest to the white fort of Addric Heed, her brother, treacherous slayer of his own kin. The Melnibonéans, it seems, are descended partly from the Phoorn, a race of dragons from elsewhere in the Multiverse who long ago mated with humans by means of sorcery.
The second adventure has Elric seeking the rare Noibuluscus plant that only grows in the jungles beyond the port of Nassea-Tiki in the ancient deserted city of Soom. It may sustain his life and free him from his dependence on Stormbringer, the sentient sword that sucks the souls from those it slays and feeds part of the power to Elric, without which he is a feeble albino indeed. He meets another Melnibonéan exile and doesn’t get a warm welcome. Even so, they team up for the jungle quest in another solid adventure tale.
The first two stories both take up about fifty pages, less if you count the half page chapter breaks, so they’re maybe 15,000 words apiece. Novelettes. Book Three is two hundred pages and has a slightly slower pace, Now keen to get back to their own lands and escape one ripped apart by wars, in part caused by Elric’s actions, he and Moonglum seek a passage back to The World Above. The way seems to lie beyond Kirinmoir, an ancient city steeped in tradition and populated by yet more descendants of the Phoorn and therefore kin to Elric.
They have prospered over centuries by trading their special blue honey but now there are a million barbarians coming to attack them, led by Ramada Saburu, a charismatic warrior wizard of great power. It’s odd that a people so sick of war are prepared for more but, as one of Kirinmoir’s captains says, ‘stupid men change their leaders rather than their ambitions.’ Politicians, too, I note.
Book Three is slower paced in places but still full of action. I enjoyed Elric’s musings about the history of his people and the Phoorn. His ponderings on politics are also interesting. Moonglum has been Chancellor in his home Republic of Elwher but Elric doesn’t really understand democracy. How can a king elected by the people have any authority? The city of Kirinmoir has been stable and settled for millennia but Elric argues with Empress Melaré that stagnation is not good. He is an agent of chaos and likes to shake things up. I found one chapter tedious, a prolonged, aimless ramble from the point of view of a Chaos god but I suspect it was inserted to prove she was mad. It did.
‘The Citadel Of Forgotten Myths’ marks a welcome return for a well-loved old character and a well respected old author. Moorcock is 82 and his pulp roots still show now and then, especially in his surprising use of exclamation marks! His writing has always been more in the tradition of Robert E. Howard than J.R.R. Tolkien and he infamously criticised ‘Lord Of The Rings’ in his essay ‘Epic Pooh’, the work, not the man. Moorcock, a hippie princeling raised in peacetime, didn’t like the bucolic peace of the Shire which he saw as a cosy Tory dream. But Tolkien had been through World War One which cost him all his best friends.
Unsurprisingly, his opus shows a great fondness for peace and quiet, the home and the hearth. No servant of Chaos, he! Howard’s famous comment that barbarism is the natural condition of man would probably suit Elric, though. In chaos, there is war and souls to feed him. Not a nice hero, really but ‘The Citadel of Forgotten Myths’ is an entertaining book. Recommended to all who grew up reading cheap pulp paperbacks in the 70s and it might suit some younger readers, too.
(pub: Gollancz, 2022. 336 page hardback. Price: £22.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-39960-037-8)