Michael Moorcock is one of the most prolific F&SF authors of all time, and his work is not easily collected because it spans media. Personally, I’m always discovering new bits and pieces of stuff by him that I haven’t yet read.
Moorcock is one of my all-time favorite writers, and I’ve devoured his works since I first discovered them as a preadolescent in the fondly-remembered DAW editions, each featuring impressively pulpy paintings of the characters inside.
He wrote a book adaptation of Malcolm McLaren’s Sex Pistols movie, the Great Rock N Roll Swindle, a rarity that I recall seeing in a record shop in 1982 and having a hard time believing my own eyes. He’s written for and performed with Hawkwind and other musical acts. He’s frequently cited as the driving force behind the late-sixties upheaval in SF termed the New Wave, due to his editorship of New Worlds.
In the eighties and nineties his work became both more postmodern and less “fantastic” as he excavated lost authors and styles in English prose composition, culminating in Mother London and King of the City, both critically acclaimed.
As my own tastes have broadened and become more literary, it’s been a delight and a pleasure to find that Moorcock has been there too – and I have found his most challenging and mature works, such as Mother London, to strongly satisfy my mature tastes, while still finding new depth in the older works I first read as a child, such as the Elric cycle.
I conducted this interview by email on January 20, 2003 for a story which is printed in the April, 2003 issue (#70) of Cinescape. Email proved slightly more adventurous than we’d hoped, involving some unexpected technical hurdles. I’ve edited the questions for clarity and brevity and Mr. Moorcock’s responses for spelling and punctuation. My questions are in bold type; his responses are not.
As I did for Man Conquers Space, I’ll break it up into five parts and post nothing more while I’m running it. The final part should be up on Friday.
Michael Moorcock: Intro
To what do you credit your prolific output?
I was an infant prodigy. Usually what marks an IP is an ability to understand on some instinctive level the structure of the work you’re reading, hearing, seeing. This allows you to proceed without the usual struggles, enables you to solve technical problems very readily. To my embarrassment I was quoted in The Guardian as saying I was like Mozart. That’s the only similarity. But I could structure essays very well at school and was a prolific journalist by the time I was 17.
In your own words, introduce yourself to stranger who doesn’t know you or your work.
Michael John Moorcock, b. S. London 1939, middle class, educated widely, expelled once, did badly at school, left at 15 and was earning my living writing by the time I was 16. Editor of Tarzan Adventures by 17. I’m a professional literary man!
What was your home environment like? Could you describe your family life as a child?
Very happy, probably thanks to my somewhat feckless father leaving my mother as soon as the war ended. Grew up with rockets whizzing down. Very malleable landscape. Wide family experience. One uncle raised dogs in SE London, another lived at 10 Downing Street, Churchill’s secretary. Mother allowed me wide freedom so I saw a lot of London from an early age. Read a great deal, including the ERB [Edgar Rice Burroughs – MW] books my father had left and also G. B. Shaw. First book I bought was The Pilgrim’s Progress. That’s probably how I came to think all visionary books had to tell a moral tale as well!
ELRIC: Recent and Upcoming Novels
The Skrayling Tree is due out soon. Can you describe the book for us?
It’s about the Matter of America. Lots of U. K. and U. S. writers have written about the Matter of Britain (Arthur and so on), so I thought I’d go to Longfellow and his influences, who tried to tell the epic story of native Americans. So it’s about Hiawatha on his dream quest, a young albino called White Crow on HIS dream quest and Elric of Melniboné in 10th century Europe on his dream quest! The elements all come together in ‘Vinland’. Skraeling is the Viking word for native American. I use North American Indian and Viking mythology as well as my own invented myths. Three strands of the narrative come together in a finale involving a City of Gold…
The book features your best known character, Elric. Could you describe his character and appearance?
He’s an albino with bone white skin and crimson eyes, a sorcerer-emperor of a decaying kingdom which has ruled the world for ten thousand years. But physically weak as he is mentally powerful. He learns his magical craft through a series of dreams, taking decades in the dream time but only a single night in his real time. He depends upon a soul-sucking black sword for sustenance and has certain moral doubts about this means of staying alive…
The Skrayling Tree is a sequel to The Dreamthief’s Daughter, published in April 2001. What motivated you to begin writing about Elric again?
I have ideas for Elric stories about every ten years. Having completed a sequence of science fantasy stories in which I consider the nature of Chaos Theory as it relates to my multiverse idea of myriad worlds, in which similar stories are played out infinitely, I had the logic I needed to extend the stories which I wanted to deal with the authoritarian, some would call fascistic, nature of heroic fantasy and also extend the range of what I could write about from Elric’s viewpoint. He and I are growing up, after all…
When was the last time (prior to these books) you’d worked with the character?
Ten years ago with The Fortress Of The Pearl and Revenge Of The Rose. In those I wanted to refine the writing and ideas about Elric’s character somewhat. They are more ambitious in different ways to these new ones.
Will there be more in this series?
One more, The White Wolf’s Son, which will open in my old home village of Ingleton, W. Yorkshire and involve Elric landing outside my house in a balloon…
Did you reread the original books before you opened this new chapter in Elric’s life?
No. For some reason I seem to be able to keep all this stuff in my head. Chaos Theory, when I first read Mandelbrot, was like being given a map of my own mind. Made it possible to work with and formalize certain instinctive ideas.
Can you describe the role of female characters in the original books in comparison to their role in these newer books? To what extent is there a specific intent to revisit the feminine in the newer works?
I’ve been a convinced pro-feminist since I read Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics in Evergreen Review. My female characters have often been active, from Queen Yishana in the early Elric stories, but I have developed other active female characters and worked from female viewpoints at least since The Adventures of Catherine Cornelius and Una Persson in the Twentieth Century which was published in the mid-1970s.
[Tomorrow: More on Elric, this time the original books – and yes, a movie, at long last.]