Character Analysis: Elric of Melniboné

The embodiment of the addictive power, a moralistic parasite, a questioner. All Elric is, his physical, magical, even mental strength is subject to flux. The character is never quite in command of the situation, and a testament to the power of the arcane and unknowable as much as the Conan character Michael Moorecock enjoyed enough to pose a dualistic mirror to, something that is neither questing knight or malicious villain, but a melted medley of both within his chaotic stories.

Much as one hero is the archetypical masculine destroyer, a hyperborean avatar of the unfettered and confident individual as suited to combat and the clear-sighted rule of civilisation when pressed to it, Elric is the father or grandfather of for example Geralt of Rivia, Jinx from Arcane, Malus Darkblade and a plethora of dark fantasy characters. He even inspired David Bowie enough to adapt the moniker ‘The Thin White Duke’, an alabaster kaleidoscope reflecting the ability of human beings to accept our nature as unconfined by a given setting, morality or deviation from the present moment.

While this will be subverted, I would also say there’s a refreshing element to beings who win a deal with the devil, and manage to out-bastard evil as much as the Melnibonéans, which Elric out-bastards in turn. To simply depict both the lethargy of narcotics, psychotropics and the potency of how the individual or faction can embrace the powers of Order and Chaos is the heart of Elric’s saga and the emotionally focused and painterly nature of Moorecock’s stories focused on sensational moments not politics draws in that pervasive sense of doom and loss.

Moorecock benefits from the virtue of being perhaps the most original fantasy author who ever lived, willing to take chances to the point of both blending fantasy and science fiction, his work so widely copied, adapted and inspirational that it features concepts and even archetypes we take for granted: just to start ‘Chaos’ (seven pointed star, radioactive kind of corruption, psychically spreading it and the horde of chaotic warriors and mutant beastmen to illustrate just how much Warhammer took from his concept), the White Wolf, multiverse character crossover just to give three massive examples off the top of my head.

For there is no mistake, and it’s essential to the series that Elric is evil. He is a villain protagonist, cruel and steeped in chaos as very few authors had tried. He’s not Geralt of Rivia, Bloodraven or similar types in his morality which is part of the author’s writing. Rather than the antihero or the average authority figure within a modern or postmodern moral world, Elric is a figure above morality in the sense that no matter what is done the Melnibonéans and Younger Kingdoms almost always escape repercussion until the very end.

There’s no doubt of his doom; it’s essential given the nature of the Eternal Champion and the utterly bleak nature of his setting. It’s a matter of power, and willpower and study having such potency in his universe. Strength is thought, and as with the greatest of the Melnibonians, thoughts of morality or judgement are irrelevant. As a consumptive parasite for much of his life, Elric is a powerful, sympathetic character but one that drinks in power like water. He thinks nothing of practical or beneficial cruelty, but most uniquely he is a ‘heroic’ character who will bring chaotic devastation by happenstance or in temper. None of his equivalents are named Womanslayer, or destroy their entire civilisation out of petty spite. Elric is evil, that is as much part of Stormbringers barb as what would offend he and his kind; he is also a lesser one, his power inferior and his quest since The Ruby Throne to be different was a failure.

Humanity appreciates the tide of water, strange seas as much metaphysical and in the mind as real rivers and places beyond the map. Elric is written to delve into the heart of this subconscious. Much like the functional addict, the Odinic path or wanderer the destination is only a vignette, tragically if one thing persists like a root in his nature it is the terrible Stormbringer, the sentient blade that more accurately than any tool or character in fiction represents not only drug abuse, but I would argue abusive relationships. Stormbringer never truly comes through for Elric. It can become a dull instrument when slated, curve its own arcs to slay those he cares for, one by one cutting away his bonds like a predatory lover isolating someone. The drawing of real feelings, not the magic sword but that sense in the gut one cannot be rid of something, or one must turn upon what was his, or devastate obstacles in our way with dissatisfaction is something an audience member can very much relate to, whether they would discuss these feelings in public or not.

To read Elric’s stories is to question the nature of the human heart, how wedded power is to inactivity, how morality can be shed or obtained as one fails, and lies, and yet grows stronger. Bound as we are to cycles, to lack of conception, embracing the turmoil of life where only strange vistas are assured, Elric of Melniboné’s power of ideas, the questions he provokes and the tempestuous contradiction of his strength and weakness are truly a unique experience to be immersed in, an entertaining tragedy deserving time in the light.

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