“The Eternal Champion” – Better than Expected?!
Since I am, in fact, the kind of person who eats entire books on the regular, I tend to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of content to read. Sometimes, I find gems in these dredges, like when I picked up the third novel in the Dragonvarld trilogy… without having the first two. That one shocked me by having the audacity of being quite good. Much like Intertops Red Casino bonus codes.
More commonly, however, are the novels that are mediocre (“Damia”), gross (“Exiles at the Well of Souls”), or, worst of all, just plain ol’ boring (“The Swords Trilogy”). This was a very strange coincidence regarding that last one because, by complete accident, I read “The Sword Trilogy”‘s predecessor, “The Eternal Champion”- and found myself enjoying it noticeably more.
Hey, and you know what’s really enjoyable? Getting a sword of your own from Naginata to hold while reading this book.
As the respectable and professional book reviewer that I am, I promise to never, ever make any of the obvious jokes regarding Michael Moorcock’s name. Unless it’s really funny.
Mr. Moorcock, as it turns out, is the kind of author who must write like Steven King on crack cocaine. His library of work is very impressive, featuring dozens of short stories, novels, anthologies, graphic novels, and sagas. He’s one of those very influential British authors that you probably have never heard of, and, like all influential British authors, he’s put his name somewhere on Doctor Who.
In Moorcock’s case, it was a 2010 Doctor Who novel called “The Coming of the Terraphiles”, which, presumably, is about a bunch of people who really, really like the Earth, and everyone happily has a picnic there. What could possibly go wrong?
The Eternal Champion
This story follows the adventures of John Daker, a 20th-century British man who just so happens to be called away when needed to other timelines and dimensions as a warrior-hero destined to save the day of those who summoned him.
“The Eternal Champion” begins with John Daker being called into a realm where he is known as Erekose, and he is a legend come to life. John- now going by Erekose, learns that an aging King named Rigenos summoned him as a last, desperate measure to defeat the warmongering Eldren, who could, at any moment, begin their invasion and use their dark magics to wipe out Humanity. Erekose takes up the task of wiping out the Erekose, as determined by a feeling of loyalty towards his fellow man and the incentive of Princess Iolinda’s hand in marriage upon his victory.
But Erekose begins to get doubts once he actually meets these Eldren on the field of battle…
It’s hard to deny that Moorcock has a wild, imaginative world with which he sets his stories. While it’s certainly not as iconic as the worlds of Middle-Earth, Westeros, or the Galaxy of Star Wars, it stands out because of how wild, chaotic, and sometimes random it can be. Moorcock’s world might be called “Earth”, but it’s an Earth from another reality. Another timeline. Another universe of Gods and magic- yet never the same one.
The whims of fate and destiny might control one story but not the next. Magic and monsters sometimes exist and sometimes are merely sciences so advanced they might as well be magic. This immense variation within the setting as John Daker gets forcefully reincarnated from one story to the next, bearing a new name and identity, allows for many different themes to play out, but with the consequences only affecting our hero rather than the setting.
In fact, the whole idea of “The Eternal Champion” (the character) is really cool. John Daker is forcefully summoned from one realm or timeline to the next in order to fight some battle. He’s essentially immortal, as death is no barrier to his summoning. So long as someone, or a group, desires his presence enough, John Daker will come, bearing the traits and skills expected of that universe, that timelines legend of their Champion.
This cyclical nature to John Baker’s life and the tragic loss he must undergo whenever he’s dragged from whatever peace he has made for himself. It reminds me of the Undead Curse from “Dark Souls”, where you only ever truly die when you give up your Humanity and go mad.
There’s also the story’s magic system, which is both creatively brilliant and completely unfathomable. What’s possible in one story isn’t possible in another, despite the fact that they’re all connected. It’s not so much a plot hole as the fact that it’s inconsistently present.
Magic is a real part of this universe, but half the time, what is supposed to be magic ends up being science-fiction technology. Or just normal technology, in unusual settings. It would certainly make Brandon Sanderson reel in horror, but it certainly adds to the sheer weirdness of Moorcock’s stories.
Where I think Michael Moorcock is weakest is in his prose. A lot of it is probably because his writing is dated (“The Eternal Champion” was published in the seventies, although his work has been published since the early sixties). A lot of it feels very stiff and prude, without a lot of personality behind it.
