THE SKRAYLING TREE
by Michael Moorcock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
As with the previous novel in the Albino trilogy, The Dreamthief’s Daughter, Michael Moorcock does not provide a story which is typical of the Elric novels one might expect, however he does write a novel which follows perfectly in the wake of the previous book. In The Skrayling Tree, Moorcock opens with Oona, Elric’s daughter, married to Ulric von Bek and living in Nova Scotia following their adventures during World War II. Set several years after the war, the couple has children and careers, but their life is not to be blissful as Ulric is kidnapped just before Herr Klosterheim, appears to meet with him. Subsequently, Moorcock details Oona’s attempts to retrieve her husband in a twelfth century America with the help of a native who would provide the inspiration for Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha.” Elric eventually does appear and Moorcock plays with the idea that his visitations to various realms of the multiverse occur in a sort of vivid dreaming state, the current adventure taking place while Elric is held captive by Jagreen Lern. The three primary characters of The Skrayling Tree, Oona, Ulric and Elric, each a protagonist of one section, have little interaction with each other, despite their close relationship in the previous novel and in the cosmic scheme of things. Oona and Ulric are concerned about each other but have little chance to demonstrate that concern in a face to face manner.Elric and Ulric merge on some level, but it is a more distant merger than occurred in The Dreamthief’s Daughter. One of the problems with The Skrayling Tree is that although Ulric, Elric, and Oona, along with their various colleagues, are fighting to maintain the balance and keep the villainous Gaynor from destroying the multiverse, by focusing the reader’s attention first on Oona’s quest to rescue Ulric and then Ulric’s attempts to save Oona, the personal overshadows the cosmic and saving the Skrayling Tree seems almost anticlimactic. Early in The Skrayling Tree, Moorcock indulges in his love of nomenclature, invoking his character Erekosë in comparison to the Iroquois Indians. There is a certain amount of this wordplay throughout, frequently relating to character identity. In some cases, these nomenclatural games provide the reader with knowledge that the characters do not have, or should have but don't see, allowing the reader to feel superior to the characters as they wait for the revelation to occur.
The Skrayling Tree of the title seems to be related to Yggdrasil of Norse mythology, the world tree passing through all levels of the multiverse, although in Moorcock’s depiction, the worldtree is the multiverse. Rather than each aspect of the universe being a sphere, it is now depicted as a branch or a twig on the Skrayling Tree. The Skrayling Tree features more than just a physical reimagining of the multiverse, as Moorcock continues to tinker with the concept he created in the 1960s. However, it is clear that the vision presented in The Skrayling Tree will not be complete until at least the end of the third novel in the trilogy.The Skrayling Tree has an unfinished feel to it, possibly because it forms the second book in a trilogy, although the first two novels are linked in a relatively tenuous manner. The third book may be more closely tied to The Skrayling Tree and provide a better sense of closure, not only on its own, but for this novel as well.
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