The Last Enchantment

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aka 'Jesting with Chaos'

'The Last Enchantment', a short story by Michael Moorcock originally written for Science Fantasy as a 'final' Elric story but turned down by the editor John Carnell in favour of the Stormbringer novellas. It remained forgotten until after Carnell's death, when it was rediscovered and eventually published in the third issue of Ariel, a US anthology publication.

In recent years it has tended to appear in print with the alternate title 'Jesting with Chaos'.

Publishing History

As 'The Last Enchantment'

As 'Jesting with Chaos'

Synopsis

* * The following section may contain spoilers * *

While out riding, Elric happens upon a half-crazed wretch called Slorg, who clutches a glowing black talisman, who asks the albino for aid, claiming to have been profaned by his kinsmen who set the Hungry Whisperers on him. Elric attempts to dismisses him, but Slorg threatens to use his last enchantment on Elric if he leaves him. Riding away, Elric hears a thin scream behind and as the environment changes from forest to an expanse of cold grey stone, he realises Slorg’s enchantment has been worked upon him. The changed environment reminds Elric of the Caverns of Chaos he visited when he searched for the Dead Gods' Book and which rendered Stormbringer impotent. Unsheathing the runesword he finds it is lifeless once more, but this time he has a good supply of drugs to sustain him

Unable to tell how much time passes in this realm, Elric at last comes across a man dressed in green and carrying a silver sword. Elric says he is trying to find a way out of this world, which the newcomer claims is his own and says he is on his way to Kaneloon for the Rites. The man informs Elric that this is the Time of The Change when the Lords of Chaos rest before reforming the world, before pointing out a greenstone palace and vanishing. At the palace, Elric's passage is blocked by a red giant who only admits him when he identifies himself and warns he may enter but never leave save under certain conditions. Elric makes his way to a vast hall of shifting flame, within which are nine men, or at least man-like figures, one of whom identifies himself as Teshwan and informs Elric he may only leave if he can create something which it has never occurred to them to create. Elric protests that the Lords of Chaos are the Masters of Creation, but Teshwan reveals that they can only manipulate things that have already been conceived, not make original things. Only the Greatest Power, which holds Law and Chaos in balance, can create new conceptions:

"'We wish not for power - only for variety. Thus everytime we weary of our domains we let our old creations fade and conceive new ones. If you can bring a fresh element to our domain, we shall free you. We conceive jokes and paradoxes. Conceive a better joke and a better paradox for our entertainment and you may leave here.'"

For long hours, the Lord of Chaos indulge in great experiments altering the environment outside in myriad ways while Elric ponders his problem. At last, wearied by the whole display, Teshwan turns to Elric and asks what he can do, warning that the price for failure is to be forever conscious. At last, Elric presents them with a replica of himself, to which Teshwan complains it is nothing new, since Elric already sits beside them. The albino tells them to look inside the mind of the replica, wherein they discover the variety beloved by Chaos, but also the order that the Lords of Order desire. Thanking Elric for his joke as well as the paradox it contains, Elric is returned to his world, close to the city of Bakshaan, and remarks ruefully "it is a pity that men do not laugh at it more often'"

Analysis

--to follow--

Connections

--to follow--

Mike Says

  • "The Last Enchantment was a 'lost' story which my old agent discovered amongst Ted Carnell's papers and sent back to me. I'd forgotten all about it... It's sort of out of sequence and hard to place in the regular Elric chronology. I wrote it after I'd done the stories which made up the original Stealer of Souls and before Stormbringer. I thought it was the last Elric story I would write at the time and it was intended for Cele Goldsmith's FANTASTIC, but Cele left the magazine, as I recall, before it could be submitted to her."[1]
  • "I tended to forget a story once I'd written it, which is why The Last Enchantment (supposed to be the last Elric story) turned up some years later amongst Ted Carnell's papers after he died. I'd completely forgotten that I'd written it until then."[2]
  • "I think it had something to do with a theme I've played with quite a lot, about everything being aspects of one person's imagination. Which, of course, it is. But it's a long time ago and I have difficulty remembering what I meant in a story done last year, let alone forty years in the past. Sorry. I don't usually plant mysteries without knowing the solution myself, though, since I feel that's cheating. Maybe in second childhood (or third, if I'm in 2nd now) I'll remember."[3]
  • "It was written in 1962 and was going to be the last Elric story after While The Gods Laugh. Ted Carnell (editor of Science Fantasy) wanted more. I believe that he suggested that he, as agent, should submit the story in America. I forgot it until long after Ted died. Eventually, Les Flood, who had taken over Ted's agency, found the manuscript and sent it back. Ariel books were asking for a story at the time, so I sent them that one. I now see it as an episode between While The Gods Laugh and Kings In Darkness, I suppose. The paradoxical games played in the story are all in some way prefiguring later stories and also The Dancers At The End Of Time. Chaos enjoys paperboard paradox (in itself boring). While Law permits no paradox at all (also sterile). A world in balance is a world permitting both a degree of congruity plus a degree of paradox."[4]

Notes