I Lost My Cherry to a White Wolf
MICHAEL J WARD ON MICHAEL MOORCOCK
There are many authors that have influenced my writing, but without a doubt, it was Michael Moorcock who really opened my eyes to the true potential of the fantasy/sci-fi genre. You see, in some ways before I stumbled on his works I was something of a literary virgin.
When I was a teenager I was a bit of an outcast. Having moved town at the age of eleven I found it difficult to make new friends. It probably didn’t help that I had absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever (did anyone in the eighties?), so the scruffy blue anorak and oversized spectacles probably weren’t going to get me invited to any parties.
Thankfully that wasn’t too much of a problem as I enjoyed my own company (well someone had to) and took to gaming and reading with a passion. When I wasn’t guiding my pixelated heroes to victory on my ZX Spectrum 48K (a beast of a machine at the time), I was devouring as much fantasy as I could – and of course, playing my fair share of gamebooks.
But like I said, I was a literary virgin. Having discovered the magic of role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, much of the fantasy literature I was drawn to at the time was written in a similar heroic mould. Series such as the Dragonlance Chronicles (Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman), The Shannara Trilogy (Terry Brooks) and The Belgariad (David Eddings) featured your usual likeable heroes, thrown together by fate to complete some epic quest. I’m not knocking that, it’s a tried and tested formula, but everything I was exposed to at the time had a similar feel. And I was happy with that. This was fantasy to me. I felt I knew the genre and much of my own scribblings at the time were very much my own attempts to replicate this D&D feel in storybook form.
Then I met another geek. We sort of gravitated to each other at school (No doubt our anoraks got tangled together at some point.) I’d often seen him reading cool-looking books and some were most certainly fantasy. When we finally got talking, he asked me what I was reading. When I told him he sort of snorted dismissively. I was hoping he just had a bad cold or perhaps some nervous condition, but it became clear that he was snubbing my reading tastes. He handed me a book entitled ‘Weird of the White Wolf’ by Michael Moorcock. The cover looked like something from a hard rock album, with an angst-ridden protagonist plunging his blade into the chest of a downed warrior. I was sold.
In fact, you could say I lost my cherry to that book. From the comparative safety of D&D and various Tolkein-esque worlds, I was suddenly plunged into the chaotic maelstrom of Michael Moorcock’s imagination, and what a wonderfully creative and awe-inspiring chaos it was. It was the literary equivalent of growing your hair long, getting seriously laid, smoking too many joints and then howling at the moon.
Gone were the sappy goody-goody heroes and plot-threads you could comfortably second guess in a second. Here was something different, unpredictable and a little bit dangerous. That blade-thrusting protagonist with the rock star attitude turned out to be Elric of Melniboné, one of the most fabulous literary creations I have ever come across. In many ways he was first true anti-hero, a brooding and introspective outcast (no surprises I felt right at home there) who was also a bit of a wimp. You see, his albinism has left him weak, forcing him to use drugs (sorry, herbs) to boost his ailing health. But once he discovers the sinister magical sword Stormbringer (the prototype for all bad-ass rune swords to come – yeah, Arthas, I’m looking at you), he is transformed into a blade-dancing mofo with serious attitude. If this all sounds a little like certain other recent popular characters then… well, I’ll leave that one for the lawyers to argue over.
‘Weird of the White Wolf’ served as my gateway to the rest of Moorcock’s canon, and what an amazing trippy world it was to explore – or worlds, I should say. You see, as well as Elric of Melniboné, Moorcock had created a whole pantheon of heroes, some based in different eras, others on completely different worlds (but all linked by his ‘eternal hero’ mechanic, a sort of fantasy equivalent of Dr Who’s incarnations). All of these heroes, from the maimed Prince Corum to the gender-bending secret agent Jerry Cornelius, were multi-faceted and believable, most of them melancholy outcasts looking for their place in the world, victims of fate if you like. And fate (as well as the powers of Law and Chaos) would feature heavily across Moorcock’s works.
There are plenty of nods to the wondrous Michael Moorcock in my own DestinyQuest gamebooks – and his novel ‘The Ice Schooner’ (a work of sheer genius in my opinion) was a huge influence on my third book ‘The Eye of Winter’s Fury’.
I guess it goes without saying that I would urge any fantasy lover (and especially those gamers with a fondness for a certain ‘Witcher’) to check out his books. Even in today’s fantasy market, saturated with anti-heroes and dark fantasy, there are few writers in my opinion who can match the brooding majesty of Moorcock’s universe.
So here’s to you Michael John Moorcock. You burnt my anorak and blew my mind.