The writing feels sort of detached from the character whose head we’re supposed to be in, despite the fact that the narration is very much third-person limited. This is just a common way these books were written before more modern authors really added life and character to stories that just wasn’t a thing yet in the sixties and seventies.
It makes the characters feel like they’re on stage, waiting to say their line, rather than a real person reacting like a human as they’re thrust from one ridiculous scenario to the next.
The entire human race ends up getting wiped out.
Hey, it is called the “Spoiler Section”, after all. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
I wanted to take a moment to talk through “The Eternal Champion’s” ending. While a more amateur story would have the hero come in, save the day, and get the princess (and even some of Moorcock’s other works go this route), “The Eternal Champion” plays out quite differently.
From the outset, Erekose is told of the evils of Eldren, who have silver tongues and dark magic and can never be trusted. Even kindly, King Rigenos foams at the mouth with fury and disgust whenever he speaks of them.
Erekose keeps all this in mind when he finally meets the Eldren, an elfin face with large, wide mouths, in a naval battle as Humanity takes the offensive. Humans overpower the Eldren fleet and even manage to hook the flagship.
However, before giving the order to board, a momentary truce is offered where the Eldren are given the option to surrender. Erekose offers a battle of champions, where the Eldren will be let free if their Champion wins. While the Eldren considers the offer, however, King Rigenos orders the archers to open fire. The truce is violated, and the betrayed Eldren fight to the last man, knowing there was no point in allowing themselves to be taken, prisoner.
Erekose is shocked by this and is shocked further still by King Rigenos when they march on a city full of only women and children because all the men had died in the naval battle. Erekose begs the King for mercy but finds the humans horrifyingly ruthless in their wanton rampage and slaughter. Erekose hides himself in his room and tries to drown the sounds of wailing women and children with wine.
This trend continues, and as Erekose meets more Eldren (including their hostage, the Eldren princess Ermizhad), Erekose soon finds himself torn more and more between his loyalty to Iolanda, the human race, and his sympathy toward the Eldren. This comes to a head when Iolanda demands that Erekose make a choice: Either wipe out all the Eldren, or lose Iolanda. Erekose, thinking with his Moorcock, vows to wipe out the Eldren.
He nearly does it too. Once only a single city of Eldren remains, he loses his strength to continue on this crusade and seeks peace. The Eldren are surprisingly okay with forgiving Erekose, despite nearly completely genociding them.
Now, this is when the plot really turns its head. Iolanda, now Queen after her father is killed in battle, declares Erekose a traitor and demands his head. Erekose flees for the Eldren stronghold and assists them in defending against the human besiegers.
When all seems lost, Erekose begs the Eldren to let him use their secret weaponry that they swore to never use. This is when the Eldren leader brings Erekose to their underground armory, shows him a room full of tanks, machine guns, and rockets, and asks, “Do you think your monkey brain could understand how any of this works?!”
To which Erekose, being of the 20th century, grabs some guns off the wall and is all like, “Heck yeah, boys, now we’re talking!”
He then proceeds to kill a million invading men in less than two hours and then just keeps on killing humans until there are literally none left. Yep, he just genocides all of Humanity.
It’s a shocking ending that I really wasn’t at all expecting. It feels more like a conclusion to an episode of “The Twilight Zone” than a typical fantasy novel. I can’t think of a single other novel that ends with the “hero” genociding all of Humanity. Even Ender only massacred Buggers, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy STARTS with the extinction of Humanity as a punchline- but it gets fixed by the end. It’s a bold choice that reflects the really ham-fisted moral of the story.
All in all, I like “The Eternal Champion”, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s not for everyone. The prose is a bit too prestigious and is probably a bit dry for most people’s tastes.
However, after coming off the very wooden characters Moorcock wrote in the directly connected “Swords Trilogy”, the fact that there’s any moral conflict between characters at all, rather than the latter’s more black and white good / evil split, is quite refreshing.
Moorcock certainly likes his morals with his story, and while I don’t think the “Humans were the real monsters all along” message is quite as compelling as the “Swords’” anti-complacency message, I do think that “The Eternal Champion” is far more compelling character work. While Erekose and Corum might technically be the same character, Erekose seems far more personable than the other.
5 / 10 Has its moments. The ending really took me by surprise. The characters are better here than in other Moorcock’s works I have read, but not phenomenal.