Monday, November 08, 2010
54. The King of Swords by Michael Moorcock
This is the third and final book in the Books of Corum series by Michael Moorcock. You can read my brief reviews of the first two here. In this third one, everything seems to be at peace, though we the readers know it cannot last as the final God of Chaos, the King of Swords is still mightily pissed at Corum for having destroyed his sister, the Queen of Swords and his brother the Knight of Swords.
The basic idea in Moorcock's world is that the gods mess with mortals indirectly, in this case through the Mabden or humans, a new lesser race who have been wrecking the world with their warlike ways. The main evil Mabden, who tortured Corum in the first book, poking out his eye and chopping off his hand, is in major retreat. But he still has strong connections with the Chaos gods and one broken Vanagh (the higher race of which Corum is one of the few remaining), whom he forces to create a powerful spell that causes everybody to hate each other. Soon Corum's pleasant world starts to fall apart in mutual aggression and violence.
So he has to go out and adventure again, gets sucked into all these different planes and even universes of existence. This is big, big picture stuff with some very trippy imagery. I'm kind of a geek, but not entirely and I think I draw the line at this kind of fantasy. I love it in principle and think that metal bands that base their entire aesthetic around it are really cool. But I don't really care. It's just all so removed. There was one exception and that was at the very end, when Corum learns that all that went on was part of a rare period of major change in the universe. After this, the gods power will diminish in the mortal realms. This theme is very common in fantasy (the classic is all the Elves leaving Middle Earth at the end of the Lord of the Rings) and it symbolizes the end of the imagination, adulthood, banality etc. I did find it touching and appreciated Moorcock's skill and desire to keep alive worlds where reason and "reality" are not actually prioritized.
One geeky element in this book that I also found mildly distracting (but probably would have sucked up when I was 15) is that this third book brings in a bunch of characters and concepts from other Moorcock books, particularly Elric, his most famous character. It made me feel like I needed to read a bunch of other books to fully appreciate what the hell was going on. I used to love this kind of cosmos building, but now it tires me slightly and honestly it did feel like it kind of deflated the impact of everything else that had led up to this point. You read a trilogy about a hero in a world and then in the last pages of the last book, it turns out that he needs to connect with another even bigger hero who has a special sword and an entire backstory himself that is only hinted at. To get really geeky and compare it to tabletop roleplaying, it's like when your character needs the assistance of the GMs special more powerful character to actually complete the quest. It takes the adventure out of your hands and that is kind of what I felt like as a reader.
Still, if you have a 15-year old who needs his mind blown, this may well be the way to go.