I just finished the Elric compilation I purchased (and started reading way back… I really do need to put some more time aside to read). Some of the early stories were hard for me to get into. Still, once Moorcock got into his four-part novel, the character, the cosmology, and the story were worth the wait.
I also enjoyed the context from the letters published at the end of the book. Moorcock is forthcoming about his inspirations, how his novels and characters reflected his life, and how he weaved his own philosophical and religious beliefs into the cosmology of the world. You get a brief glimpse into the differences in his work between writing commercially and writing for himself, and what happened at the intersection of those usually competing goals with the Elric stories.
I like to hear an author admit to which stories and scenes he or she thinks are good, and which are rubbish. Moorcock also talks about some of the literary techniques he uses, and how he intentionaly used symbols throughout his works. Back in college, when reading literary criticism of various works, I hated how easily someone slapped the word symbol onto pieces of literature, when it seemed more like they were bending the fiction to the critic’s perception of reality. When the author talks about it though, and having just read all of the stories, it really adds some depth that lets me revisit what I just read. His letters make me want to start reading some of the other works that Moorock references as inspirations. I may pick up Leiber’s Grey Mouser next.
Of course, I have a hard time reading this stuff without thinking about how to steal from it for my game, or eventually for my own writing. I was a creative writing minor in college, and I always had this little bug in my brain that kept me thinking I was going to one day start practicing more heavily with fiction and start writing again – or even better, find out I was one of those people who seemed to be able to just pick it up and make it work. There’s a lot to steal from the Elric stories, and I can’t help but notice how much classic fantasy games HAVE stolen from them. You have a magic sword that gives Excalibur a run for its money. There’s a whole cosmology of Chaos vs. Law (Now that I’ve read the Elric stories, I realize that Warhammer doesn’t even try to hide pulling straight from Moorcock). There is, as is frequent with these fantasy tales, a little hint to the fantasy world being a precursor of our modern world. You have a great anti-hero, who like Wolverine or Han Solo, always seems more fun than your typical prince Valiant types; although Elric gets a little too moody and whiny for me sometimes. Moorcock manages to make his stories of Elric epic though, from beginning to end, but for the most part he manages to allow this epic story to unfold naturally out of the characters and the world he’s built, so that it doesn’t (usually) feel gratuitous.
I need to put some more time in reading I think. It’s just with so many competing pulls on my time, I’ve had a hard time making a habit of it.