Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: The Knight of the Swords

In those days there were oceans of light and cities in the skies and wild flying beasts of bronze. There were herds of crimson cattle that roared and were taller than castles. There were shrill, viridian things that haunted bleak rivers. It was a time of gods, manifesting themselves upon our world in all her aspects; a time of giants who walked on water; of mindless sprites and misshapen creatures who could be summoned by an ill-considered thought but driven away only on pain of some fearful sacrifice; of magics, phantasms, unstable nature, impossible events, insane paradoxes, dreams come true, dreams gone awry, of nightmares assuming reality.

There are those who say that proper Sword-and-Sorcery is heavy on the swords and light on the sorcery. No elves, no races of goblinoids, spells are rare and magical talismans rarer still. If these folks are right, Michael Moorcock doesn’t write much Sword-and-Sorcery.

The Knight of the Swords is the first book of Corum, one of the incarnations of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. If you like the Elric stuff, you’ll likely enjoy Corum, who kinda straddles the line between the dour emotional instability of the last emperor of Melnibon√© and Hawkmoon’s Saturday-afternoon-serial do-gooder-ism. You’ll notice a lot of overlap between Corum and Elric: both are the last of their kind, non-human champions living in human worlds of barbarism and cruelty. Moorcock’s misanthropy is on full display here.

I’d heard that the Corum tales were based on Celtic legends, and I have to admit, for that reason, I kinda avoided them. In truth, they are based on Celtic legends the way most movies are “based” on books; a few tropes and a nod or two out of respect to the original authors and their fans, but little more. “Inspired by” is probably a better description. This isn’t the story of the Tuatha de Dannan dressed up in Moorcock’s prose; Corum is a thoroughly Moorcockian protagonist, and his quest is full of the wacky and random happenstance we expect from Moorcock: encounters with fishing giants, errant knights who fly on giant silk kites, nations eager to embrace their doom, treacherous sorcery that is, in spite of all, necessary for survival, and villains who have been central to the tales of other Moorcock stories. In short, you’ll find the usual treasure-trove for any GM short on ideas who doesn’t mind a slightly hallucinogenic bent to their adventures.

If you’re already a fan of Moorcock, and you haven’t picked up Corum, I can recommend The Knight of the Swords without reservation. It’s spot-on Moorcock. If you’re not a fan, you could do much worse than start with this one, but I’d recommend the first of the Elric stories over this; they’re both better and easier to find.

1 comment:

Welcome to Dungeon! said...

The second series of Corum books is drawn more heavily from celtic legend, casting Corum as sort of a version of the welsh hero Lludd.

I didn't like them as much as the first series, but I think I'm in the minority. Many people seem to think the second trilogy is a lot better.