|Submitted by Thomas Fortenberry |
(May 27, 2002)
A Review of The Dreamthief's Daughter by Michael Moorcock (NYC: Warner Aspect, 2001. HB: $24.95, 343 pp.)
The subtitle of this volume is "A Tale of the Albino," which is an honest admission since it has no less than three albino protagonists: Elric, our favorite Prince of Ruins, a latter-day von Bek, and Oona, the heroine who gives title to the book. However, this is a bit of a strange book, since it blends several styles, themes, and series of Moorcock's work. Now, blends are fairly common, one might say the norm, in Moorcock's work, but I found Dreamthief's Daughter to be a unique novel for Moorcock. it seemed to bring together two disparate aspects of his writing: the historico-artistic volumes (such as The Brothel in Rosenstrasse and Mother London) and his multiversal writings for which he is much more well known. Specifically, this book is directly linked to The City in the Autumn Stars (von Bek) and The Revenge of the Rose (Elric) as a sequel, and of course has the obligatory host of multiversal sightings such as Tanelorn, Moonglum, Arioch, Gaynor the Damned, the Runestaff, etc. Since all his works touch on his multiverse and concepts therein, you might say that this isn't original at all and in part I agree; so be it, I found this work distinct enough to point out. Here's an example of what I mean: This is a book which clearly features Elric-- when he arrives he dominates everyone and every thing, as he always does by sheer will power alone. The title itself is from Oona, the daughter of Elric, and she plays a vital role throughout. But, this is not an Elric book. It is a von Bek book. The setting and storyline center around von Bek and the entire book is from von Bek's first person point of view (though Moorcock pulls off the neat trick of transferring a first person narrative to another character, then sharing it, and then back again-- in a plausible manner. That is no small feat for any work of fiction, Faulkner be damned.). Furthermore, continuing the trend of his Mother Londonesque artistic works, Moorcock brings this tale of the Albino into the modern world: it takes place during World War II in Bek, Germany.
Why this shift in locale and emphasis? I wonder. Perhaps it is a natural progression as Moorcock matured as a writer to become more detailed and artistic, yet in seeming opposition, to leave the fantastic and become more realistic and grounded in reality. Perhaps that offers more of a challenge. Or perhaps it is boredom and he is just shaking things up a bit. My getting inside his head for psychoanalytical literary criticism is pointless. I enjoy the works no matter the reason behind them. I think it works so well exactly because he is fusing genres and elements together in bold, new ways. That creates an excitement and newness often missing in other similar works. In another way, it also makes the works more universal. What I mean is this: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a famous lecture on the nature of faerie tales. He pointed out they have staying power, have been with us forever, because they are not simple funny stories about faeries, but rather in complete contrast they are deep and often dark tales of the world(s) of faerie, including the right here, right now. In this sense faerie is defined as the entire concept or body of magic and its means and minions; the world of faerie underlies our own and everything else. Tolkien of course is very famous today for his later application of this principle in his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. These two authors have a lot in common, because just like Tolkien, Moorcock is a master at blending ancient tales and mythology in new and dramatic ways to create highly original works that have a deep, recognizable resonance, even if we the readers do not realize right off the bat what we are reading. Moorcock is writing nothing less than an interpretation of the eternal mythic cycle. If you think that Moorcock's eternal champion cycle is just cool SF and fantasy at its sword-swinging best, you'd better go back and reread. This is an ancient myth cycle of heroes ever on quest in search for the unobtainable grail and eternal Tanelorn (itself a brilliant fusion of ancient Celtic and old English words meaning "the tale forsaken," "the story lost," or maybe "the desolated book," which I see as meaning an end of all stories or the finality of all tales). Oona and Klosterheim derive from Spenser and de Quincy respectively, from what I have been able to discover. But everything else is even more ancient. The swords as cruciforms and the chalice/grail as womb are as ancient as prehistoric cave paintings and center the symbolism of most religions. The entire hero quest and grail mythos doesn't originate solely in medieval Europe, but actually can be traced through incarnations through all cultures and back through Christendom to Proto-Indo-European (PIE) origins and Sumerian roots in Gilgamesh. They all represent man's quest of the immortal and perfection. That is to say, it is an eternal mythic cycle, as defined by Joseph Cambell.
