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Lord of the Rings a la Moorcock? - A Review extract

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  • Lord of the Rings a la Moorcock? - A Review extract

    I've just submitted a review of The History of the Runestaff to Berry, and I'll post a link to the full article when (if?) it's added to the Review section, but in the meantime, I'd like to present a (sizable) extract for peer consideration. :)

    * * *

    ...the biggest difference that struck me about The History of the Runestaff between my initial reading of it [as a teenager]and my most recent [as an adult] is how, in some ways, it appears to have much in common with one of Mike’s famous shibboleths: The Lord of the Rings, both the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien and the films by Peter Jackson.

    Now, although I’m one of those (many) readers who likes and enjoys LotR, such a comparison isn’t meant to belittle either work in any way, but knowing Mike’s indifference to Tolkien’s magnum opus I discovered finding parallels and making connections between characters and events within the two stories surprisingly easy once I started to look for them.

    For me the key to unlocking this secret (if secret it be) occurred in the third part of the Tetralogy, when having possessed the Sword of the Dawn, Hawkmoon is required to call upon its power:

    “�Call for your men, Hawkmoon!’ cried the Warrior in Jet and Black desperately.
    Hawkmoon shrugged and, disbelievingly, called out: �I summon the Legion of the Dawn!’
    Nothing happened. Hawkmoon had expected nothing. He had no faith in legends, as he had said before.
    But then he noticed that the pirates were screaming and that new figures had appeared from nowhere – strange figures who blazed with rosy light, who struck about them ferociously, chopping down the pirates…
    …The newcomers were dressed in highly ornamental armour that looked somehow of a past age. They were armed with lances…with huge notched clubs…and they howled and shouted and killed with incredible ferocity, driving many pirates from the hall within moments…
    …The pirates fought back desperately, striking down the shining warriors. But as a man died, his body vanished and a new warrior would appear from nowhere.�

    The Sword of the Dawn, Book Two, Chapter 10: A Friend from the Shadows

    Now compare that with this description of the spectral Shadow Host, as recounted by Gimli:

    “�But Aragorn halted and cried with a great voice: “Now come! By the Black Stone I call you!� And suddenly the Shadow Host that had hung back at the last came up like a grey tide, sweeping all away before it. Faint cries I heard, and dim horns blowing, and a murmur as of countless far voices: it was like the echo of some forgotten battle in the Dark Years long ago. Pale swords were drawn; but I know not whether their blades would still bite, for the Dead needed no longer any weapon but fear. None would withstand them.’�
    The Lord of the Rings, Book Five, Chapter 9: The Last Debate

    Having both read the source novel and seen the film version of LotR before re-reading HotR, I have to say that it wasn't possible to read either the climaxes to The Sword of the Dawn or The Runestaff, with their legions of �ghost’ warriors, as being anything other than distant cousins of the Dead who aid Aragorn at Minas Tirith (in the film version). Not Mike's intention of course, but there you go. From then on, the parallels and similarities between the two become uncannily obvious.

    Consider: The Warrior in Jet and Gold is very much an �guru’ figure very much like Gandalf, frequently popping up to lend a hand when he’s least expected, seemingly fully aware of facts that elude (or are kept from) Hawkmoon. Just as Gandalf saves the day at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, so the Warrior saves the Kamargians at the end of TMGA by spiriting Castle Brass away to another dimension/time. If it’s not stretching a point (and it probably is) if we consider that the Warrior and Orland Fank are �brothers’ of some manner, when the Warrior is slain defending the Runestaff, his role in the narrative is effectively taken by Fank, in much the same way as Gandalf the White replaces Gandalf the Grey in LotR. But this is admittedly a tenuous argument at best.

    On the other side of the divide, King Huon, immobilised within his Throne Globe is a deadringer for Sauron, equally immobilised in Barad-Dأ»r, yet similarly orchestrating the conquest of the world from within his prison. Likewise, Baron Meliadus shares the same duplicitous traits as Saruman, seemingly working to further the plans and scheme of his master, yet at the same time, secretly conspiring against him to advance his own ambitions. A significant difference between Saruman and Meliadus, of course, is that the Baron succeeds in usurping his Lord.

