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Literature / The History of the Runestaff

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For the Runestaff!

"Then the Earth grew old, its landscapes mellowing and showing signs of age, its ways becoming whimsical and strange in the manner of a man in his last years..."
The Jewel in the Skull

Chronicling the adventures of Dorian Hawkmoon, Duke of Köln and another one of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion incarnations. Dorian lives in a far-future Earth that has rebuilt itself after the Tragic Millennium, but is being taken over by the brutal Dark Empire of Granbretan. Hawkmoon, whose own land was recently conquered, has to struggle with what has happened to him as a prisoner of that regime, and strives to help one of the few holdout nations, the Karmarg, ruled by Count Brass. This sets off a quest both to remove the infernal device implanted in him by the Empire and to find the legendary Runestaff, which can help restore the balance of power.

Dorian's story is told in a tetralogy and a trilogy:

  • The History of the Runestaff:
    • The Jewel in the Skull (1967)
    • The Mad God's Amulet (1968)
    • The Sword of the Dawn (1968)
    • The Runestaff (1969)

  • The Chronicles of Castle Brass:
    • Count Brass (1973)
    • The Champion of Garathorm (1974)
    • The Quest for Tanelorn (1975)

The books provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Shenegar Trott is shown to be somewhat eccentric by Granbretanian standards, what with belonging to no order and taking his mask off in public. He's shown to be witty, self deprecating and dismissive of the more obviously evil Meliadus. Of course this doesn't stop him from later threatening what he perceives to be a child.
  • Agent Peacock: Huillam D'Averc is a fastidious, louche hypochondriac with excellent dress sense. He can also kick your arse seven different ways.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: Granbretan, at least, has a pantheon of gods, including a quartet named Jhone, Jhorg, Phowl, and Rhunga.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: While this trope isn't normally applied to humans, the Dark Empire surely must count.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Oh where to start! Meliadus, Shenegar Trott, Baron Kalan...
  • Armour Is Useless: Thoroughly averted in The Mad God's Amulet. First of all Oladhan jumps on a Red Shirt Granbretanian and attempts to jam a dagger in between the joints of his armour. Then later on D'Averc's life is saved by his heavy armour after being hit by Frickin' Laser Beams.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The army that attacks Garathorn is made up of renegade Eldren, Vadhagh, Melniboneans, Tragic Millennium survivors and chaos beasts from across the multiverse, led by a raping, pillaging ex-bandit and rustler.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Black Jewel, a magical tracking device that can bore its way into Dorian's brain and kill him if he causes trouble.
  • Badass Bookworm: Huillam D'Averc is an artist, architect and officer in one of Granbretan's most vicious warrior orders. Also in the Battle of Londra Bowgentle the philosopher dons armour and dies heroically.
    • Also Elvereza Tozer. Brilliant playwright who despite appearances is able to match Hawkmoon blow for blow for a whole hour.
  • Badass Normal: Dorian Hawkmoon. He can conduct exhaustive guerilla warfare, beat seasoned warriors in a swordfight and take on multiple foes without difficulty.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Agak and Gagak.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Taken to ridiculous levels. Hawkmoon spends the greater part of three books doing his goddamn best to get away from fulfilling his destiny, to the point that the Runestaff has to literally send his people after him (several times) to get him back on track.
  • Canon Welding: Thoroughly averted in the first tetralogy, although the events themselves are referenced in Corum. Champion of Garathorm introduces the Corum's companion Jhary-a-Conel, which is further expanded in The Quest for Tanelorn with introducing Erekose, Corum himself and Elric, as well as Erekose's love Ermizhad. Thoroughly justified as the Eternal Champion, his Companions and lover are all aspects of the same being.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Averted; at one point, Hawkmoon and D'Averc are scampering up some hills and D'Averc finds a bullet, from one of the old guns; he comments on it, and then tucks it away. That is the first and last that we hear of the bullet.
  • Da Chief: EVERYONE treats Count Brass this way. Even Dorian Hawkmoon The Hero accepts in Count Brass that he'll never command the same love that the Count enjoyed. He could live with this, as he loved the Count too.
  • The Determinator: Hawkmoon again. He'll cross whole continents whilst the implant in his head threatens to eat his brain, slog across deserts, nuclear blasted wastelands and even space and time itself to come home to Yisselda.
  • Discount Lesbians: When Ilian of Garathorm meets Yisselda she feels an unexpected rush of desire for her. Ilian isn't aware that her body is working on the "borrowed" soul of Yisselda's husband, and his feelings are getting mixed up with her own
