The Jewel in the Skull

Michael Moorcock
The Jewel in the Skull Cover

The Jewel in the Skull


I went through a Michael Moorcock phase five years ago. I'm not a reader of heroic fantasy, but I ran across Moorcock's essay, "Epic Pooh," his takedown of JRR Tolkien, the Tolkien industry, and almost everything that had followed in its wake. Having abandoned the Ring novels when I first encountered them decades ago and having never felt compelled to give them a second try, I was intrigued by Morcocks's Eternal Champion, a figure that takes various incarnations in the Moorcock Multiverse. I started, as did the author, with the Elric series.

Don't worry, I do not intend to summarize those novels, just know they wreak havoc with the tropes of traditional heroic fantasy while never falling into parody. In this world there is an ongoing battle between the powers of Chaos and Order. Elric is on the side of Chaos, but things get murky early on. The novels are morally complex, action packed, and filled with entertaining cohorts and repulsive monsters. And they wind things up in under 200 pages. Highly recommended.

So I decided to try the next hero's saga in the History of the Runestaff trilogy. The first novel, The Jewel in the Skull, may be Moorcock's sophomore slump. The nation of Grandbretan (get it?) is on an imperialistic rampage through either an alternative or far future version of Europe and the Middle East. Battles are fought with a combination of medieval weaponry, ray guns using the ancient technology of the 20th century, and magic. The good guys are very good, and the bad guys are unremittingly evil. Our hero is Hawkmoon, the dispossessed prince whose European state that has been conquered by Granbretan. He is in love with a beautiful princess; he's captured and tortured by Granbretan; and, he is under a curse that he must cross a continent to have removed. But these exploits are related in with a notable lack of enthusiasm compared to the Elric sage. And Hawkmoon, compared to Elric, is a tedious bore. John Clute,, who writes the general introduction to the Gollanz muti-volume collection of Moorcock's fantasy novels, describes Hawkmoon as "a bit of a berk." I had to Google it, but then I agreed.