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Book Review: Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

: Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock
Michael Moorcock is a self-professed Tolkien separatist. In his essay Epic Pooh, he accuses The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other works of glorifying war, preaching “cowardly self-protection,” avoiding the subject of death, and forcing a happy ending upon the reader (as summed up by Wikipedia).

“I met Tolkien on his home ground in Oxford. I really don’t have much to say, except I was a little embarrassed, having written to Tolkien to tell him I was collecting all his books and then discovering I didn’t like them very much.”

Also, he proudly confessed “I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas”

In this light, it became a desperate necessity for me to read Elric of Melnibone (the first book in Moorcock’s epic fantasy series) and check out what exactly was he trying to prove.

In my humble opinion, Moorcock has been true to his word. He is indeed “… a bad writer with big ideas…”

The story

Elric is an albino emperor of a race of dragon lords. Even with his sorceries, he seems a weakling and his cousin Yyrkoon attempts to usurp power from him. The attempt fails and the villain is imprisoned, but he escapes from prison and flees to a distant land and abducts Elric’s beloved — Cymoril. To reach him and rescue his love, Elric needs to seek help from the manipulative chaos lords, use sorceries, travel to the netherworld and most importantly, requires a ship that can travel over land and sea. What happens next?

What’s good

The underdeveloped yet innovative concepts: A mirror that can steal memories, a ship that can travel over land and sea, and swords that can exert their own will deserve mention. The gods, including the chaos lord, are intriguing.

The story is descent enough and it is certainly not a LoTR clone. It could have reached epic proportions in more mature hands. Elric of Melnibone is a fairly fast and action packed tale. The author has enough sense to wrap up the story in 200 pages.

What’s not so good

The writing is juvenile at best. The dialogues are a joke. The characters are one dimensional and underdeveloped. The world building is highly flawed. The plot lacks depth.

The protagonist is weak (that was deliberate though) and unlikable. The villain seems weaker and not up to the job. The female lead is rather boring.

Too simplistic to be iconic

Perhaps it is. Compared to G.RR Matrin and Tolkien, Elric seems to be Kindergarten stuff. However, the first book isn’t the entire series. I am going to read the next books in the series and also The History of the Runestaff. It is widely regarded that Moorcock’s later writings have more subtlety, better prose and improved insights. It is undeniable that he influenced a generation of writers and that must be for a reason.

To sum up, Elric, unlike The Hobbit or LoTR, is not a work of art. Tolkiens’s philological scholarship, his deep knowledge of mythology, and his world-building skills are virtually non-existent in Moorcock’s saga and it doesn’t look like the later books would match up to Tolkien’s high standards. However, a reader of the genre cannot afford to miss the Elric series simply because of its cult status and atypical approach. It least Moorcock dared to step out of Tolkien’s long shadow and that in itself is an achievement.

: Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

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News from the Book World / Opinion & Featured Articles

The Deadly Bookish Tank

free-book-tank-library-weapon-of-mass-instruction-raul-lemesoff-9

To celebrate World Book Day on 5th March, Raul Lemesoff — an artist from Argentina — has created what he calls “Arma de Instruccion Masiva” or Weapon of Mass Instruction. This is a travelling library he intends to use to combat ignorance and spread knowledge. For this campaign, Raul has visited remote, impoverished towns in Argentina where almost half the children do not have the privilege of going to school.

What exactly is this weapon? It’s a 1979 Ford Falcon that has a rotating turret, a pseudo gun and about 900 books, which include poetry, novels and biographies. Raul offers books for free and his only request to people is to read the book he has given them. Isn’t that great?

Apart from promoting knowledge and education, this symbolic campaign also aims to “to contribute to peace through literature.” Awesome work Mr Lemesoff.

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Horror / Fantasy / SF / Reviews

Book Review: The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Harry potter book review

Belated happy new year to my blogger friends! Finally managed to sneak out again from the miserable real world to the blogosphere. It had been a great year and hope you had a great one too. For me, the year moved at a break neck speed and The Book Haven was left stranded while its captain was a stranger in a strange land.

The major bookish achievement this year was to finish the Harry Potter Series (yeah, the movies too). Alright, it’s not retro and doesn’t belong to this blog. Also, I admit I was hopelessly prejudiced against the Potter boy and Rowling before taking up Philosopher’s Stone reluctantly. It was one of my friends who argued that it was a rubbish attitude to make fun of sometime without reading it. I couldn’t answer and decided to make a point by reading the book.

So I finished the first book. And had to eat my own words.

Blimey! Why on earth I kept pushing it away for so long? The Philosopher’s Stone was as original as Tolkien’s LoTR. Of course, it lacked the depth of a classic and was not a work of art created by a professor of Anglo-Saxon, but there’s no denying that it was way ahead of most books in the genre.

Movie: 3.5 / 5 (pretty descent stuff)

Chamber of Secrets is possibly the best book in the series in terms of plot. Basilisk and Tom Riddle’s diary were freaking awesome. And who could forget the flying car over Muggle London? God, the series was getting better and better.

