Elric the Existential Emperor

Elric_of_MelniboneThe Elric saga is a masterpiece of dark fantasy, a sword and sorcery epic that aches in existential angst, more indebted to Lovecraft than to Tolkien.

The first volume in the cycle, Elric of Melniboné, introduces us to the melancholy emperor Elric, a skeletal albino whose keen mind makes him a poor fit for the ancient kingdom of superhuman savages he rules.

We follow him on a quest to thwart a usurpation of his throne and rescue a blood-relative damsel in distress (an influence on George R.R. Martin, perhaps), while growing in power so much that an expanding epic is practically demanded by the denouement.

Even more audacious than the stark story itself is the pervasively dour prose, an exercise in contorted anguish, a French philosopher scribbling in the gloom after watching Reservoir Dogs:

And Elric stepped into a shadow and found himself in a world of shadows.  He turned, but the shadow through which he had entered now faded and was gone.  Old Aubec’s sword was in Elric’s hand, the black helm and the black armour were upon his body and only these were familiar, for the land was dark and gloomy as if contained in a vast cave whose walls, though invisible, were oppressive and tangible.  And Elric regretted the hysteria, the weariness of brain, which had given him the impulse to obey his patron demon Arioch and plunge through the Shade Gate.  But regret was useless now, so he forgot it.

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