Literature / The Elric Saga

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Arioch! Arioch! Blood and Souls for my Lord Arioch!

"I have this feeling that my luck is none too good.
This sword here at my side don't act the way it should.
Keeps calling me its master, but I feel like its slave;
Hauling me faster and faster to an early, early grave;
And it howls! It howls like hell!
I'm told it's my duty to fight against the Law;
That wizardry's my trade, and I was born to wade through gore.
I just wanna be a lover, not a red-eyed, screaming ghoul.
I wish it picked another to be its killing tool."
— "Black Blade", as performed by Blue Öyster Cult

Originally a six book series by Michael Moorcock, the story follows its title character, Elric of Melnibone, in his journey from a sickly sorcerer-king to a top class warrior involved with the affairs of the gods. His weapon is Stormbringer, one of two evil demonic runeblades that feast upon the souls of those their wielders slay with them, have wills of their own, and tend to take over their wielders on occasion.

The Tabletop Role-Playing Game Stormbringer is based on these books.

Note that it has nothing to do with the saga of the Elric Brothers.

Installments:

The series contains many books and stories, not written in the same order as the internal chronology. Additionally, several of the Elric novels are fix-ups of short stories published years or decades earlier.

Original series
  • Elric of Melniboné (novel, 1972)
  • The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (collection, 1976)
    • Sailing to the Future
    • Sailing to the Present
    • Sailing to the Past
  • The Weird of the White Wolf (collection, 1977)
    • The Dream of Earl Aubec (aka Master of Chaos)
    • The Dreaming City
    • While the Gods Laugh
    • The Singing Citadel
  • The Sleeping Sorceress (novel, 1971, also released as The Vanishing Tower)
  • The Bane of the Black Sword (collection, 1977)
    • The Stealer of Souls
    • Kings in Darkness
    • The Flamebringers (aka The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams)
    • To Rescue Tanelorn
  • Stormbringer (novel, 1965)

Later novels
  • Fortress of the Pearl (novel, 1989)
  • Revenge of the Rose (novel, 1991)

Later trilogy
  • The Dreamthief's Daughter (2001)
  • The Skrayling Tree (2003)
  • The White Wolf's Son (2005)

Collections
  • Elric at the End of Time (1984)
  • Michael Moorcock's Elric: Tales of the White Wolf (1994)
  • Pawns of Chaos: Tales of the Eternal Champion (1996)

Graphic Novels
  • By P. Craig Russell
    • Elric of Melniboné (with Roy Thomas and Michael T. Gilbert; Pacific Comics) (1983-1984)
    • The Dreaming City (Marvel/Epic Comics) (1982)
    • Stormbringer (Dark Horse) (1997)
  • Michael Moorcock's Multiverse (with Walt Simonson and John Ridgway) (1999)
  • Elric: Making of a Sorcerer (with Walt Simonson) (2007)
  • Elric: The Balance Lost (2011)
  • Titan Comics
    • Elric: The Ruby Throne (2014)
    • Elric: Stormbringer (2015)


These books provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: The Titan Comics graphic novels have essentially made Elric a Villain Protagonist who kills hapless slaves, innocent civilians and his own, loyal followers on a whim, making his canonical moments of mercy and insight come off as whimsical, rather than moral, as well.
  • All Your Powers Combined: In The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Elric fuses with the other eternal Champions and they turn into a giant warrior in order to fight two eldritch abominations.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Melniboneans, who are almost all decadent sadists.
  • Anachronic Order: As one can see from the list above, the conclusion of the saga was the first part to be published in novel form.
  • Anti-Hero: Elric jumps between Pragmatic Hero, Unscrupulous Hero and Villain Protagonist throughout the series.
  • Artifact of Doom, BFS, Cool Sword and Evil Weapon: Stormbringer and its twin sword Mournblade.
  • Badass Bookworm: Elric has read every book in his library, which in turn taught him the ways of the sorcerer.
  • Balance Between Good and Evil: Elric's eventual destiny, as the last king of a chaotic race, is to use the weapons of Chaos in order to fight the forces of Chaos, to as to restore Balance to the Earth and allow the powers of Law a chance to create something safer for the younger races.
  • The Berserker: When Elric gets under Stormbringer's influence in the heat of a battle no one is safe.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Between Arioch, Jagreen Lern and Stormbringer itself, depending how you view its relationship with Elric.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Elric apparently fulfills his destiny at the end of Stormbringer but he dies in the process... after which Stormbringer assumes its true form as the force of chaos in the new world order.
  • Body Horror: Jagreen Lern and the forces of Chaos do this to most of their victims, converting them into abominations covered in reptilian and insectoid scales. Zarozinia, Elric's wife, becomes a worm-like being with only her human head when Elric reunites with her. She uses her remaining will to impale herself on Stormbringer, so that her soul can give strength to her husband.
  • Byronic Hero: Elric.
  • Canon Welding: The novel The Sailor on the Seas of Fate is the first Moorcock novel in publication order to feature characters from difficult subcontinuities interacting together.
  • Cartwright Curse: both of Elric's major love interests died tragically.
  • Character Alignment: Invoked; the original alignment system of the very first edition of Dungeons & Dragons was based on The Elric Mythos' concepts of Law vs. Chaos and Good Vs. Evil, with the original D&D alignments being Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic, with Lawful being roughly equated with Good, and Chaotic with Evil. The addition of the second Alignment Axis of Good/Neutral/Evil, which allowed for such concepts as characters being both Chaotic AND Good (such as rebel freedom fighters) or Lawful AND Evil (such as Nazis) wasn't added until later, with the release of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (First Edition.)
    • The original alignment system for the Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing Game was also largely cribbed from the Elric Saga, as were many other elements.
  • Chick Magnet: Elric has had quite a few women after him, and he is canonically very good in bed. Though once he meets Zarozinia, he becomes surprisingly serious and faithful to her, and tries to be a good husband.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: It's set in that kind of universe.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Anyone who deals with the Gods ends up as one.
  • Crapsack World:
  • Crossover: With Conan the Barbarian in Marvel Comics.
    • And with all the other Eternal Champion characters.
  • Dark Fantasy: A major Trope Codifier of the genre.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Jagreen Lern is killed by Elric in this fashion, with Elric cutting him with Moonglum's sword, because he doesn't want to use Stormbringer and give Jagreen a quick death and have his soul part of him. The text states that he kept him alive for nearly a hour by cutting him piece by piece until Moonglum asked Elric to kill him. The P. Craig Russell version of Stormbringer shows a panel where Elric cuts the lower lid of his eye.
  • Deconstruction: Of The Lord of the Rings, Conan the Barbarian, and Heroic Fantasy in general.
    • Rather than a fight between Good and Evil, it's a fight between Law and Chaos, both entities having ideas closer to Blue and Orange Morality. The fantasy setting suffused with magic, rather than an area of wonder and mystery is an unstable and horrific world filled with monsters, sorcerors, demons and kingdoms which makes the entire landscape feel inherently dangerous and wild.
    • Stormbringer, the titular Cool Sword is a parody of the very trope, its power derives from its victims rather than its shininess, its hilt and scabbard or the metal, unlike other tropes in fantasy fiction. It reminds readers that the first purpose of any sword is to kill people.
