Book Diary: Michael Moorcock – The Sword of the Dawn

The Sword of the Dawn (Hawkmoon: The History…Third volume in The History of the Runestaff, and the one I liked best so far. There are some scenes that take place in Londra, giving us a closer look at the inner workings of the Granbretan court that allow Moorcock to go really over the top with the decadence and present readers with the kind of concise but colourful imagery that they have become accustomed to for this series. Here, everyone is at everybody else’s throat, the society only held together by the centuries-old monarch, a wizened figure in a glass globe with the mellifluous voice of a youth. Bizarre inventions abound, and almost before we notice, Moorcock takes us and his protagonists off to America – a place which on the far future / alternative world (it is still not clear which, but I’m increasingly leaning towards it being both) of The History of the Runestaff seems almost like a different planet. The series comes closest to an Edgar-Rice-Borroughs-style planetary romance here, but it is like a story outline by Burroughs as penned by Clark Ashton Smith. Moorcock lets his imagination go totally over the top here, and it’s really astonishing just how much weirdness you can pack in about 150 pages of pulp plot.

Like in the first two volumes, this third one describes the first half of a journey that will be concluded in the fourth novel which is also the series finale – I rather like the symmetry at work here, and suspect that if one took the trouble one might find a lot of correspondences between various characters and places in these novels. And other novels by Moorcock, too, as his whole vast Eternal Champion series is based on correspondences, on repetition and variation. It has been said of that series that it is basically the same novel, written over and over again, and there certainly is something to that – but I do not think that this shows a failing of Moorcock’s inventiveness, quite to the contrary: Given that endless repetition, the echoing of the same fate through times and worlds is precisely what the series is about, it’s a monument to Moorcock’s virtuosity how he has managed to keep this central subject fresh and interesting (at least for the most part) over so many novels. The History of the Runestaff, while still light on Eternal Champion mythology shows a kind of foreshadowing of this in the way it tells very familiar adventure stories but in the telling twists and turns them into something very bizarre and uniquely Moorcockian.

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