What Moorcock brings to the ancient myths are new interpretations and, oddly enough for someone so obsessed with the ancient, modernism. This is because his view of the multiverse is very modern and straight out of the theories of quantum physics. They jive nicely with my own and most modern thinkers views of reality. Reality isn't just a mobius strip of continuum, it's an infinity of mobius strips around a tanelornic center. An infinite kaleidoscope of infinite variations. That's immortality in itself. It's rather nice to ponder infinity. The alternative, as they say, is not so pleasant, but that skull sure grins.
I don't want to give away the book for any potential future readers. Let's just sum up and say of one scene: Elric hacking Nazis. What more could you ever want? This book is a joy to read and like any good Eternal Champion saga, it does cover the multiverse stem to stern in its wanderings. However, before I close, I must fairly level a criticism. Moorcock dropped the ball in one way with this book. His main character, the latest von Bek who is an albino echo of Elric, is sadly lacking in his own book. He is, unfortunately, as I mentioned merely an echo of Elric. He did not act much as the protagonist, especially as a holder of one incarnation of the great sentient Black Sword. He functioned more as a passive camera so we could watch all the action that did occur, from Gaynor to Elric. I was very disappointed that the prime protagonist did not lead his own book; he only became active (and then limitedly) in the very late portions of the book. That is a tragic flaw, I believe. I had a hard time making excuses for the passivity of his character, though his lack of bold action fit his "character" as defined in the book by Moorcock. I understand he was a "philosopher" at heart and thus an observer. I don't care. I did not see it as fitting the character of any aspect of the Eternal Champion or holder of the Black Sword. Just doesn't fly in my book. I will note for the record that the only semi-viable excuse I came up with was that von Bek was actually a guardian of the Grail and not the sword, perhaps having the sword by accident, hence his character was supposed to be the opposite of Elric. It is obvious that von Bek fights not to destroy law and uphold chaos (like Elric) but to create a balance. So maybe as grail guardian he could not and should not act as Elric did; but this is belied by the fact that in a few instances he did act directly as Elric did (though again is this dismissed as his being conjoined with Elric? I cannot say). But then we are faced with a notion that Elric and von Bek, clearly aspects of the Eternal Champion as albino, are in fact separated utterly by their natures and in no way alike-- unless they are supposed to represent the two divided natures of one being, that is Elric and von Bek (and naturally Gaynor must be their fallen side) are parts that make a whole. Then we have an odd and ruinous trinity indeed. Or, one step further, the trinity is the albino alone (and Gaynor is truly damned and forever apart from it) and thus represented by Elric, the wrath and the father, Oona, the daughter and redemption, and von Bek as the spirit and salvation. If this is so, then I apologize for the nag; Moorcock did right and knows exactly what he was doing. If this wasn't the case, then I suppose this must be one of those inevitable occurrences in a writer's life where he fumbles a character and doesn't quite follow through as he should. That is bound to happen, especially with an author who has written over fifty volumes. I just hate to see it ever happen to in an Eternal Champion book.
Final analysis: The Dreamthief's Daughter is another gemstone in the multiversal masterpiece that Michael Moorcock has been crafting for decades. The fusions of history and myth, of reality and fantasy, are riveting, and I hope they continue.
Thomas Fortenberry is an American author, editor, and publisher. Owner of Mind Fire Press, he has also judged many literary contests, including The Georgia Author of the Year Awards and the Robert Penn Warren Prize for Fiction. His work has appeared internationally, in publications such as Amelia, Uno, Lower Than the Angels, Contemporary Southern Poets of 1997, Poetry Magazine, Ariga, Fiction Network,Independence Boulevard, Lumi Virtuale, Storytellers, Biblioteka di Babele, etc.