Movie: 4/ 5 (Quite quite good)

The Prisoner of Azkaban felt like a letdown though. Sirius Black and Lupin were great characters; the dementors were creepy, but overall the plot seemed weak.

Movie: 2.5/ 5 (Meh! Cool special effects though)

With The Goblet of Fire, Rowling was back in form. The Triwizard tournament was outright genius. I believe, it was from this novel that the series started to take a dark turn. The book had a really eerie beginning and introduced Nagini, Voldemort’s infernal pet.

Movie: 3/ 5 (Not bad)

The Order of the Phoenix had some outstanding moments. Battle of the Ministry is perhaps the best thing about it. Bellatrix murdered Sirius Black – dang, that was a shock (thought he and James were both better than Bellatrix).

I believe it is virtually impossible to invent a character more annoying that Dolores Umbridge. Cool job by Rowling! However, the plot seemed loose and without purpose. Rowling seemed to describe the daily life at Hogwarts without any intention of going further and things fell in line again only towards the end.

Movie: 3/ 5 (Nothing very special here)

Sectumsempra! Aren’t you bleeding yet from the curse invented by the Half-blood price? Fantastic plot, great speed, dark magic, perilous missions, shocking betrayals, and tragic end. Wow!  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince deserves to be one of your favourite novels in the series. If not for anything else, you can remember it simply because of the ghastly concept of Horcrux.

Movie: 3.5/ 5 (Lives up to the expectations)

The epic conclusion. The Deathly Hollows is my favourite book in the series. This one is truly tragic in tone from the beginning till the end. Incredible action, unforeseen twists, meticulously crafted characters and dialogues make the concluding episode an unforgettable journey. The battle of Hogwarts is nothing short of epic. What a finish. Avada Kedavra!

Movie – The Deathly Hollows Part I: 4/ 5 (Great job)

Movie – The Deathly Hollows Part 2: 4.5/ 5 (Best in the series)

I would rate Harry Potter series at par with Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. It’s not The Lord of the Rings or The Game of Thrones but then it doesn’t need to be. Harry Potter is best the way it is.

The movies could have been better. They were cartoonish to begin with and gradually improved but none of them were like The Two Towers. What a pity!

What do you think of the Harry Potter series?
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Cover of the Week

Vintage Cover Art (Rowena Morrill): Isobel by Jane Parkhurst

Rowena Morrill vintage cover art

Rowena Morrill is a SF and fantasy artist who has some really great vintage pulp covers to her credit. The above illustration is from the horror novel Isobel by Jane Parkhurst. Even by the high standard of vintage pulp covers, this one stands out as an outstanding example of compelling horror artwork, which has altogether vanished due to some incomprehensible reason. Can you feel the evocation of the dark? Does it give you the creeps?

In his blog  Too much horror fiction, Will mentions that this was Morrill’s first cover art. Too good a debut even for someone too talented!

Here is the front cover of the paperback:

vintage cover art

 

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Opinion & Featured Articles

Top 5 High School Dropout Writers

high school dropout

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” — Oscar Wilde

Of course, B Schools can’t teach you to be Steve Jobs or Bill gates. And a doctorate in literature can’t make you Harper Lee. There’s no denying the fact that no investment pays like education, but some people are just too good and lack of formal education can’t stop them from being famous. Here are five legendary writers who showed us they don’t need a degree in literature to write timeless classics.

Charles Dickens

charles dickens
The well loved author of The Pickwick Papers permanently dropped out of school when he was 15 and started working as a clerk in a solicitor’s office. Financial difficulties ruined his chances of completing education. ”Although I am not an educated man, I am able, I am thankful to say, to have an intelligent interest in most things.” Who dare question the talent of Charles John Huffam Dickens?


Rabindranath Tagore

rabindranath tagore

The first non-European to win Nobel Prize in literature never attended school. Widely considered as one of the most creative artists of the modern era, Tagore wrote novels, poems, plays and was also famous for his paintings.  He is the only person who wrote national anthems for two countries — India and Bangladesh. Tagore had a great circle of friends, which included Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Romain Rolland among others.

Mark twainMark Twain

Who can earth could twist English language better than good old Mark Twain? The author of the great American novels — The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — dropped out of school when he was just twelve and became a printer’s apprentice. Considered as one of the greatest American humorists of all time and regarded as the father of American literature by Faulkner, Mark Twain proved that you can earn respect as well as fortune without education.

William Faulkners   William Faulkner

Faulkner started off pretty well as a student, lost it somewhere in the middle and never graduated from high school. The struggling student eventually became a Nobel Prize laureate and wrote classics like The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom that are considered among the best English language novels of the 20th century.

George bernard shawGeorge Bernard Shaw

“Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”

Shaw is possibly the most perfect example of a self educated artist and was an outspoken critic of school education. He was a voracious reader, and a dedicated student of art, literature and history. However, he had little faith in formal education and dropped out of school when he was fourteen. Remember Pygmalion? You can make a person erudite and sophisticated without imposing the burden of school education, can’t you?

 

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