    Of the female participants in both tales, women are few and far between as well. There are just two significant female roles within the pages of HotR: Yisselda and Flana. The latter is (mostly) a rather passive presence for a great deal of the story, just as Arwen is (mostly) passive in LotR, only really coming into her own when Hawkmoon and D’Averc need to escape Londra or once Huon has been deposed. In comparison, Yisselda proves herself to be as much of a fighter as أ‰owyn at the Battle of Pelennor, although admittedly in less decisive a fashion. On the other hand, Yisselda doesn't have to sneak off into battle disguised as a man - she is accepted as an equal by her peers, without needing to conceal her femininity or sexuality. (Indeed she is pregant with Hawkmoon's child when she goes off to war.)

    Beyond similarities between the characters, both HotR and LotR take the form of �quest narratives’; in Frodo’s case his quest is to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, while in Hawkmoon’s, he must perform many quests in order to accumulate the tools he needs to defeat his enemies. Unlike Frodo, however, Hawkmoon is a reluctant hero – like Jonah he tries to avoid his destiny only to be thwarted by the influences of a supernatural force or 'deity' – whereas Frodo (in keeping with the influences of the Great War that Tolkien brought to his tale) volunteers for his mission.

    Both stories feature books within books: the 'Red Book of Westmarch' that recounts the tales of Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, and the 'High History of the Runestaff', which in turn recounts the adventures of Hawkmoon, d’Averc and co.

    Additionally, both tales occasionally hark back to past times – The First Age in Tolkien and The Tragic Millennium in Moorcock – thus giving a sense of history, or back-story, to the current narrative - although I think Tolkien’s is more fleshed out than Mike’s, who uses the mystery of the Tragic Millennium to add flavour rather than information to his tale. Indeed, whereas LotR was intended to function as a pseudo-history/mythology for Britain it’s not wholly obvious whether the world of Hawkmoon is supposed to be ancient history or distant future for the reader. It can be read either way and I suspect that that was probably Mike’s intention when he wrote it.

    It goes without saying that Mike’s novel is distinctly less sentimental than either Tolkien’s novel or Peter Jackson’s interpretation of it. Having survived many adventures, Mike has no hesitation in killing off the greater part of his leading players before the final page. Although Hawkmoon, Yisselda and their (unborn) child survive to see the overthrown of the Dark Empire and Queen Flana installed on the Throne at Londra, their victory comes at the cost of the lives of Count Brass, Bowgentle, Oladahn, the Warrior, and D’Averc, who all fall to the forces of Granbretan, in one way or another. Flana finds herself Queen of a great Empire, yet suffers the loss of the one man whom she truly loved in the process.

    Another inversion may be found by contrasting the minions of Tolkien’s antagonists – the Uruk-hai, orcs and goblins – who were twisted versions of the �perfect’ elves (influenced by Tolkien’s Christianity, which teaches that the Devil makes nothing but imperfect replicas of existing creations?). These creatures are supposedly cruel and inhumane, although we see very little evidence of this in the novel, as I recall. On the other hand, Mike – in keeping with his desire to subvert the expectations of post-WW2 British fiction by making the hero German and the villain British - makes the men of Granbretan resemble twisted parodies of the ultimate definition of 'inhumanity' – animals. Behind their masks of Wolf, Hound, Mantis, Weasel, Boar, Vulture, etc. the Granbretanians cast off their humanity and engage in the most cruel, sadistic, and perverse degradations imaginable both with their (many) victims and amongst themselves. (Thankfully most of this happens off-screen, Mike leaves it up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks.)

