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Old 27th September 2007, 04:25 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Moorcock's "Great Themes"

Well, the Moorcock subforum has been a bit moribund of late, so I'll throw one out there:

Who here is up to a discussion of some of Moorcock's "Great Themes" -- by which I mean those things which have been themes examined in his work throughout his career. For example:

"Romance" vs. Reality; our tendency to mistake ritual for substance; the fact that humanity is the first (so far as we know) species capable of not only adapting to the environment, but making our environment adapt to us, and whether this is true or not; how far we can adopt to our environment (I'm thinking in particular of some of the points he makes in The Blood Red Game and elsewhere); Law (Order) vs. Misrule (Chaos) -- the strengths and weaknesses of both, how they are each a part of our nature, the tendency to strive for a balance between them and how that struggle is what ensures we remain a dynamic species (with a proliferation of possibilities) while an extreme on either end leads to stultification and extinction; our ability (and need?) to create the myths we then live by -- and why we create particular myths at particular times -- and the benefits and dangers inherent in doing so (such as holding onto particular myths once they have outlived their usefulness, becoming straitjacketed by them; or contrariwise having such a confusion of myths that they conflict and therefore cause conflict rather than providing structure); etc., etc., etc.

Now, it seems to me, as someone who has read the majority of his work from the Sojan stories onward, that he has had many of these themes at the core of his work from the beginning, sometimes emphasizing one more than the others, but usually with all present in one form or another; and that he argues different sides of each of these questions at different times -- this being one of the strengths of his metaphor of the Eternal War, with the different aspects of the Champion being exemplars of different positions taken on these issues.

My question is: is anyone here interested in discussing any of this, or is this simply getting too abstract or esoteric for it to be interesting? Along with that: what other themes do others see in his work? Do you feel he uses these themes well or not? How do you feel he's grown as a writer in dealing with these ideas (some of which -- the ability/need for creating myths to live by, for instance -- he shares with, say, Ballard)? And does anyone have other, similar points, they'd like to throw out for discussion?

Any thoughts?
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Old 27th September 2007, 06:34 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

I think the Law vs Chaos theme that runs through many of the stories is very interesting and the end result of the argument being that balance between the two is the ideal that is desired

I'm also interested in the creation of myths, especially after reading the books of Hawkmoon where the Granbretanians have warships named after political figures from the 1960's and 70's and gives them the status of mythalogical heroes
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Old 27th September 2007, 11:01 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

Hi, JDW,

Great idea, this thread.

Law versus Chaos, or Order against Disorder in Moorcock's works is something that has always interested me. The concept of duality—or non-duality— fascinates me.

Well, you already said everything on the matter. What could my contribution be?

I could say that M.M. clearly does not set multiverses in which two forces act in an irreducible way. I don't see Manichaeism in him because, as you say, those are two components of the human heart. Equilibrium is the aim, not the destruction of adversaries. It is, in my opinion, more an oriental vision of the world, in which black and white create a chequered pattern, or all possible shades of grey.
Neither should prevail. Domination of one (action, creation, expansion) on the other (receptivity, destruction, and organisation) leads to incompleteness and death.

Law versus Chaos corresponds to a cycle of transformation. Law brings order and status quo, which in turn beget immobility; therefore, Chaos has a necessary role of disruption. From such crisis, a new order emerges, ready to enter the next phase of status quo and immobility.

As I understand Moorcock’s system, Chaos is the realm of possibilities, of ideas susceptible of transformation into things. However, nothing can exist without Order setting those uncountable possibilities into frames, infinity into limited reality. Chaos is life without pattern, and life cannot exist without form that contains it. Chaos is infinite potential. Law is the weft that organises this potential, orienting it towards a direction. And the fabric woven with the thread of Chaos and the weft of Order is our visible world, the fabric of our reality, the sensible world made of phenomena: it is what we see and what we believe we can change.

Little do we know…

If this is so, Moorcock’s vision excludes a duality of Good and Evil, given that reality is made of chaos plus order. But, at the same time, the individual is caught in the net of destiny, like Elric when he encounters a deity—reminiscent of owl-eyed Athena speaking to Odysseus. A god tells Elric what he must do. The mortal – even the Emperor or the Champion— cannot revolt against it.
The same weltanshaaung inspired the Ancient Greeks. It is the definition of classical tragedy.

How can the individual choose, if Fate is woven into the world, not as some written destiny but as uncertain outcome of equilibrium—or lack of equilibrium—of ever-moving, superior scales?



Last edited by Giovanna Clairval; 27th September 2007 at 11:03 PM. Reason: Edit: it came out longer than I expected...
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Old 28th September 2007, 01:25 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

What an interesting thread! Unfortunately, I haven't read any of Moorcock's work (though I will seek it out, now), but Giovanna directed me towards this discussion, although I am only qualified to comment on the general point. I daresay I am putting myself in the line of some spoilers, here, but don't worry about that.

So what can I say, given what has already been said, and given my ignorance of the work?

Do we see dualities because they are actually there in nature, or do we see dualities in nature because we have to try and make simple sense of a complex, incomprehensible reality? I see the distinction between Order and Chaos as a very human thing. In the universe at large, one might argue that they are indistinguishable? In that sense, a dualistic vision of Order vs. Chaos is perhaps only an updating of the old tradition of seeing Good and Evil?
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Old 29th September 2007, 11:15 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

Some very good posts here... thanks; this is what I had in mind... getting a genuine discussion of such things going, batting ideas on them back and forth....

Sephiroth... Moorcock is so prolific, and so variable, that it's hard to know where to begin; so I'd either go with your particular interest in type of story, or start with what is often called the "first" book in the series, The Eternal Champion, which sets forth (in somewhat simpler, though not necessarily simplistic, terms) many of the ideas, themes, and metaphors Moorcock deals with throughout his fiction. (Not to mention that it has a somewhat uncharacteristic action taken by a hero, if you will....)

G.C.: Have you read Moorcock's early essay on the cosmology and underpinnings of the Elric series? Though heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism, he also blended in other things as well; and he's stated (both in essays and in the fiction itself) that the idea of pure evil is -- to use his phrasing -- like pure madness... it tends to be inane, even stupid; hence he seldom has a character who is simply evil, or even turns to evil, without them also being quite deficient and corrupted both mentally and physically....

Urlik... I'd tend to agree, in a sense, that it's an ideal... in the almost strict sense of that word. But even there, I think, from my reading, he'd be cautious about applying it too strongly, as it is the variety and complexity that allows for dynamic growth, and even establishing an "ideal" equilibrium is likely to stultify that to some degree.... Would you agree with that, or do you read it otherwise?

At any rate... glad to have some really good, thoughtful responses here. Thanks....
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Old 29th September 2007, 11:26 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

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Originally Posted by j. d. worthington View Post

G.C.: Have you read Moorcock's early essay on the cosmology and underpinnings of the Elric series?
I had not, but I am reading it now. Thank you, J.D., for the information.

In Search of Creative Solitude in Modern Fantasy: An Essay on the Fascination with Evil
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Old 30th September 2007, 01:19 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

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Originally Posted by Giovanna Clairval View Post
I had not, but I am reading it now. Thank you, J.D., for the information.

In Search of Creative Solitude in Modern Fantasy: An Essay on the Fascination with Evil
Actually, that was not the one I had in mind... so thank you! I've not read this one yet, so I look forward to it. The one I was thinking of was simply titled "Elric", was written in 1963 for Niekas, and reprinted in the Savoy Books collection Sojan and later in the DAW collection Elric at the End of Time.

I'll see if I can find a copy of this online....
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Old 30th September 2007, 01:59 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

Well, I've not been able to find that particular piece from Niekas by Mike... though I've seen others online (such as some dealing with PKD). However, those two books do show up in second-hand shops a fair amount (especially as they're a bit of a mixed bag, given that a lot of it is very early stuff), so you may be able to find it without too much trouble... or you might write or email Moorcock (or ask the people on Moorcock's Miscellany) how to get a copy of the thing....
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Old 30th September 2007, 05:10 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

I don't think I'd find the book in Paris, but I'll email the guys.
Thanks.
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Old 30th September 2007, 06:46 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

j.d., from what you say, The Eternal Champion sounds like a good place to start. Thanks for the recommendation.

Giovanna, the article you linked to is very interesting.

This subject is one close to my heart, one I have given a lot of thought to while planning and writing my own work. My initial eagerness to emulate the 'master', as I saw it (Tolkien), meant that I intended falling into the same trap as so many aspiring writers. I would write a mediaeval, 'sword and sorcery' tale hinging upon the struggle between Good and Evil.

