THE WEIRD ON THE WHITE WOLF
by Michael Moorcock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Michael Moorcock’s The Weird of the White Wolf opens with "The Dream of Earl Aubec," a story set hundreds of years before Elric’s birth, a recounting of the legend of Earl Aubec of Malador, who is referred to earlier in the Elric cycle and whose sword was wielded by Elric prior to his acquisition of Stormbringer. The story offers insight into the world as seen from the point of view of a human, rather than a Melnibonéan. Aubec is on a mission for his queen, Eloarde, to capture the Castle Kaneloon and expand her realm to the edge of the world. Aubec is also to give a view of the Chaos that reigns over the edge of the world in a manner which is never really shown through Elric’s eyes or visions.
Although Elric was described as using Aubec’s sword prior to his own acquisition of Stormbringer, and the clear tie Aubec has to the Young Kingdoms, the story seems out of place as the opening of The Weird of the White Wolf. It serves as a prologue to the book, however the following stories don’t flow from Aubec’s adventure, refer back to it, or even take place in the part of the Young Kingdoms where Aubec adventures.
The book continues with "The Dreaming City," which was first published in 1961 and introduced Elric and his world. When read in the order collected in books, it includes characters previously seen, including a maddened and gibbering Yyrkoon, much less intriguing that the schemer he was in Elric of Melniboné, a Cymoril who spends most of her time asleep under an enchantment, and, despite Elric’s professed love for her, is merely one in a long line of mistreated and un-developed female characters, and Smiorgan Baldhead of the Purple Towns. Given the enormous role Cymoril and Yyrkoon play in Elric’s legend, it is difficult to remember they only appear in two of the stories.
The story focuses on Elric leading a band of raiders from the Young Kingdoms against his kingdom, Melniboné with the eye to destroying it. Apparently Yyrkoon’s usurpation of his throne coupled with Elric’s own travels throughout the Young Kingdoms as decribed (slightly) in The Fortress of the Pearl and The Sailor on the Seas of Fate have led Elric to decide that the time has come for Melniboné to no longer exist. His one demand of the raiders as they destroy the city and rape and murder his erstwhile subjects, is that Yyrkoon and Cymoril be left unmolested to allow him to deal with them. Although his treasonous acts against his people demonstrate his callousness, it is seen most clearly in the way he leaves Smiorgan to his fate.
While the Imrryr seen in Elric of Melniboné seems a more fully realized city, the city destroyed in "The Dreaming City," seems strangely vacant and undeveloped. While Moorcock’s ability to create interesting creatures and landscapes shines, Imrryr is only painted with a few quick strokes and pales in comparison to many of the famed cities of fantasy, most notably Fritz Leiber’s “Lankhmar.”
"While the Gods Laugh" is set a further year into the future. Elric has continued to travel the Young Kingdom, although now as a wandering hermit rather than as an Emperor in search of wisdom. Over the course of the year, the legend has grown of his raid on Imrryr and he has taken on the sobriquet of “Womanslayer.” Despite this, Shaarilla, a wingless woman of the Myyrrhn, seeks him out in a tavern and enlists his aid on a quest for the Dead God’s Book, a mystical tome which she believes will give her the wings of her people and which Elric believes will explain his reason for living.
The story, which is somewhat slight, was the second of the Elric stories and introduced two important concepts to the series. While Elric had been an agent of Chaos from the beginning, fighting, more or less, against the Gods of Law, in "While the Gods Laugh," he hoped to find an uberGod which controlled the two warring factions, a concept which Moorcock would flesh out more in future stories as the Cosmic Balance.
In their adventures, Shaarilla and Elric come across Moonglum of Elwher, who becomes Elric’s faithful companion throughout many of his adventures. Despite Elric’s desire of solitude, cynicism, and distrust, he has a strong tendency to become immediately boon companions with several characters in the course of his adventures, whether Rackhir the Red in Elric of Melniboné, Smiorgan Baldhead in The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, or Moonglum in the current volume.
Less fortunate than Moonglum is Shaarilla, who Elric heartlessly abandons once he determines that his quest won’t be successful. While Elric treats Shaarilla rather cavalierly, his desertion of her is done in a manner which implies that she can, or even will, manage to make it home without his help, and she won’t suffer the fate of so many of those who are close to him. Nevertheless, is betrays a disdainful view of women that runs throughout the books.
Finally in The Weird of the White Wolf, “"The Singing Citadel" allows Elric to come face-to-face with some of the consequences of the raid on Imrryr in "The Dreaming City." Two years have now passed and Elric and Moonglum are trying to sneak into Dhakos, the capital city of Jharkor, whose king, Dharmit, died in the initial attack on Immryr. An attack on their ship by a vessel from Pan Tang meant that Elric would enter as a conqueror with booty rather than a recluse. Given that Elric is often shown as callous and amoral, it is interesting that when Moonglum suggests that in addition to selling the ship, they also sell the Pan Tangians into slavery, Elric balks at the suggestion.
Although the primary story is about a partnership between Elric and Queen Yishana of Jharkor, sister to Dharmit, in their quest to discover what is behind a strange fortress that has appeared in the hinterlands and is causing damage to cities and Jharkor soldiers to disappear, the real import of the story is that it introduces Yishana’s lover, the Pan Tangian sorcerer Theleb K’aarna, and makes him Elric’s rival, which will have lasting consequences. While it is questionable that the nation’s queen would ride on an expedition as dangerous as the one Yishana, Elric, and Theleb K’aarna undertake, at least when Elric leaves Yishana, his reasons are understandable aside from his total disregard for women.
|The Dream of Earl Aubec (a.k.a. Master of Chaos)||The Dreaming City|
|While the Gods Laugh||The Singing Citadel|
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