Michael Moorcock, The Runestaff

The Runestaff is the rousing finish to Michael Moorcock’s classic Dorian Hawkmoon tetralogy.

I had to say that. The Runestaff is, like its predecessors in the series, pulp fiction of the highest order, and even more over the top than the books that came before. You’ve almost got to give it that kind of lead-in.

Having defeated the Pirate Lords of Narleen on the continent of Amarekh, Hawkmoon is urged by the Warrior in Gold and Jet to head directly to the city of Dnark, where resides the Runestaff, that potent talisman and guardian of the Balance between Order and Chaos. Hawkmoon, of course, has his own priorities, and directs his ship to head across the sea to Europe. Hawkmoon, for some reason, seems to think that he has some control over his destiny; needless to say, what with one thing and another, he winds up in Dnark fighting the Granbretannian lord Shenegar Trott for possession of the Runestaff. Trott vanquished, Hawkmoon and his companion Huillem d’Averc are then transported to Kamarg, safe in its refuge in another dimension — but not for long. Taragorm, the Granbrettannian Master of Time, has found a way to bring Kamarg back, delighting Baron Meliadus, Hawkmoon’s archenemy. Meliadus, however, has a number of irons in the fire, including treason against the King-Emperor Huon. Well, timing is everything, and Kamarg re-emerges just after all the troops of Granbretan have been recalled either to aid or quell Meliadus’ rebellion. The rest, as they say, is history.

While Moorcock is, quite rightly, given a major place in the development of what I call “heroic fantasy noir” — or sometimes, “anti-heroic fantasy” — based on his creation of such figures as Corum, Jerry Cornelius, and, most of all, Elric of Melnibonè, Hawkmoon harks back to an earlier archetype. While he’s not completely free of self-doubt, it’s not the major preoccupation that it is for Elric. Hawkmoon’s prevailing characteristic actually seems to be a primal stubbornness in regard to his own priorities, which, coupled with his deep aversion to outside control, makes him a somewhat less than tractable hero. Ironically, it also makes him more vulnerable to manipulation by the Runestaff and its agents, the Warrior in Jet and Gold and Orland Fank, whom we meet in this volume. Hawkmoon is, however, firmly in the roster of the Eternal Champion, who is in his many guises the protector of the Balance.

It goes without saying that there is a somewhat mystical cast to Moorcock’s vision of the multiverse and its inhabitants. We get a strong indication of this in the relationship, whatever it may be, between Orland Fank, the boy Jehamia Cohnalias, and the Runestaff itself: Jehamia and the Runestaff seem, somehow, to be one and the same, while Fank, from several cryptic remarks, is either the boy’s father, his brother, or something else entirely. I honestly can’t decide whether Moorcock is beginning to sketch in the mystical connections of all the archetypes in the multiverse, or just playing with our heads.

At any rate, as I said at the beginning, it’s a rousing finish, complete with an epic battle and a victory that comes at high price. And it’s worth every minute.

(Tor, 2010)

The first three volumes of the Hawkmoon Cycle are:

The Jewel in the Skull
The Mad God’s Amulet
The Sword of the Dawn

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