Hawkmoon/Castle Brass by Michael Moorcock
This is chronologically the last book of the Tale of the Eternal Champion (although it doesn't actually take place at the very end). A fabulous end, I must say, though the actual end (the climax, that is) leaves me a little cold, like any clichéd fantasy climax. But anyway, the rest of the book more than makes up for it. Moorcock shows his usual aptitude for making the exceedingly complex and improbable seem quite normal and yet intriguing. Also, this time he displays an economy and precision that was somewhat missing in 'Elric of Melniboné'. Also, here we have the first perspective on the battle with Agak and Gagak, and here it is more impressive because Hawkmoon has an actual reason for fighting, unlike Elric, as much as I like him. Also, here we have the only (to my knowledge) instance of a female Eternal Champion, and she more than holds her own amidst the others. In fact, the book in which she appears - 'The Champion of Garathorm' - is my favourite among the traditional heroic EC stories. But let's take it slower, shall we?
In the beginning, we have the normal deceptively idyllic existence of the hero, and the events of the first Hawkmoon omnibus (at least the ones relevant to this volume) are recounted in a rather subtle manner. And then the 'tedium' breaks up by the arrival of the ghost of Count Brass, or someone very like him. And then our hero is thrown into a series of events manufactured by one of his old enemies from Granbretan. And the first book ends in a tragedy that I defy you to actually expect. The climax is quite marvellous.
The second book begins with a mad Hawkmoon. He is then challenged to take up his heroism again. He tries, but it isn't much use anyway, because his body isn't going to be used. Then we go to Garathorm (through a very interesting series of events), and meet Ilian, the female Champion. Garathorm has been invaded by quite a few villains, and the events are actually related to the ones in the first book.
Then, in the third book, Hawkmoon meets three other champions - the pale, repulsive Elric, the slightly ethereal Corum, and the sad, nearly pitiful Erekosë, and they fight Agak and Gagak. And then, we reach the end of The Tale of the Eternal Champion - at least one of the ends.
The first two books are quite magnificent, but I wasn't that impressed by the third one, though the reason might be that I'd already read the first half, and the second half was slightly over my head. I mean I understood what happened - basically - but I didn't quite understand why, though I think asking that question is slightly ridiculous. Anyway, overall, the tale is quite magnificent, and while it doesn't really matter if you read it at the end or before, it does provide a wonderful climax. Anyway, Moorcock didn't even write it last, so why should we read it last?
About the book. The map is the first thing that you notice, and it shows Moorcock's sense of humour very well. The story is set in Europe, around a millennium in our future, and the names of the countries and cities are twisted around. America is Amerehk, Russia is Muskovia and (my favourite) Great Britain is Granbretan, although I didn't understand how Ireland becomes Hibernia. And the funniest part is that in Hawkmoon, Granbretan was the Dark Empire which the heroes had to fight.
After that, we see the characters. They are stunningly well-drawn, while actually remaining clichés. Hawkmoon is a very interesting person, especially as an incarnation of the EC. And the other characters are just as interesting. My favourite is Ilian, in the second book, and then Erekosë in the third, though he isn't actually here for very long. The environs in this volume are more normal than, say, those in Elric of Melniboné, but the story moves into other dimensions quite frequently, keeping it otherworldly while retaining reality. And the villains are rather interesting as well, and the time thingy isn't as tedious as in The Dancers at the End of Time.
The last book is, as I said, a slight disappointment, but very slight, and it's very enjoyable anyway. Overall, the volume is somewhat clichéd, but these clichés were originally created by these people, so you won't find me complaining. And anyway, Moorcock's magnificent narration skill shines through, and puts a rather stupid-looking grin on my face.
I have an advice for you: The moment you finish reading this book, pick up 'Casablanca' and read 'The Last Call', a coda of sorts to 'The Tale of the Eternal Champion'. It shows quite how humorously Moorcock takes his own creation (along with 'Elric at the End of Time'). I advice other fantasy authors to be this irreverent with their characters - it improves them, people.
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