    • Elric himself is an attack on The Hero and other associated tropes of mythological and fantasy stories, which featured such figures as prophetically pre-destined to save the world. Here Elric is a barely stable sorceror who is little more than a puppet for fate, and whose death has none of the grandeur and majesty of fantasy fiction.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: Elric all but cites this trope as his reason for sparing Yyrkoon after his first attempted coup. It was a bad idea.
  • Defector from Decadence: Elric, who has to fight his cousin for his throne, as he was seen as being weak and unworthy of his title since he was less willing than his countrymen to indulge in pointless cruelty.
    • The key word here being pointless. Elric could be a total bastard given proper motivation.
  • Defector From Paradise: The troubled hero finds and experiences the secret city of Tanelorn which stands outside Chaos and Law, a place of peace and tranquility where heroes may find rest and the Eternal Champion may lay down his burden. He later decided that he could not settle down there and became the only person to renounce Tanelorn and return to the world outside.
  • Determinator: No matter how much Stormbringer and the universe craps on Elric, he never gives up in his quests.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Stormbringer can even kill gods.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Elric also uses this from time to time. Evil cousin take your throne, and, more importantly, your girl? Burn the entire nation to the ground, abandoning your race and countrymen to the men of the Young Kingdoms.
  • Doom Magnet: Woe to anyone who becomes Elric's companion and/or love interest.
  • Dying Race: Elric's.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Chaos Gods qualify.
    • One of the Sailor On The Seas Of Fate stories also includes two creatures even more alien, from outside of the multiverse entirely. The heroes mistake them for buildings and wander through a Womb Level before they figure it out.
    • In one short story, one of the Gods of Law is this. However, it's also mentioned that that particular Law God had been fighting Chaos for far too long.
  • Empathic Weapon: Elric's sword Stormbringer is sentient and capable of compelling Elric to certain actions.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Initiating this is Elric's final act, destroying the current world in order to create a new one — ours.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Elric at the end of the Last Battle just before Stormbringer kills him.
  • Evil Albino: Elric jumps between this trope and Heroic Albino.
  • Evil Counterpart: Yyrkoon to Elric. Elric is a Defector from Decadence while Yyrkoon relish on the perversions of melnibonean society and they both use a magic souls sucking sword.
  • Evil Overlord: Jagreen Lern, the ruler of Pan Tang and high priest of the chaos gods. Yyrkoon tries to be one but Elric gets in the way.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Stormbringer. See the quote at the bottom of the page.
  • Evil Prince: Yyrkoon.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Theleb K'aarna, Yyrkoon and Jagreen Lern, all powerful sorcerers. Elric tries (not always successfully) to not be this.
  • Evil Weapon: Stormbringer even admits such as it turns on Elric and kills him. See Eviler Than Thou.
  • The Fair Folk: Melniboneans are beautiful, elfin amoral hedonists that traffic with the Lords of Chaos and are universally feared by ordinary humans. Always Chaotic Evil is almost putting it mildly. Sadism is in their blood to the point that they make music in which each note is a scream from a tortured (human) slave, whose vocal cords have been mutilated such that they can produce only that particular note.
  • Fog of Doom: Yyrkoon invokes it to escape Melniboné after his first defeat.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Elric and Zarozinia decide to get married after knowing each other for about a day.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: The Elenoin, a race of extradimensional women warriors, fight naked.
  • Genocide from the Inside: In the short story The Dreaming City Elric leads an attack on the capital of Melnibone that winds up completely destroying the people, the city, and his own betrothed.
  • God Is Evil: The Gods of Chaos are pretty much Always Chaotic Evil, though one may come up now and then that's Chaotic Neutral.
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: The Lords of Order are too weak to intervene in the collapse of the universe itself until the very end of the saga.
  • Götterdämmerung: Elric's ultimate destiny is to create a world free of the influence of gods or cosmic powers, resulting in The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Happily Married: Elric and Zarozinia, they enjoy it while it lasts.
