The Elric of Melniboné character is one of Michael Moorcock
's most well-known creations, alongside the Jerry Cornelius
The Elric stories represent a significant development in the writing of Moorcock, at which he was still writing pure escapist fiction, but with the difference that he had in his hands a character with sufficient depth and complexity that he could hang stories off the character for the next thirty years.
Elric is an outsider from the society in which he moves, a nobleman, the emperor of a society that he himself had destroyed, last of his line, and a freak even among his own people. Sound familiar? Sound like every other swords-and-sorcery hero you've ever heard of? The difference with Elric is that Elric is tortured with emotions of sympathy and guilt that accompany his actions; he broods on what he has done; and he is conscious of the fact that the forces he serves, the acts he perform, are more evil than good. The story of Elric is the stroy of a man in a world controlled by mad gods who switch from good to evil on a regular basis (Their intrinsic alignments being Chaotic and Lawful; the difference is generally in their preffered form of atrocity); Elric's quest is to try and find some peace in his soul for the loves he has lost, and the friends and kin he has killed, while trying to find his place in relation to the forces that control the world, to break free from the customs of his ancestors.
I now present a brief biography and commentary on the life of Elric of Melniboné
- Born only son of the Emperor of Melniboné; Mother dies in childbirth, earning his father's resentment. His father nevertheless trains him in the awful magics of his people; Elric is a gifted pupil, and becomes extraordinarily powerful even by the standards of the Melnibonéan nobility, let alone those of the human world.
The Melnibonéans find all the sympathetic emotions repulsive and shameful, leaving elric ill-equipped to deal with them. While in reality Elric's emotions are no more challenging than those of an ordinary man, by setting him against this background, it gives Moorcock an excuse to show elric without any moral code to help him, to emphasise elric's geworfenheit.
- Ascends to imperial throne. Cousin Yyrkoon challenges him for the throne, killing Elric's cousin and one true love, Cymoril. Cast out from melniboné. The nobility feared Elric's strangeness as he is an albino, sustained by the souls sucked from his victims with the sword Stormbringer, and by a "combination of drugs and herbs". When he lost control of his sword, it killed Cymoril during the duel. The sword is a constant source of brooding by Elric, and much pondering throughout the stories as to whether or not the sword is somehow part of him. A clever device to show how even a strength can be a weakness, and a tool the subtlest of traps. (more than once, lacking his sword and his drugs is he reduced to a puling cripple).
- Returns with human reavers and with dragons to reclaim/destroy melnibone. The city is looted and largely destroyed.
- Becomes a wanderer among men. Travels alone or with companions, notably moonglum. This is the period his life chronicled by the various stories, featuring battles with demons, mad gods, enchanters, anti-heroes like Gaynor, and encounters with other versions of The Eternal Champion.