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THE DEEP ONES: "The Dreaming City" by Michael Moorcock

The Weird Tradition

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Edited: Sep 1, 2012, 9:14am Top

"The Dreaming City" by Michael Moorcock

Discussion begins September 5.

First published in the June 1961 issue of Science Fantasy.


None found to date.




The Weird of the White Wolf
The Stealer of Souls
Elric of Melnibone



Aug 31, 2012, 4:43pm Top

>1 KentonSem:

Is that supposed to be Elric on the Science Fantasy cover? He doesn't appear to be suffering from albinism. :/


I'm reading this out of an '80s Ace mmpb version of The Weird of the White Wolf.

Aug 31, 2012, 5:10pm Top

>2 artturnerjr:

You're right- jaundice, perhaps, but not albinism.

I just realized that my Moorcock books are packed away in advance of our upcoming move. D'oh!

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 10:36am Top

Bibliography on this one is a little confusing. It's not actually in most volumes entitled Elric of Melnibone, nor is it in the UK paperback The Dreaming City which is an edition of the former. It's the first novelette included in The Weird of the White Wolf, the one "Which tells how Elric came back to Imrryr, what he did there, and how, at last, his weird fell upon him . . ."

Check the isfdb entry here for a listing of books in which it has appeared.

Aug 31, 2012, 10:13pm Top

I may have this is in Elric: Song of the Black Sword from White Wolf but, given Moorcock's habit of revision, I'll probably opt for The Weird of the White Wolf just to make sure he didn't make any revisions.

Sep 1, 2012, 9:14am Top

>4 paradoxosalpha:

Thanks for the correction. Bibliography in >1 KentonSem: is now fixed.

Sep 1, 2012, 10:16am Top

>4 paradoxosalpha:

It's the first novelette included in The Weird of the White Wolf, the one "Which tells how Elric came back to Imrryr, what he did there, and how, at last, his weird fell upon him . . ."

Yeah, that's the one I have. The copyright page indicates that the Ace edition is a reprint of the earlier DAW and Berkley editions.

Sep 1, 2012, 2:39pm Top

>7 artturnerjr:

I was a bit bewildered because I did not see that section in the 1977 DAW paperback of The Weird of the White Wolf which I have before me -- this edition does not have a table of contents.

The novelette starts on page 29 after the prologue.

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 9:03am Top

I've read a lot of Moorcock's fantasy, and nearly all of the Elric stuff (one or two recent pieces may still have evaded me). I think I was most struck by elements absent from this earliest tale: There was nothing about the opposition of Law and Chaos, or any of the Eternal Champion cosmology. I don't think there was any mention of Elric's use of drugs to maintain/enhance his physical ability. (The Imrryrians were drugged, though.)

Complexion and goofy facial expression notwithstanding, that portrait on the F&SF cover is alarmingly accurate, keeping to the details of attire provided in the story. Also, the runes on Stormbringer were described as being on the hilt, rather than the blade.

Elric as the anti-Conan is certainly on full display in the story: Physically weak? (check) Arguably cowardly? (check) Elite, "civilized" upbringing? (triple check) Morally conflicted? (check) Forfeiting a throne rather than winning one? (check) Dependent on sorcery? (check, and check)

Points for Arioch-as-Shoggoth in the his first-told appearance!

There's a strange "Solo shot first" dilemma here, but it seems to run the other direction, so that the protagonist gets defamed rather than rehabilitated. The third-person narration makes it pretty clear that Yrkoon kills Cymoril by throwing her onto Stormbringer (a little difficult to picture the physics here, but that's what it says). Ever after, however, Elric regards himself as the slayer of his betrothed.

Sep 5, 2012, 9:00am Top

Elric is such a memorable character! The idea of our hero being physically weak unless sustained by drugs and sorcery (perfect for the 1960's when the original short stories were written, I know) was genius on Moorcock's part. It's been years since I've read any of the series, but I slipped right back in no problem. One thing I had forgotten was that Arioch would actually manifest himself, as opposed to Stormbringer simply drinking the souls of the slain.

I was wondering this actually classified as weird fiction, but then I was struck by how much the prose and even the story's momentum reminded me of C.L. Moore's Jirel of Joiry, which The Deep Ones discussed in an earlier thread. That's weird enough for me!

Sep 5, 2012, 9:01am Top

> 11

Yeah, I thought that the resonance with Moore, and the evident reply to REH, were sufficient grounds to nominate this one.

Sep 5, 2012, 9:04am Top

>9 paradoxosalpha:

Hmmmm... maybe I was just running on knowledge accumulated in the later 70's novels, but I could swear this story mentioned Elric's needing some kind of drug to sustain himself. He's definitely consumed by the sorcery he needs to perform and needs to recuperate. Must check - when did that concept first get introduced to the series? Early 1970's would make sense, too.

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 9:09am Top

> 12

Elric is definitely using drugs for his physical condition in the chronologically early bits before his acquisition of Stormbringer, and he sometimes turns to them again in later stories, when he's hoping to duck the influence of the sword and maybe not kill quite as many people. I don't have this week's reading next to me right now, but I think at most it mentioned drugs used to keep him alive in infancy -- even there, though, I think the emphasis was on Melnibonean magic rather than pharmacopoeia. Like I said, I was surprised not to see more of it.

Sep 5, 2012, 9:13am Top

I haven't read many Elric stories, so I was glad for the opportunity to catch up.

As #9 above, what struck me about this novella was the relative absence of Elric-stuff in the beginning. The style was less poetic that I was used to: nothing like the imagery of the Ship Which Sails over Land and Sea, for example.

This changed when Elric was trapped in the room with Cymoril with Yyrkoon's forces outside. This situation is a standard fantasy trope. Conan would deal with it with quick reflexes, strength, and rage; Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser would use trickery and wit. Moorcock broke the mold: Elric fed the souls of his enemies to Arioch, Lord of the Seven Darks! He doesn't mess around.

