Friday, August 10, 2001

Review - Prince with the Silver Hand

Prince with the Silver Hand - Michael Moorcock

"Corum is thy name and ye shall be slain by a brother…"
Corum had begun to believe in the old woman’s powers but now he found himself smiling. "Slain I might be, old woman, but not by a brother. I have no brother."
"Ye have many brothers, prince. I see them all. Proud champions all. Great heroes."
Corum felt his heart begin to beat faster and there was a tightness in his stomach. He said hastily: "No brothers, old woman. None."
- Michael Moorcock, Prince with the Silver Hand

Much of what is enjoyable about the last century’s fantasies comes from their basis in earlier folklore. But what is it that is so resonant? Conversely, something important is missing from the dross written about medieval Disneyland landscapes - sadly, not the page count, nor the sales figures. And whatever is missing from them is present in abundance in this second sequence of Corum books. It is a quirky trilogy, full of clichés and magical plot items, and with chunks ripped bleeding from Celtic myth, mixed liberally with out-takes from the Monster Manual, and served fast and hot by an insouciant Moorcock.And yet The Prince with the Silver Hand is a lot of fun to read, and is a very powerful piece of writing. Moorcock adds a layer of grotesque detail, and an edge of cold logic, to source material which is often enjoyably vague and whimsical. The effect is to modernise the Irish myths – not a soft-focus, Autumn Twilight modernity, but a harsh low-fi contemporary cruelty.Moorcock’s usual preoccupation with philosophical musings does not detract from the feeling that the characters are of their time, not of ours. Corum is a doomed hero who goes about his business like a virtuoso. He laughs, loves, forms firm friendships, and is always in desperate straits as the blood starts flying. He shares certain qualities with some of Moorcock’s other champions: his sword is cursed and he is, of course, a tool of fate. Unlike Elric, he’s no whinger. His brooding misery does not prevent him assuming his preordained role with style.Celtic themes and motifs are used, ignored or adapted as appropriate: as a result the stories are resonant, but keep their power to surprise. Strongest of all is the prophecy of Corum’s death: both Corum and the reader believe in it, but how is it to come about? Each chapter brings a new channel through which the prophecy could be fulfilled. Each time, Corum recognises the possibility. And yet, the end of the book is a complete surprise – and shockingly cruel.This book is a great read, and it is full of gaming ideas. Corum is one of Moorcock’s greatest creations, and reading the "Prince with the Silver Hand" is the most fun you’ll have this side of Von Bek.
- Tim Harford