There are three fantasy milestones in my life, Tolkien, Moorcock, and George RR Martin. Despite his success I still feel the need to qualify Martin with a first name – Tolkien and Moorcock have reached the bedrock status where surname alone will do it.
Tolkien and Moorcock had the most profound effect on me, coming into my experience very early on. I was seven when my mother read me Lord of the Rings, twelve when I started hunting down Moorcock in second-hand bookshops in the late seventies.
Tolkien showed me the majesty of fantasy, painting a vast sweeping story with detail and passion and care. Moorcock showed me raw imagination and energy, pushing back the boundaries of fantasy on every side, a psychedelic explosion of colours flung at the canvas with wild abandon. Moorcock in his 1978 essay ‘Epic Pooh’ makes it clear that his own writing is a rebellion against the form and ethos of the works of Tolkien and others – and that’s fine with me. I can love Turner and Picasso at the same time.
Moorcock embraces chaos. His works are diverse even between each front and back cover. Across the spectrum of his novels almost everything you can imagine is touched on – perhaps subverted, or lampooned, or shown to you from a new angle that only enhances its beauty. And despite this enormous variety, there are themes that run through a great many of his books, holding the chaos together and reiterating the fact that there are deeper thought processes at work, not just an outpouring of fevered imagination.
I’ve read perhaps two dozen of Moorcock’s novels, spanning three decades. Many of them I have adored. All of them I have considered worthy of my attention – provoking a strong response. These stories form a significant part of my internal landscape. Elric, Dorian Hawkmoon, Prince Corum, and Jherek Carnelian, feel like strange, eccentric, dangerous uncles partly responsible for raising me. The artwork from the covers still hits me with a tsunami of memories each time I pull one of the books from my shelves.
Moorcock is never safe, never gentle, never afraid to make a sharp left turn and veer off into something wholly new. That’s what makes him a joy to read even after more than half a lifetime keeping company with his books.
So on his 75 birthday and with the 50th anniversary of his first book looming it seems an excellent time to acknowledge his influence on me, my generation of readers and writers, and several others generations besides. Thank you, Mr Moorcock, for sharing so many worlds with me.