I soon realised that it would be a big mistake, not only because it has all been done before (and by better writers than me), but more fundamentally, because I could not reconcile it with my vision of 'how things are'. While I said above that I see 'Chaos vs. Order' as a modern reinterpretation of 'Good and Evil', it has the benefit of not assigning moral absolutes to characters. Now, at the most fundamental level, my entire story revolves around the question of 'Conservatism vs. Change'.

Regarding the article, one thing I find striking is that he equates creative solitude with virtue. Being a solitary creative, I might be tempted to agree, but we are, after all, social creatures, and our morality centres upon the dos and don'ts of interpersonal interaction.

It seems to me that the preference for one or other vision says more about the observer than anything else. Those of a conservative bent, who take comfort from law and order and are skeptical of change, will undoubtedly find stories of 'restoration' or 'consolation' more fulfilling. I tend to feel more affinity for the vision that emphasises chaos, change and unintended consequences, and I look for meaning in that, rather than hoping it will be controlled and subdued by conservative forces.

As I said, it seems to me that we humans have a way of taking a unity and turning it into a dialectic. The big question is, are we right? Do we perceive a measure of universal truth with our minds? Or are we simply making sense of something that, otherwise, would make none?
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Old 30th September 2007, 04:00 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

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Originally Posted by Sephiroth View Post

As I said, it seems to me that we humans have a way of taking a unity and turning it into a dialectic. The big question is, are we right? Do we perceive a measure of universal truth with our minds? Or are we simply making sense of something that, otherwise, would make none?
Interesting post, Sephiroth. I am on the side of Chaos too…

What you say about dialectic deserves a little discussion.

You say that humans take unity and make a dialectic out of it. The Chinese of the Cultural Revolution—a sad memory—would say “One is divided in two”.
But this is one interpretation of Hegel’s dialectic.

According to Hegel, dialectic is thesis and antithesis resolving into synthesis, where synthesis is a higher point on a spiral of transformation, and contains elements of both.
I would say, “two becomes three, and three is one”. Duality becomes unity.

In the light of the above, the word “dialectic” does not mean utterly separate opposition, inasmuch both poles contribute to the creation of something new (see Moorcock).

I think that the Tolkienesque struggle between Evil and Good amounts, in an allegoric way, to the very ancient expedient summarised into the sentence:
"It's ain’t me. It's him (or her, when she’s a witch)!".
This was used during any witch-hunt of any times.

We, Eternal Adolescents, put Evil outside and call it an Orc or a Non-Christian or a Goy or a Non-Muslim, or a Revisionist, and create the Devil or Sauron as a personification of Bad.
Nations do that. When Louis XIV had some troubles within France, it went a-battling in the Flanders.

We believe that conflicts and dark drives are not within; ergo they can be fought, cornered and killed.
Isn’t Warhammer an interpretation—a one-sided interpretation—of Moorcock’s Chaos and Order?

Now, let us consider the initial trilogy of Drizzt do’ Urden, the black elf, by R. A. Salvatore. The trilogy of the drow is one of the best books for teenagers I've ever read (the rest of the series... the author surely wrote it to pay the mortgage of his country mansion).
Drizzt is a good boy born in a town built in a glittering cavern, where everyone else is bad, and evil women rule (mum and older sisters). His journey towards adulthood leads him away from his subterranean home (the unconscious mind, and mum), and drives him up where the stars shine, into the world of humans, who can be bad or good, depending on their choices (the principle of reality as opposed to the principle or pleasure, which alone directs the child and the immature).
Victory comes to the young who masters the demons within, and uses them en lieu of being used by them.

A person can choose to undertake a struggle to become one. It is what Carl Gustav Jung called “individualisation”.
In the Mahabharata, old Krishna says, “Resist what resists in you. Become yourself”.

It is not a mainstream point of view in these latitudes. Thinking that reality is not divided in two halves, and neither chaos nor order exist outside the human being, well, this takes some courage.

Oh, as usual, I was carried away…

Edit: The link I posted leads to an essay that is interesting, but was not written by Moorcock, was it?

Last edited by Giovanna Clairval; 30th September 2007 at 04:46 PM.
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Old 30th September 2007, 05:59 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

Excerpts and quotations of Moorcock's essay "The Secret Life of Elric of Melniboné" are published here and there on the Internet, without any mention of the source (for those I saw).


The only complete version I could find on line is a French translation. I post it here à tout hasard.


http://perso.orange.fr/sf-fantasy/forums/dossier/commmoorcock.htm

It is a fascinating read.
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Old 1st October 2007, 12:53 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

Thanks for posting that... even though I don't read French....

