Michael Moorcock

 

The Jewel in the Skull

The History of the Runestaff: Volume 1

 

Iíve had very mixed feelings about Moorcock. I remember enjoying the Runestaff series as a young teen, but being really turned off by the ugly prurience of some later book of his I read. I was actually expecting to find nothing but tripe upon rereading this book, but have to admit it wasnít too bad. Sure the characters are stereotypical, but this is quite conscious and deliberate. The world is hardly as richly and deeply painted as the Middle Earth, but then again, which other world is? Itís a workable distant future, and the feel of the settings isnít too far from that of Leiberís Swords series (a comparison Moorcock would be happy with), as is the sense that there are whimsically enigmatic and powerful forces tooling about with our protagonist.

 

He also rights some classic annoying conventions of fantasy Ė a bit like having someone re-shoot a roadrunner/coyote cartoon when the insufferable bird finally gets whatís coming to him. One is that when the hero has a virtual spy camera planted in his forehead, the supposedly intelligent goodies who are being spied on donít just fall for it or wring their hands at the problem. Rather they do what the reader has done Ė establish that it only does vision, not sound, and have some good conversations in the dark in working out how to deal with it. Another is that a thousand year old character manages to lose his life relatively easily Ė something that happens far too often in fantasy Ė yet Moorcock at least has the consistency have him mystically return to life: how else has he survived this long unless heís got the hang of resurrection or got better survival techniques? And finally he sets up the standard mutually attracted hero and heroine who just canít seem to speak their feelings Ė and rather than spin this out for a book (or several) with increasingly implausible reasoning, the girl has the sense to make her feelings abundantly clear the night before the hero is liable to head off on a doomed quest. Ahhh. The way Hawkmoon meets his offsider is also nice Ė ironic, humorous, realistic, anti-climactic.

 

Sure, itís pulp, but pulp without a lot of annoying gritty bits you often have to suffer (pulp without the pulp if you like).

 

Maybe Iíve been nicer than it deserves because my expectations were so low.

 

Maybe not (Iíll give Volume 2 another look anyway).

 

January 2004

(2nd Reading)