The Chronicles of Corum (The Prince with the Silver Hand), by Michael Moorcock

January 4, 2012 at 14:40 (Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction, Highly Rated Books) (, , , , , )

10/10

It is very difficult to accurately sum up this book. On the one hand, it is the sort of Sword-and-Sorcery epic that smells like stale pizza and murky bookshops from the ’70s (and in fairness, Michael Moorcock has done his fair share in supporting that very industry). There are feasts and dwarves and lissom maidens, there are halls and knights-errant, and it seems at times that one cannot throw a brick without hitting any number of High Kings or warrior princesses. A facetious summary, perhaps, but it highlights the most noticeable weakness of this book, and a weakness exploited by a hundred other writers, and diluted by a hundred B-movies. This is a fantasy book written for people who read fantasy books.

“And this time he did see a looming shape–a gigantic figure of a man, apparently with antlered horns growing from the sides of its head, its face all misshapen, its body all warped, raising something to its lips, as if to drink.”

-The Chronicles of Corum

As a hero Corum is not believable. As a companion, Jhary struggles to come up with even two dimensions. As a quest, the tokens Corum searches for in his attempt to fight the Cold Gods are embarrassingly and unblushingly contrived: a reason to send him gallivanting across the country, and utterly without depth. But what else were Hercules’ twelve tasks? Was Achilles such a complex everyman? Were Sigurd and Brynhildr the most thrilling of companions? In The Chronicles of Corum, Michael Moorcock strives to take the old Irish epic of the Fomoire (Fhoi Myore as he transposes them) and put flesh on bones, and make a hero who is equal parts modern fantasy, and mythopoeic legend. He chooses for his style a creaky and elegant prose clearly intended to represent the voice of the Norse Sagas and the ancient legends of Greece and Rome. He pens long meandering poems that do not rhyme (but sound awfully grand), sprinkles immaculately verbose rhetorical questions throughout most conversations and bombards readers with ponderous syntaxes and an overabundance of ritualised honour and lengthy soliloquies about Fate and Paradoxes.

“Did Corum kill the Gods?”

-Blind Guardian
Imaginations From the Other Side

Ultimately, he succeeds. For readers able to put aside the slightly guilty feeling that they are reading something that is somehow “beneath them” or too juvenile to be taken seriously (the perpetual bugbear of all fantasy), a true sense of the historic epic comes to life, as rich as anything Tolkien ever wrote (if not quite as developed) and in the lofty style of epic poetry turned to prose. The Chronicles of Corum are an excellent gateway into reading real mythologies and real prehistoric legends (retold) by Monmouth and Malory or the Lebor Gabála Érenn. They are certainly not the most accessible of fantasies (nor even the easiest to find), and even a writer as fearless and avant-garde as Moorcock can now seem a little prudish, a little dated and a little bland; but they are also some of the brightest and most memorable scenes in fantasy, and some of the most deeply rooted in genuine histories. Readers will not have the chance to sit around a fire with Corum as they would with Frodo or with Ratty, and they will not stand by and remark on his progress and growth, as with Kvothe or Potter. But if ever a fictional hero deserved to feature in a Titian or Botticelli, or be cast in bronze or marble, it is Corum. And if any fantasy chronicle ought to be lionised above its fellows and praised for skill, effort and verisimilitude, this is it. More than any other author, Moorock has mastered the art of creating the modern myth.

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