J.G. Keely's Reviews > The Weird of the White Wolf

The Weird of the White Wolf by Michael Moorcock
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Dec 20, 2011

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bookshelves: uk-and-ireland, fantasy, reviewed, sword-and-sorcery
Read in December, 2011

In my last two reviews, I have talked about how Moorcock's fevered imagination keeps these books aloft, even when the plot seems to grow disconnected from the series, or the characters grow repetitive, but he seems to be losing steam, for this book moves along apace, advancing the plot here and there, but not materially adding anything new to our understanding of the world or the characters.

Moorcock's shorter plot arcs lack the grand set pieces and focus which make Leiber's and Howard's works so delightful, and even if the brief episodes which make up the larger plot might be called 'short stories', they do not show the completeness or unity of idea of Conan or Lankhmar.

I keep longing for a return to form from Moorcock, wishing that he could combine those moments of lucid, pretty prose with his wild metaphysical magics and the brooding introspection which first defined Elric. But alas, it grows harder to look past his errors when he begins to repeat himself.

As usual, he has problems finding scenes which illustrate his characters, and so he ends up relying on exposition, or on the characters talking at length about their own thoughts and reactions, which always ends up feeling stilted and incomplete, especially when those traits are not always outwardly demonstrated.

the series itself begins to grow repetitive, as Elric is always followed by some bosom compatriot, who by the end will be betrayed, or killed, or lost, or all three. Likewise there are the female interests, who seem to traipse in and out of Elric's life to torment him, but who often have little character of their own.

The series focuses narrowly, sometimes unsparingly, upon Elric himself, but it feels as if much more could be done with his character if he had an equally strong supporting cast to play off of. When secondary characters are summarily introduced and dropped, it becomes harder for them to have any effect on Elric--and if they do produce some sudden effect upon him, it can feel rather overly convenient if the relationship has not yet been fully-developed.

One of the hallmarks of the Conan series is that in each story, Howard shows us very different sides of Conan: different humors, desires, fears, and outlooks. In the first three stories we get Conan young, aged, and full-grown, and each portrayal depicts a different sort of man.

Clearly, with Elric, we would not expect so drastic a shift, as we follow him from place to place in chronological order, but I do find myself disappointed that we don't tend to see other sides to Elric: he is always brooding, somewhat naive, and less callous than he imagines himself. I keep waiting to find something surprising in him, some aspect of depth before unexplored.

In short, I wait for the mad philosophical explorations which live in Moorcock's magic to reach Elric, to show up in him in some fundamental way, to change him or leave a trace on him, to become an exploration of his character, and more than that, of his possibility.

The series is always looking forward, always moving forward--sometimes too quickly, sometimes without a chance to build or pause or ponder--but always moving; and I have to ask myself: for what? Where are we going?

Certainly there are hints, there are moments of conflict and feeling for Elric, but rarely are they given time to emerge, rarely is the story constructed so as to reveal them naturally. If they are not constructed carefully, over time, then when they arrive, they will always be too early, or too late, and seem almost inconsequential in the face of the vast cosmic conflict which tends to make up the heart of the story.

Elric feels weak and unsure. He travels somewhere to reach something strange and magical which has piqued his interest. He battles an otherworldly thing, which he defeats, but he now feels drained. He wanders through a strange dimension and faces another thing, which is powerful and dangerous. He almost dies, but then he summons something and it saves him. the most recent of a series of doomed soldier friends saves him and makes an ironic quip (always ironic). Elric departs no richer than he arrived, and despondent at his failure.

I am still enjoying this series, and it shows a lot of promise, but at this point, the gap between what it is and what it could be is widening. Sure, it's still more interesting, original, and better-written than most of the fantasy out there, but I'm desperate for it to really find its groove. Moorcock has the tools, I just want to see him use them all at once.

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03/07 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Rob (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob As I suggested in your review of Elric of Melnibone, it's not surprising you're growing disappointed as the series progresses.

If you want to try a more substantial Moorcock Eternal Champion series, I recommend the Corum books (the Swords Trilogy followed by the Chronicles of Corum). The protagonist is fighting for real stakes in those books, and they feel less episodic.

J.G. Keely Yes, your earlier comment has definitely proven true. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for Corum in the future. I do like Moorcock's imagination and writing, but I want to see him do more with it.

David Sarkies I started finding that with the Elric stories as well. The first few I loved but they ended up getting too dry and repetitive. I still loved Moorcock's style and probably should get around to reading them again someday.

As for Howard, I was under the impression that it was hard to have a proper chronology since he only published a small number in his lifetime and the rest were published in the 60s by deCamp and Carter.

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