Friday, 21 May 1999

Michael Moorcock: The Sword of the Dawn (1968)

Edition: Granada
Review number: 255

The third volume of the Runestaff series begins in a strange shadow world; to escape from enslavement at the hands of the Dark Empire of Granbretan, the Kamarg region has been shifted into another, uninhabited, parallel world. After a welcome period of peace, Dorian Hawkmoon becomes bored; he is unable to discover what is going on in the real world, and there is little to do in the world where they now are.

So when he comes across a stranger in the marshes, who turns out to have discovered a method of transporting himself between the dimensions, he is almost pleased; if this man could find them, so too could the Empire. Thus, he can justify doing something about it. He and his close companion, Guillam d'Averc, disguise themselves in outrageously alien costumes, and use the stranger's knowledge to travel to Londra, capital of the Empire. There they pass themselves off as emissaries from the semi-mythical Asiacommunista; no one knows what people from that land might look like, and they wear ceremonial masks so that no one will know who they really are.

Like The Mad God's Amulet, The Sword of the Dawn plays a minor part in the development of the series as a whole. It gives a further portrayal of the decadent and evil Empire of Granbretan; it introduces the final important character; it provides the occasion for further episodes of derring-do to enhance Hawkmoon's heroic stature. The role of the two central novels in the sequence is really like the literary methods frequently found in the medieval poetry which is the eventual source material of the fantasy genre. In many of the quests in such literature, the hero has to show himself worthy to attain the main object of the quest through the successful completion of a series of subsidiary quests, usually three in number. Often connected to the main quest (in much the same way that in computer games objects must be collected in a particular order to reach the final goal), they could also have an allegorical significance related to the hero's personal development. In later Moorcock novels, particularly as his ideas about the Eternal Champion developed, this would tend to be the purpose of such subsidiary quests. Here, however, they do seem to indicate nothing more than the collection of objects as in a computer game.

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