Wednesday, 11 August 1999

Michael Moorcock: The Champion of Garathorm (1973)

Edition: Grafton, 1986
Review number: 309

Though this trilogy is entitled The Chronicles of Castle Brass, the castle itself features very little. Moorcock's interest is in the adventures of Dorian Hawkmoon, which take place on journeys far from the marshes of the Kamarg. His purposes in writing this second series featuring Hawkmoon seems to be to link him more explicitly into his idea of the Eternal Champion. The first stirrings of this idea can be seen in the Runestaff series, but it had developed considerably by the time this trilogy came to be written.

Moorcock's idea of the Eternal Champion is inspired by the ironic juxtaposition of ideas from psychology and comparative mythology with the uninventive duplication of standard characters and plots across the fantasy genre. All heroes are aspects of the one Eternal Champion, doomed to fight to preserve the balance between Chaos and Law across the centuries and in a multitude of worlds. He has a standard group of companions, is inspired by his love for a beautiful lady, and his battles take the form of a small group of heroic comrades fighting faceless and diabolical science or sorcery.

The concept, and particularly this trilogy, is heavily dependent on the idea of parallel universes. This is a highly problematic idea in science fiction, as it has been overused to get a lazy writer out of a difficult situation; it easily can become equivalent to the 'he woke up and it was all a dream' ending which is virtually unusable. By allowing the author to bring together characters from otherwise incompatible backgrounds, it leads to self-indulgent writing, as in Robert Heinlein's late novels. The concept, though, has been of great importance to Moorcock throughout his career, right from the very early Rituals of Infinity onwards. He works hard to keep his use of the device within self-imposed limits: for example, different aspects of the Eternal Champion are not allowed to meet or have conscious knowledge of each other. (This does not apply to his companions, particularly the Champion's guide, under any of his names.)

Having made this restriction, an attempt to get around it is the inspiration for the plot of The Champion of Garathorm. After returning from the adventures detailed in Count Brass, making the wish that he would give up anything to see the Count alive and well again, Hawkmoon is stunned to discover that he had returned to a version of his world in which the companion who survived his earlier adventures was Count Brass, rather than his beloved wife Yisselda. Driven almost out of his mind by the loss of his wife and children (who had been born after the battle, so in this world never existed), he pines away, spending his time making models, recreating the battle of Londra to try and come up wish a version in which Yisselda also survives.

In another universe, the forces of Chaos, mustered by the demon Arioch (who appears in a number of Moorcock's stories) have overwhelmed those of Order. Because this has happened, a scientist from another universe has been able to imprison the soul of the incarnation of the Champion there, the warrior queen Ilian of Garathorm. This could mean disaster for the Balance across all the universes, and the companion Jhary has the idea of taking Dorian's soul, which he is hardly using, and temporarily animating Ilian with it.

My feeling about this is that it is not self-indulgent plotting, but an interesting way to get around a restriction that was, after all, imposed by Moorcock. It is using the restriction in a creative way, and that is the opposite of indulgence. The way in which Dorian's soul becomes immersed in the being of Ilian, forgetting his own separate existence is quite fascinating.

However interesting from the point of view of seeing how Moorcock puts together his imaginary worlds, though, I think he is a better writer when he is not being so explicitly clever. He is very good at using subtle hints to tell us something - this is why the backgrounds to his novels are so compelling, even though they are only lightly sketched in.

No comments: