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First novel by Michael Moorcock* * 1/2
"Look here! When he wrote The Golden Barge, Moorcock was Moorcock!"

- M. John Harrison, from the preface to the 1979 DAW edition

Jephraim Tallow, a deformed dwarfish fellow with red hair and crocodile teeth, is sitting in his hovel by the river when he spots a magnificent golden barge proceeding downriver.  Tallow is convinced that on the barge, he will discover why he is the way he is. Abandoning his mother, he gets into his little sloop, and begins an obsessive pursuit of the barge.  Along the way lie love, murder, revolution, betrayal, madness, and far too many people trying to to things to Tallow 'for his own good'.

By 1958, when Michael Moorcock was 17, he had already been editing fanzines for two years.  Although he completed The Golden Barge back then, well before New Worlds ever appeared, he did not publish his first novel until 1979, a time when he was trying to get away from the 'fantastic romances' that had characterized his writing up to that time.

Moorcock has always written close to the archetypes, and the things that drive Jephraim Tallow are the things that motivate us all in our own pursuits.  Even at this early stage, even under the influence of early fantasy writer Mervyn Peake, we see the author's own style emerging. We are not led to cynically delight in Tallow's atrocities; we must simply accept them. On the first page, I fell into the peculiar mood of horrid fascination that I feel only when reading one of Moorcock's works.

Because of the work's high wince factor, you should only read The Golden Barge if you are an avid Moorcock reader and wish to fill in a complete picture of his writing.  The Golden Barge contains tantalizing glimpses of what is to come: Names and themes we will see later, and in Jephraim Tallow, the precursor to the succession of antiheroes and ambiheroes that we know as The Eternal Champion.

Will these glimpses lead you on your own quest down the river of Michael Moorcock's work?   Or do you fear finding yourself hopelessly lost at sea, watching the golden barge disappear over the horizon, never to be glimpsed again?

Will it destroy you?