  • The Dragon. Baron Meliadus to King Huon. Arguably Shenegar Trott to Huon after he took the mission to Amerehk, a mission that should have been Meliadus'.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Baron Meliadus to King Huon, before he becomes The Starscream.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In the first series, all of the main characters except Hawkmoon and Yisselda are dead, Europe has been ravaged by a vicious war and even their home province has been utterly destroyed. In the second trilogy, due to time meddling, Hawkmoon loses his wife for seven years, goes mad, has to travel to another dimension to fight an Army of Thieves and Whores, swap bodies and defeat the Big Bad before he is reunited with his wife. Then he has to travel on a ship with three of his other incarnations, combine with them in a monstrous way, destroy two sorcerers who intend to suck the universe dry and finally see the two most powerful forces in the universe face off against each other before he gets to be reunited with his children.
    • Dorian Hawkmoon is unique amongst Michael Moorcock's eternal champion avatars in that he and all of his companions survive to live happily ever after. They just have to go through hell to achieve it.
  • Failure Hero: Due to losing his family in the various time travel shenanigans, Hawkmoon becomes this, particularly in The Champion of Garathorm.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Baron Meliadus. Whilst he is capable of being charming and sophisticated, it's all motivated by ruthless ambition.
  • Fusion Dance: The Quest for Tanelorn has Hawkmoon fuse with Corum, Elric, and Erekosë into a giant eight-armed eight-legged monstrosity to beat Agak and Gagak.
  • Genius Bruiser: Count Brass is a master of diplomacy, designed several marvels including a tower than can disappear into the earth and is described as having an excellent judge of character. He is also over six and a half feet tall, built like a bear, is Europe's most famous soldier and can wrestle an enraged bull to the ground.
  • God-Emperor: King-Emperor Huon of Granbretan, a very long-lived being kept going by living in a life-support sphere.
  • Good Weapon, Evil Weapon: Count Brass, Hawkmoon, D'Averc and The Warrior in Jet and Gold carry longswords and Oladahn primarily uses a bow. Shenegar Trott, the wannabe Big Bad uses a mace. Partly subverted by Baron Meliadus using a sword (good weapon). Orland Fank uses an axe, but being an Orkneyman he is arguably a Proud Warrior Race Guy so it counts as a good weapon.
  • Guile Hero: Dorian Hawkmoon shows elements of this. It's mentioned in the Jewel in the Skull that he pretended to serve Granbretan, then led a revolt against them. Later in the series he relies several times upon using disguises to fool the Evil Brits.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Oladahn is the issue of a giantess and "an adventurous sorcerer". Also see the former Duke of Koln's travelling freakshow.
  • Heroic BSoD: Hawkmoon when he realises he's altered the timelines and that he's lost his wife and children.
  • Hero of Another Story: Count Brass's earlier exploits are only hinted at. Also literally in The Quest For Tanelorn with the introduction of three of Moorcock's main Eternal Champion avatars (Erekose, Corum and Elric). Double points for Elric as the part of the story portrayed here also turns up in Sailors on the Seas of Fate, but told from Elric's viewpoint.
    • As he is the first character introduced in the first book, with several chapters devoted to his everyday badass deeds (killing the Baragoon, wrestling a bull to save a toreador's life and preventing the abduction of his daughter by beating The Dragon in a one on one duel), you'd be forgiven for thinking that Count Brass himself was supposed to be The Hero of the story.
    • Arguably also Brut of Lashmar, who also turns up in the Elric and Von Bek series.
  • Magitek: Granbretan favors scientist-sorcerors.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Everybody in Granbretan— it's one of the basic tenets of their culture, to the point that they feel naked without a mask on. For the military, this results in whole armies of Faceless Goons.
  • Never Found the Body: Baron Meliadus
  • Obfuscating Disability: Huilliam d'Averc consistently claims to be suffering from countless debilitating diseases... then gets into fights and romantic encounters that demonstrate his perfect health and physical fitness.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The underlying narrative of the whole saga, only finally made explicit in The Quest for Tanelorn. The Black Jewel, also a representation of Stormbringer, is the last vestige of chaos in the world. The Runestaff represents order.
  • Take That!: The Dark Empire is arguably Moorcock's take that against the mainstream British culture of the 60s, with its smugly self-satisfied attitude and its nostalgia for the faded glories of the empire.
  • The Starscream: Baron Meliadus when he finally gets pissed off with the emperor and leads a successful rebellion against Huon.
  • Summoning Artifact: The Sword of the Dawn, which can call forth the nigh-infinite Legion of the Dawn.
  • Vanishing Village: Castle Brass takes refuge in another dimension for a while.
  • Wicked Cultured: Baron Meliadus. He is erudite, charming, sophisticated and capable of holding his own in a philosophical conversation. It is what attracted Yisselda to him in the first place. He is also capable of the worst cruelties, including enforced incest, castration, crucifixion and, it is implied, forcing captured royalty to perform sex acts including bestiality.

Alternative Title(s): Dorian Hawkmoon