Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: The Weird of the White Wolf (1977)

Originally published in 1977, The Weird of the White Wolf is the third book in the Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock. This volume includes the first two Elric stories ever published, the novelettes "The Dreaming City" and "While the Gods Laugh", along with "The Dream of Earl Aubec" and "The Singing Citadel".

The book opens with "The Dream of Earl Aubec", which acts as a prologue to the Elric Saga, introducing the conflict between the forces of Chaos & Law and how the world was shaped because of it.

"The Dreaming City" tells the tale of Elric's return to Imrryr with a fleet of warships at his side. However, he has not returned to reclaim his stolen throne, but to kill his treacherous cousin Yyrkoon and rescue his beloved Cymoril. However, as one would imagine, things don't go necessarily as planned.

"While the Gods Laugh" takes place a year after "The Dreaming City". Now working as a mercenary throughout the Young Kingdoms, Elric is approached by Shaarilla, a fair maiden of seeking an ancient artifact known as the Dead God's Book and wishes for the Last King of Melnibone to accompany her. Elric accepts her offer, hoping the artifact will answers a question that has been plaguing him.

"The Singing Citadel" is more light in tone when compared to the two previous stories. After sailing to the land of Jharkor, Elric is recruited by Queen Yishana to investigate a mysterious citadel with ties to the forces of Chaos and the disappearance of those who have entered the otherworldly fortress.

Reading The Weird of the White Wolf was an interesting experience for me. This was my first foray into Moorcock's work, having found the book in a used book store for about a dollar or so. "The Dreaming City" and "While the Gods Laugh" felt like stories from an author who is still developing his craft. While they were still interesting, the angst was laid on a little too thick at times and the writing was solid, but not spectacular. The work isn't particularly subtle either, with Stormbringer being an obvious metaphor for addiction and corruption.

With that being said, I wouldn't dismiss these stories. While Elric can be a little melodramatic at times, its balanced nicely by his ironic sense of humor and his relationship with the more lighthearted Moonglum of Elwher (who's introduced in "While the Gods Laugh"). Also, Moorcock does a great job at making Stormbringer a character in its own right and its relationship with its wielder has a really nice dynamic. Finally, the stories present an interesting world filled to the brim with imagination that keeps you enthralled. "The Singing Citadel" does this especially well, with the mysterious fortress being incredibly interesting and Elric's experiences within were fun to read. After reading these stories, I want to read more of Moorcock's work and I can see why Elric has influenced so many people. They definitely got my creative juices flowing.

I've already talked about modelling elf culture after Melnibone, but you can draw so much more from these stories. For example, Stormbringer acts as a good example on how to play an intelligent magic item. You don't have to have it speak to give it some character, showing you that you can present the item's personality by how you describe it and how it reacts to certain situations.

The interaction between the Higher Worlds and the earthly realm is interesting as well and could used as an example on how to handle an adventure with planar elements. For example, you could borrow the mysterious citadel and have it appear in a town your party is passing through. They are asked/hired to explore it, not realizing its actually connected to Limbo and infused with the plane's chaotic nature.

Finally, you can play with the conflict between the forces of Chaos & Law. As most people know, the original alignment system actually did this. Instead of having nine alignments, you had three: Law, Neutral, & Chaos. While you could interpret Law as Good and Chaos as Evil, you don't have to and this natural gray area for more interesting character. In fact, I actually think this version of alignment is superior to more recent versions in that regard and it shouldn't be that difficult to adapt to Pathfinder and the like. All you would use is the Lawful Neutral, Neutral, and Chaotic Neutral alignments and discard the Paladin class from the campaign.

Question Time: What was the first Moorcock story you ever read? Do you have any Moorcock inspired elements in your games?