Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Michael Moorcock: The Dragon in the Sword (1986)
Edition: Millennium, 1995
Review number: 1135
The third John Daker novel appeared after an even longer interval than that between the first two, and seems to represent at least some of Moorcock's final thoughts on the Eternal Champion as the novel of that name had done the first. Both heroics and traditional fantasy appear much less frequently in Moorcock's work after this novel; Pyat may consider himself a heroic figure in Byzantium Endures, for example, but there is little if anything about him to bring admiration from the reader.
The Dragon in the Swoord is also related to the von Bek stories, and follows on directly from the short story The Pleasure Gardens of Felipe Saggitarius, about a failed attempt by a member of the family to assassinate Hitler. This von Bek escapes by travel to another universe, to the one where Daker also arrives after attempting suicide in despair at continuing to be parted from his beloved Ermizhad.
The form Daker takes on this new world is interesting. He is now in the body of a prince with a twin sister; their relationship is not what it is generally seen to be. She wanted to cement her power by marrying him, but then tried to kill him when he refused. Now the rumours she has spread mean that his status among those he first meets changes rapidly from honoured guest to someone tolerated only because of the laws governing hospitality, making his task as Champion yet more difficult.
As a literary idea, the Eternal Champion relies strongly on Moorcock's ability to create multiple variations on the character. In The Dragon in the Sword, he brings two incarnations of the Champion together. This is not the only time he does this (The Quest for Tanelorn is another example), but in this case Daker and von Bek are made more nearly equal in importance. Despite their similar origins (both coming from twentieth century Europe), the two are strongly contrasted, particularly in comparison to other novels involving multiple Champions, which tend to be aiming to highlight the similarities between them.
The Dragon in the Sword also stands out as one of the longest Eternal Champion (in the more general sense, rather than just this particular trilogy) novels, the complexity of the plot being a major reason for this. It wraps up a long chapter in Moorcock's literary life (and does this additionally by including a lot of the lyrics from the album he co-wrote with Hawkwind, Warrior on the Edge of Time, and looks forward to some of his pre-occupations of the next few years as well as backwards.