    I daresay Mike may not thank me for making these parallels between the two books (particularly considering his opinion of one of them ;)) and in any case, I wouldn’t want to push them too far, in case they snapped under the weight of their own pretentiousness. However, I think them worthwhile as an interesting aside to the main text, though I wonder whether Mike was aware of the apparent similarities when he wrote his Tetralogy in the first place? Perhaps we can consider The History of the Runestaff as Mike’s version of The Lord of the Rings �done right’?

    * * *

    Thoughts? Comments? (Should I get the flame-proof undies ready, just in case?) :?
    _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
    _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
    _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
    _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

  • #2
    Could be they were both dipping from the same well, inspiration-wise?

    Like with George Lucas and the 'Star Wars' stories. All taking from the old myths: hero goes on a quest, advised by a wise-man, changes along the journey, etc.

    And in LotR, isn't Frodo still a reluctant hero? Sure, he volunteers to take the Ring in harm's way, but he isn't enthusiastic about it. "I don't want to doit, but I will."
    Madness is always the best armor against Reality

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by DeepFixer
      Could be they were both dipping from the same well, inspiration-wise?

      Like with George Lucas and the 'Star Wars' stories. All taking from the old myths: hero goes on a quest, advised by a wise-man, changes along the journey, etc.
      Oh yes, I'm sure that's entirely true. Like I say, I wouldn't want to stretch the thesis too much because I'm sure everything is entirely coincidental. All I'm trying to do in the above is point out that I was happily re-reading the book and it wasn't until I got to the end of Sword of the Dawn and the appearence if the Legion of the Sword that I suddenly went, 'Hold on, that's straight out of Lord of the Rings, surely?'. Spectral ghost warriors probably feature in a whole host of fantasy stories, including if memory serves, Alan Garner's 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen'. It wasn't a response I'd had as a teenager because I hadn't read LotR at the time, but now it's a more culturally significant reference for me.

      Anyway, having made that connection I couldn't help noticing other similarities. I suppose that's possible with a whole range of other fantasy stories. If the Warrior = Gandalf, then the Warrior = Cadellin (from Weirdstone) = Merlin = Dumbledore, ad nauseum.

      The clincher for me though was the Huon = Sauron link, but as I say it's probably wrong to read too much into my idle speculation. :)

      And in LotR, isn't Frodo still a reluctant hero? Sure, he volunteers to take the Ring in harm's way, but he isn't enthusiastic about it. "I don't want to doit, but I will."
      The point I wanted to briefly imply in the case of Frodo was that, like a lot of men of Tolkien's generation, he signed up for something that he didn't fully understand but felt it was the 'right thing' to do. Hawkmoon on the other hand has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Runestaff before he understands what it is that is required of him. Hawkmoon is a skeptic - he doesn't believe in the supernatural, in myths or legends, his distrusts the intent of others who appear to aid him, and instead trusts only in himself and his own abilities, limited though they may be.
      _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
      _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
      _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
      _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by TheAdlerian
        Yes, those images are too general in my opinion.
        Fair enough, I thought the Shadow Host/Legion of the Sword and the Huon/Sauron similarities were too close to each not to be worth highlighting. As I detail in my response above to Deep Fixer, I guess if you look far enough and long enough you can find lots of similarities with other stories.
        Also, if you look at all of Mr M's stories as really being about different aspects of the same person and event then you have a story that is vastly different from LOTR. The themes are totally different and Mr. M has been working on one non-stop story for decades. A few commonalities don't mean much.
        Ah yes, that's my fault entirely, because by posting only an extract of the full review I omitted to include my 'Reviewer's Note', wherein I state that I'm only considering The History of the Runestaff as an isolated text, paying no heed to later (ie The Chronicles of Castle Brass) or associated (ie other Eternal Champion) narratives.

        If you consider that in 1969, incarnations of the EC like Corum, Bastable, even Erekose hadn't appeared in book form, then it's not unreasonable to review something like HotR apart from the rest of Mike's output and on it's own merits.

        Thanks for the comments, though.
        _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
        _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
        _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
        _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

        Comment


        • #5
          As promised the full review is now online at: [link expired].
          _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
          _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
          _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
          _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

          Comment

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