Tuesday, 7 September 1999

Michael Moorcock: The Quest for Tanelorn (1975)

Edition: Grafton, 1986
Review number: 326

As with the other volumes in The Chronicles of Castle Brass, hardly any of The Quest for Tanelorn takes place in that location. To find his children, Dorian Hawkmoon sets out on a quest for the city of Tanelorn, which seems to be the only place where the contradictions between his memories and the world he lives in can be resolved.

Hawkmoon's quest joins up with those of other aspects of Moorcock's Eternal Champion, as they are allowed to meet up from different times and universes (two aspects of one soul, as the Champions are, are normally forbidden to meet) for the Conjunction of a Million Spheres. This marks the final, decisive confrontation between the beings who promote Chaos and those who support the Balance between Law and Chaos. (The beings who promote Law have long since been destroyed.)

The Quest for Tanelorn reads as though Moorcock, in the mid seventies, had decided to wrap up his ideas about the Eternal Champion, the Balance and so on. For a writer of Moorcock's ability, it was clearly something of a limiting restriction, and many of the books since this period have seemed freer. Combined with the immense speed with which he worked, the limited plot choices the idea enforced meant than entire novels seem just to be fillers in series (The Mad God's Amulet is an example).

Much of The Quest for Tanelorn also reads like filler, but it is in fact a necessary preparation for the final, climactic scene, designed to mark an end for the Eternal Champion. (Moorcock does go on to use the idea again, but never with the single-mindedness he shows in the early seventies.) Moorcock has some serious things to say here, more so than in most of the books relating to the Champion.

One of these is connected to the prior destruction of the beings promoting Law. ("Prior" is perhaps not a good word, as the Conjunction unites beings and events from many different periods.) Moorcock must surely be making a point about the culture in which we live; we have lost respect for the forces which bring order, and the best we can do is act to preserve the balance between Law and Chaos.

A second idea goes beyond this, for Moorcock seems to have wanted to criticise the way that we put ourselves in subjection to forces outside ourselves that promote chaos (such as rebellious teenage fashions) or law (such as many religions). No one should be single minded about these things for, Moorcock says, we have created them ourselves. I don't read this as being an endorsement of anarchy (after all, the books are about the need for a balance between Chaos and Law), but rather Moorcock is reminding us that we should think for ourselves.

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