  • Happy Ending: In Michael Moorcock's Multiverse Elric and Moonglum are resurrected along with most of the other incarnations of the Eternal Champion (with no explanation given), and after fulfilling a quest Elric is finally given the opportunity to take control of his own destiny.
  • Here There Were Dragons: Most of Melnibone's dragons have died off, and the few remaining are weak to the point that they must sleep for centuries between flights.
  • The Hero Dies: At the end of Stormbringer.
  • Hero Killer: Stormbringer at the very last page of the sixth book.
  • Historical In-Joke: Roland, the semi-mythical French paladin who served under Charlemagne, is implied to be a future incarnation of Elric.
    • Tie-ins from other Moorcock stories indicate that so is King Arthur.
  • Hungry Weapon: The sword Stormbringer is hungry for souls, often moaning when it wishes to feed. When it hits an opponent, it drains their soul and Life Energy, killing them. It can force Elric to strike at other people by controlling his mind.
  • Ill Boy: Elric is anemic and has various other ailments. Until he acquires Stormbringer, he requires constant medicinal treatments just to be able to stand upright or dress himself.
    • His personal assistant and mentor, Tanglebones, reminds Elric that he was able to become an accomplished fighter as a young man. So the drugs and spells were fine, but they had to be taken/renewed regularly, probably several times a day, making it impossible for him to travel. With Stormbringer, he could see the world.
  • Jerkass: Elric often acts like one. His patron god, Arioch, is also a major Jerkass. In fact, all the Gods pretty much are Jerkasses. For a Melnibonéan he's positively humanitarian. That's not saying much, of course, but his cousins hated him and plotted against him for being too philosophical and soft-hearted and insufficiently sadistic and maniacal to be worthy of the throne.
  • Kill 'em All: By the end of Stormbringer the world has been basically destroyed, and the only thing left "alive" is the titular sword.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Elric accidentally murders Cymoril with Stormbringer, and her soul enters the blade and gives Elric strength. Later Zarozinia and Moonglum impale themselves on Stormbringer so as to help Elric fulfill his destiny.
  • King of the Homeless: There's the Beggar King of Nadsokor. A whole city where everyone has the kind of defects that characterize the worst of the lumpenproletariat beggars, and the story is about their king stealing Elric's imperial jewels.
  • Kissing Cousins / Incest Is Relative: Elric's betrothed, Cymoril, is actually his cousin. Apparently this isn't unusual for Melnibonean royalty — Yyrkoon, Elric's rival and Cymoril's brother, also lusts after her (to spite Elric more than anything else). It's not been all that uncommon for real-world royalty, either.
  • King Trope the Nth: Elric VIII, 428th emperor of Melnibone, son of Sadric LXXXVI.
  • Last of His Kind: Elric, eventually; mostly self-inflicted. Some few other Melniboneans survive their nation's destruction, but in the end Elric is the only one left alive of his people and soon after of his entire world.
  • Life Drinker: Elric, via Stormbringer.
  • Loyal to the Position: Valharik, the captain of the guard in Melnibone in the first novel, claims this as his reason for betraying his mistress Cymoril and following Yyrkoon's evil orders when he takes power in Melnibone, including cutting down one of his own men who tried to defend her against Yyrkoon and feeding the poor guy to Cymoril's slaves. Needless to say, Elric doesn't buy it.
  • Magic Knight: Elric and Jagreen Lern are skilled in both spell casting and sword fighting.
  • Magitek: In The Sleeping Sorceress Elric rides a sentient, talking mechanical bird.
  • Nemesis Weapon: Elric's signature weapon is the magical sword Stormbringer. One of his opponents is his Evil Counterpart cousin Yyrkoon, who wields Stormbringer's "brother" sword Mournblade. Later, in The Revenge of the Rose, Gaynor the Damned (a Chaotic Evil Counterpart not just to Elric, but to all versions of the Eternal Champion) wields a "leach blade" which drains the power from magical weapons, including Stormbringer.
  • New Wave Science Fiction: Elric was born out of this movement (which also covered fantasy); in fact, Moorcock was one of the leaders of the movement.
  • One-Man Army: Pretty much anyone who wields The Black Sword, be it Mournblade, Stormbringer, or one of their equivalents in other stories of the Champion Eternal. Justified, since the Black Sword is a Life Drinker and can pass on the stolen vitality of its victims onto the wielder, providing them with supernatural strength and endurance for as long as they keep killing. Elric, however, takes it Up to Eleven, since not only does he have Summon Magic, he's also known as one of the most powerful sorcerors in the world, effectively making him a Person of Mass Destruction.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The Melniboneans follow the Lords of Chaos; Elric does, too, until he realizes he's upset the Balance Between Good and Evil and begins to serve the Lords of Order, or maybe fated to restore the Balance Between Good and Evil, or both.
  • Overly Long Name: When Gaynor started to appear in non-heroic fantasy novels, he often used the name Paul von Minct or van Minct. The Dreamthief's Daughter reveals that his original version, a Nazi Nobleman, was named Gaynor Paul St Odhran Badehoff-Krasny von Minct.
  • Perpetual Storm: In the Young Kingdoms, the area called the Weeping Waste is so named because it has constant rain.
  • Perspective Flip: Elric is essentially the kind of character who would be killed by Conan: a physically weak, evil, sorcery-wielding ruler of a decaying empire.
  • Physical God: The Lords of Chaos and Order both qualify; it's only because of ancient treaties that they don't meddle more directly in the affairs of mortals. Once or twice, it's explicitly stated that the Young Kingdoms are a kind of Space Cold War territory in the cosmic struggle between the two powers... until Elric's actions change things for the worse.
  • Plea of Personal Necessity: Darnizhaan tells Elric and Dyvim Slorm that killing him will begin the death of the world they know. When they decide to do so anyway, he says, "Fools! In destroying me, you destroy yourselves!"
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Pan Tang's war machine is fueled by conscripting the adult men of their tribute states, then sacrificing their wives and children, on arcane altars which are in operation 24 hours a day, depopulating an entire continent in the process, to summon the Lords of Chaos
  • Precursors: All the civilizations of the "Young Kingdoms" were built on the ruins of the old Melnibonean empire.
  • Prehensile Hair: The Elenoin, extradimensional female demons, have this.
  • Rising Empire: Unlike in the books, where Melniboné is portrayed as a Vestigial Empire, the prequel comic, Elric: Making of a Sorcerer, tells the story behind the rise and descent of the empire. The four issues mostly concentrate on Elric gathering new allies among the elementals and the peoples of the Old Kingdoms. At the same time Elric (or rather his ancestors whose role he gets to play on the dream quests) gets to meet Arioch as well as wield Stormbringer for the first time.
  • Soul-Cutting Blade: Stormbringer.
  • Squishy Wizard: Elric starts out as one, but gets better once he gets Stormbringer and ultimately gives it up.
  • Start of Darkness: The Dreamthief's Daughter finally provides an origin for Moorcock's recurring villain Gaynor the Damned.
  • Storm of Blades: At one point, Elric and his comrades are set upon by three Chaos Gods - including Arioch - and in order to kill them, Elric uses Stormbringer and Mournblade to summon over one hundred of their brother and sister swords from alternate realities.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Smiorgan in Weird of the White Wolf is a weird inversion, since the story that Smiorgan died in was written before the one in which he was introduced. You could call this "Sudden Prequel Life Syndrome" instead.
  • Summon Magic: All magic in Elric's world is based upon summoning various demons and elemental spirits, and asking them for a favor. Elric is lucky that the Melniboneans have made ancient pacts with practically every single spirit and demon.
    • It's also noted that Nature Spirits have much lower "costs" than Gods of Law or Chaos, and indeed Elric calls for help from the former more often than he does the latter.
  • Vestigial Empire: Melnibone is one; in fact, one of the reasons why the Young Kingdoms are called such is because they liberated themselves from Melnibonean tyranny only relatively recently (a few centuries back, versus the Melnibonean Empire's ten millenia of history at the saga's start). Unsurprisingly, their fall from grace was due as much from the Melniboneans' growing decadence turning inwards - they are a Dying Race due to internal attrition and hedonistic ennui by Elric's time - as from uprisings from their vassals.
  • Villain Protagonist: Elric actually starts out this way; before "upgrading" to an Anti-Hero.
  • Walking the Earth: Elric
  • Where I Was Born and Razed: It takes three books, but Elric's eventually the one who destroys Melnibone.
  • Womb Level: Elric's quest into the Pulsating Cavern - the womb level.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Elric of Melniboné just can't get a break. Every time he kills it makes him stronger and it also makes him hate himself more. On top of that every girl he loves (each of whom wants to wrap him in the proverbial blanket and feed him the proverbial soup) dies, which usually leads to him needing to wreak revenge on someone. And kill them with his sword and take their soul, and then hate himself. It's a vicious cycle.
  • Wretched Hive: There's a city made up of thieves, murderers, and beggars.
  • You Just Told Me: How Elric discovers Yyrkoon's plans about the two Black Swords.
  • Your Soul Is Mine: What Stormbringer and Mournblade do to anyone killed with them.

"Farewell, troper. I was a thousand times more evil than thou!"

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