Good discussion, folks. Sephiroth, I'd agree that we do have a tendency to create these contasting Manichean ideas as a simpler way of handling things; in a sense, that's one of the things Moorcock is addressing with his out-and-out fantasy work: out reliance on simplistic myth to resolve complex issues, and how turning to such a shallow view of things continually trips us up, yet at the same time, dealing with the complexity often pits a person against the view of the majority, who do seem to prefer simple answers -- witness Elric, who, the more he strives to avoid falling into traditional roles and become a more developed person, the more bewildered and lost he becomes... yet whenever he does simply go for the roles laid out for him, it destroys the very things and people he holds dear....

And G.C.... as intimated above, I agree: it takes a great deal of courage to deny that evil (as also good) lies outside us; they are purely human concepts with no absolute application in a universe which has no such innate values. This is not to deny that other types of life develop "morals" -- they do, morals (or ethics) being the adjustment of any organism to the dynamics of its environment to achieve equilibrium leading to the maximum benefit for individual and species (in normative conditions) -- but that the human version of such is more complex or intellectualized, and also externalized, because of the way our brains have evolved. However, projecting those things on the universe serves the dual (at least) purpose of allowing us to feel entitled because we have a concept of how things "ought to be", rather than how they are, and therefore a sense of righteous indignation and "getting our own" when we strike out from a sense of disappointment because the universe turns out not to behave that way....

Incidentally... this theme has seen a lot of very broad (in the heroic fantasy) and very subtle (in the Cornelius, Pyat, and other books) depictions and explorations, and ties in with the "Eternal Fool" idea, I'd say. I think one of the best examples of this is Rickhart von Bek in The Brothel in Rosenstrasse, where the playing out of fantasies in parallels the society outside the brothel's walls, with the breaking down of both the micro- and macrocosm as both the sexual and the political aspects of life (and the aspect of the politics of sex, for that matter) become increasingly distorted as certain characters strive to maintain an ideal they've developed without regard to the destruction brought about by that ideal's clash with reality; another, of course, being the Pyat of the Reminiscences of Mrs. Cornelius Between the Wars.....

If you're interested, I had a go at some thoughts on Brothel in an earlier thread...

http://www.chronicles-network.com/fo...301-post5.html
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Old 3rd October 2007, 07:01 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

j.d., your description of Moorcock's work has put him right up at the top of my list of authors I intend to read just as soon as I can afford to buy some more books. It's a shame that I currently miss the references. But I find very satisfying the social reality that I perceive in this kind of portrayal.

As you say, we are emotionally well-served by projecting our ethical framework onto the world around us. And this projection is something we have done from before we understood what was going on. I often wonder what it would mean for us to reach a point where nobody did this anymore. I don't think we would recognise ourselves.

Order must battle chaos, after all the drama we expect from our authors would hardly exist otherwise, but if the line can be blurred in places so that we're not sure which is which, or even which one to root for; for me, that is more exciting than the inevitability of the more simplistic approach. These conflicts taking place as much within the characters as between them, that's what I really want to see.

Giovanna, what you say is very interesting. You're right, it's not a mainstream view to hold, I think most people would associate order with creation, and chaos with destruction, which is essentially still the old dualism. The dialectic is a more subtle and accurate description of reality. But for me, this only remains true provided it does not assume that the something new is necessarily an evolution or improvement. The consequence of the 'dialectic' intercourse (if we can still call it that, not as Hegel envisioned it) can be detrimental, or even complete systems collapse. Even that is not only an end, of course, but also a new beginning, conjuring up visions of the Orient, again; the wheel of dharma, the doctrines of reincarnation and of the cycles of ages, and the Taoist taijitu.

The Eastern philosophies have always fascinated me, since they instantly give the lie to the idea that the path of Western cultural development, with its emphasis on dualism and eternal, mortal combat between opposing sides, is an inevitable, 'natural' result of stages in human development.
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Old 3rd October 2007, 08:51 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Moorcock's "Great Themes"

The Law/Chaos theme run by gods ended in the Corum books. I love the religious theme to these books that in fact we create our own gods and the let them rule us. The balance was the one core part of the eternal champion books it didn't matter which side our hero/anti hero was on he was their to restore the weight from on side to the other, a cosmic harmony if you will. Dancers on the other hand had no real Law/Chaos theme but then again everyone was godlike anyway.
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