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Literature: The Cornelius Chronicles

"There's more than life to drugs and sex. It's better than nothing."
Jerry Cornelius, The Condition of Muzak

Quite possibly the strangest incarnation of Michael Moorcock's "Eternal Champion", Jerry Cornelius is a hipper-than-hip secret agent/assassin who acts as a needed force of chaos in the world. He travels through time, dies (and gets better), and pines for his beloved sister. He's a Karmic Trickster. Or maybe a Sad Clown. Or a Time Lord. Or maybe he's just a seedy kid from Ladbroke Grove who has aspirations of being a jukebox hero.

He's probably all of them and a few other things besides.

One of the "New Waviest" of Moorcock's many New Wave works, the work has confounded those who like to assign genres to works since it was written.

Installments:

As with The Elric Saga, there are many Jerry Cornelius books and stories, not written in the same order as the internal chronology.

Novels
  • The Final Programme (1965), adapted into a movie in 1973 (which sometimes goes by the title The Last Days of Man on Earth).
  • A Cure for Cancer (1968)
  • The English Assassin (1972)
  • The Condition of Muzak (1976)

These can be found in a single-volume compilation, The Cornelius Chronicles (later The Cornelius Quartet), first published in 1977.

  • The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century (1979). Jerry is a supporting character in this, as his sister and their mutual friend/lover Una Persson take center stage.

Novellas
  • The Entropy Tango (1981)
  • The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (aka Gold Diggers of '77, 1975), a crossover with the Sex Pistols film of the same name.
  • The Alchemist's Question (1984)
  • Firing the Cathedral (2002)

Shorter Works
  • "The Delhi Division" (1968)
  • "The Dodgem Decision" (1969)
  • "The Nature of the Catastrophe" (1970)
  • "The Peking Junction" (1969)
  • "The Tank Trapeze" (1969)
  • "Sea Wolves" (1970)
  • "The Sunset Perspective" (1970)
  • "Dead Singers" (1971)
  • "Voortrekker" (1971)
  • "The Swastika Set-up" (1972)
  • "The Entropy Circuit" (1974)
  • "The Longford Cup" (1976)

Note: The above short stories were compiled into a novella (Word of God: "The stories are presented in order of writing, and should be read as a continuous narrative"), The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius, in 1976.

  • "The Murderer's Song" (1981)
  • "The Gangrene Collection" (1990)
  • "The Roumanian Question" (1991)
  • "All the Way Round Again" (1995)
  • "The Spencer Inheritance" (1997), which can be read here.
  • "The Camus Connection" (1997)
  • "Cheering for the Rockets" (1998), which can be read here.

Comic Strips
  • "The Adventures of Jerry Cornelius" (or "The English Assassin") was published in the British underground newspaper IT (International Times) from May 1969 to January 1970. It was illustrated by Mal Dean and Richard Glyn, with some strips scripted by M. John Harrison.

Moorcock also made the character available to other writers, making Jerry a sort of open-source character nearly 40 years before Jenny Everywhere. Most of the non-Moorcock Cornelius works are harder to find; notable examples include Norman Spinrad's "The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde" and Moebius' Le garage hermétique de Jerry Cornelius (The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius). Other pieces (including some of the comic strips) have been compiled into the volume The Nature of the Catastrophe (1971, and not to be confused with the short story above).

Just to keep readers' lives interesting, different editions of short story compilations like The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius and The Nature of the Catastrophe have different contents. You can see those (and more non-Moorcock Cornelius story compilations) at the Wikiverse (a Michael Moorcook wiki) here. (Note: this link is a Google cache as something strange is currently going on with the multiverse.org domain name.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alan Moore had Jerry make a guest appearance in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969


The books provides examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: The Final Programme is the notable exception. A Cure For Cancer lampshades it:
    Note to the reader: This book has an unconventional structure.
  • A Very British Christmas: In The Condition of Muzak.
  • Bad Habits: Jerry disguises himself as a priest from time to time, and it's hard to tell if Bishop Beesley is actually defrocked or not.
  • The Beatles: Jerry's a big, big fan.
  • Commedia dell'Arte: Motifs from the commedia figure largely in The Condition of Musak and The Entropy Tango.
  • Cool Boat: The Teddy Bear, a steam yacht which figures in the later novels and some of the short stories.
  • Cool Car: Several, though the best may be the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI in The English Assassin, with jeweled controls and the ability to become a boat or a minisub. And it's pink too. How FAB!
  • Cool Guns: Not real-world guns for once, but Jerry's needle gun and vibragun.
  • Cool Plane: The Dornier Do X Jerry pilots in The Condition of Muzak
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Jerry's photonegative selfnote  in A Cure For Cancer isn't any less moral (or amoral) than his regular self.
  • Death Is Cheap: Lots of people die and get better through the series. It is very significant that Jerry's mother does not.
  • Deus Sex Machina: Jerry and Miss Brunner attempt to create "The Messiah to the Age of Science" this way in The Final Programme.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Heroically averted, though there's something like "Good Drugs, Bad Drugs" going on as Frank's drug use is portrayed as unpleasantly as he is.
  • Eagleland: Jerry journeys through a particularly demented Type 2 in A Cure For Cancer, complete with Braids, Beads and Buckskins Indians and a General Ripper.
  • The Edwardian Era: We start seeing this timeline in The English Assassin, though the Schizo Tech, Zeppelins from Another World and references to rock music suggest an Alternate Timeline.
  • Endless Daytime: In A Cure For Cancer, the villain's attempts to impose more order on existence causes this.
    "The sun hasn't moved for an— for some t—" Mitzi gave up. "It isn't moving."
  • Entropy and Chaos Magic
  • Epigraphs: Quotes from various sources (song lyrics, news articles, advertising) are sprinkled throughout the works.
  • Hermaphrodite: Cornelius Brunner, a messianic sexual fusion of Jerry and Miss Brunner in The Final Programme. Left out of the film adaptation.
  • Life Energy: Frequently stolen from and/or transferred to others by Jerry and Miss Brunner.
  • Loss of Identity: Jerry has to fight this periodically. The whole series can be read as a sort of Quest for Identity, as Jerry (and sometimes other characters) loses, regains, or tries to build new identities.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: In the 1990s stories, "Baroness" Brunner becomes a blatant caricature of Margaret Thatcher.
  • The Power of Rock / Magic Music
  • The Sixties: Not just when the book series started, but seemingly a favorite time for Jerry. Certainly he likes its music the best.
  • Tangled Family Tree: Oh, you have no idea. Jerry is told about it by his mother in The Condition Of Muzak ("Incest on top a bloody incest, eh?"). It's quite likely that Jerry is in some way related to most of the series' other important characters.
  • Time Stands Still: When the bad guys' attempts to increase order go horribly right in A Cure For Cancer.
  • Time Travel
  • Whole Plot Reference: A goodly chunk of The Final Programme is a retelling of the Elric of Melniboné stories "The Dreaming City" and "While the Gods Laugh."

CorduroyLiterature of the 1960sCosmicomics
The Confusions of Young TörlessLit FicThe Corrections
ContactScience Fiction LiteratureCosmicomics
Henderson's BoysSpy LiteratureA Coffin for Dimitrios
Corey HaimNeeds Wiki Magic LoveCount Jackula

alternative title(s): The Cornelius Chronicles
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