Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Character of the Week: John Marco

It brings me a lot of pleasure to announce the start of a (hopefully) weekly feature: Character of the Week. The premise is simple: every week an author will reveal who their favourite genre character is and why.

To kick things off, John Marco willingly took to the hotseat...

When James first asked me to consider who my favorite character is in all of speculative fiction, I only had to think for a moment. The answer came to me in a flash of certainty--Elric of Melnibone. Like everyone else who loves science fiction and fantasy, I had a raft of possibilities to chose from, but my mind instantly sifted through years of books and movies to come up with Elric.

Some younger readers may not even know who Elric is, even though he's an iconic figure in fantasy. The main stories he appeared in were written by his creator, Michael Moorcock, way back in the sixties and seventies. It wasn't until the late seventies that I discovered these stories for myself, repackaged by DAW books in soft covers that literally seemed to leap at me from the library shelf. From the moment I picked up the first book, which as this point was simply titled "Elric of Melnibone," I was hooked. In fact, I can't remember ever reading any books so fast before or since, or ever really enjoying books more. I have fond memories of laying on an old coach downstairs at my parents' house, reading about Elric and his magical cohorts, yearning to pick up the books again every time I set them down.

It's hard to explain what appeals to me so much about Elric. More of an anti-hero than a hero, Elric is a doom-haunted prince of an ancient, decadent empire. Before Elric, the books I'd been reading all had typical, somewhat bland heroes. Then along comes Elric, who carries a sword that steals the souls of its victims, whose patron is a Duke of Hell named Arioch, who loses the love of his life early in the saga and never really recovers from the blow. And Elric is troubled by the things he does. He calls upon Arioch reluctantly, not with glee, and knows he's a pawn in the great war playing out between the forces of Chaos and Law. Pretty heady stuff for a teenager.

After reading the Elric books, I found myself in something of a wilderness, searching for another series that could make me feel the same way I did when reading about his exploits. After a while I got over it and discovered plenty of great books and characters, but I guess you never really forget your first love, and to this day I can't help myself from making comparisons. If the original Elric books seem quaint or out-dated now, I'm okay with that. I still recommend them to people, but I know that some won't find the same depth that I did in them. And even though publishers continue to produce them, I'll always have a fondness for those yellow DAW paperbacks from the seventies.

Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!


T.D. Newton said...

I'm kind of sad that I can say I've never read an Elric book, but I have wanted to. He seems like just my kind of hero. I'm all about presentation; I've seen Elric art and the image of him, pale as he is and holding Stormbringer, just makes me want to embrace any story the guy is in... unfortunately I haven't done so yet. This is one of the big reasons I lament "falling out" of the reading habit at a young age.

Doubly obnoxious is that my library system catalog does not even have a copy of it to check out. Amazon, here I come, I suppose.

J.G. Thomas said...

Ditto that. I have to confess I've never read any Moorcock, but John has certainly picqued my interest!

T.D. Newton said...

Well, at least I'm not the only one who's missed out on some of the classics. To quote my friend Gabe:

Damn all the good books,
They call out my name,
I reach out to read them all,
Falling flat on my face with shame,
The timeless classics Don Quixote would say,
The newfound glories, Clancy and James Frey,
The poets like Poe
and Dickinson
Ms. Emily I feel your pain
But I haven't the time
To read every non-rhyme
and clear the shelves of Humor,
Mystery, History, Architecture

and all the good books call out
my name "Bend my sheath." "Break my spine." "Get familiar with me."
I haven't the time.
Damn all the good books!

Steve H. said...

A most excellent choice. It's been a few years since I re-visited Melnibone. I may have to go back and do so again, soon.