And the ending! I had read some later Elric stories which mentioned Elric woman-slayer, but I had no idea who was referred to. Elric certainly has plenty to be bitter about.

I was not clear about why Elric sacked Imrryr. Was it because he blamed the citizens for cooperating with Yyrkoon, or it was the only way he could get to Cymoril, or promising booty was the only way he could get a boat ride there? Or maybe Stormbringer prompted him to it in order to have lots of souls to drink?

Sep 5, 2012, 9:20am Top

> 14 I was not clear about why Elric sacked Imrryr.

I think it was all of those things, plus a moral (proto-ideological?) intimation that the Menibonean culture was degenerate and oppressive, and didn't deserve to be sustained. Again, contrast Conan, the hill barbarian contemptuous of cities, who yet deems a throne to be a prize and becomes the benevolent king of the most civilized nation in his world.

Sep 5, 2012, 9:24am Top

> 15 Yes indeed.

BTW, I think I have found a reference. Elric travelled in an armada to rescue his beloved Cymoril: Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships. And burnt the topless towers of Imrryr?

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 9:35am Top

>14 bertilak:

Moorcock broke the mold: Elric fed the souls of his enemies to Arioch, Lord of the Seven Darks! He doesn't mess around.

Exactly. The story also mentions that Elric doesn't really have too much of an issue with the torturing of servants because it's just something that the ruling class in Melnibone do. There is a feral and cruel streak to Elric's otherwise rather poetic nature that makes for some intriguing character conflict. Add drugs, sorcery and allegiance to a demonic god who demands souls and you've got a pretty heady mix. Elric certainly paved the way for Karl Edward Wagner's great anti-hero, Kane.

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 9:30am Top

>15 paradoxosalpha:

... plus a moral (proto-ideological?) intimation that the Menibonean culture was degenerate and oppressive, and didn't deserve to be sustained

Yep - that's what I got out of it. Elric feels that Imrryr itself is fully deserving of the fate he brings.

Sep 5, 2012, 9:32am Top

An observation: At the beginning of the story, Elric is not widely liked, but by the end of the story, the few people who did like him (Cymoril, Smiorgan, Tanglebones) are dead, and it's his fault. Even his relationship with Stormbringer has been degraded to a state of mutual resentment. At that point, he makes his vow to be hated as widely as possible.

Sep 5, 2012, 9:46am Top

>19 paradoxosalpha:

Good point - and that is to be his "weird" as alluded to in the title of the DAW volume, right? Doomed to wander as woman-slayer, slave to he dark god Arioch...

Sep 5, 2012, 9:53am Top

> 20

Yeah, "his weird fell upon him," per the opening note.

I hadn't thought of that conspicuous instance of the word as justifying this tale's placement in the Weird Tradition. It's interesting that that distinct use of the word to mean "fate" or "doom" is (in my reading) hardly ever evoked in connection with the term "weird fiction." And yet ... the reader is referred to the opening paragraph of "The Call of Cthulhu."

Sep 5, 2012, 1:45pm Top


It's gonna be really hard to keep this from being a tl;dr post, but I'll do my best.

I haven't read this story in about 30 years, so it was almost like reading it for the first time. This stuff is way more satisfying to read as an adult than as a 15-year-old. It occurs to me that, like Lovecraft, Moorcock is someone that most people, if they're going to read him at all, read when they are in their pre-teen or teenage years. This is a pity (if they don't re-read them later), as there is a level of depth/sophistication/erudition/complexity required to fully appreciate both writers' work that the vast majority of readers in this age group simply don't have; Moorcock is not only (as elucidated by PA in #9) completely inverting the sword and sorcery genre (still a young school of fiction in the early sixties), but also (please forgive the seeming hyperbole) attempting to fuse this déclassé genre with the gravitas of Shakespearean tragedy. That's a staggering level of ambition for any writer, particularly one in his early twenties.


...the Lords of Imrryr left many of the towers empty and uninhabited rather than let the bastard population of the city dwell therein

Gee, that sounds awfully familiar these days; guess civilizations in decline are the same in fantasy worlds as they are in ours.

Sep 5, 2012, 2:30pm Top

>22 artturnerjr:

I haven't read this story (or "Book One", in TWotWW) myself since the late 70's, and I had nearly the same reaction, although as Bertilak mentions in >14 bertilak:, the style isn't quite as refined as I remember it being. But keeping in mind that it was actually written in 1961, no further explanation is necessary. Moorcock still created a memorable character right from the get-go. I think I quit Elric after The Fortress of the Pearl, but now I'm tempted to go find The Revenge of the Rose. Did Moorcock do any later Elric novels than that?

Sep 5, 2012, 2:50pm Top

> 22 Moorcock is someone that most people, if they're going to read him at all, read when they are in their pre-teen or teenage years.

And Elric will always appeal to a certain species of broody, hormone-ridden adolescent!

> 23 later Elric novels
There's the "Albino trilogy" of The Skrayling Tree, The Dreamthief's Daughter, and The White Wolf's Son, which is an Elric crossover with the Von Bek series that begins in The War Hound and the World's Pain.

The most recent Elric I've read is "Red Pearls" in the Swords and Dark Magic anthology (2010). One that has still eluded me is "Black Petals," which is in Elric: Swords and Roses, a collection including The Revenge of the Rose that seems to have some other interesting items, like a screenplay draft.

Sep 5, 2012, 6:58pm Top

A great gallows-humor laugh line in the story (from the scene when Elric takes out the eunuch archer) that I was going to mention earlier (and that I'm sure I completely flew by when I read this as a teenager):

...a scarlet eruption obscured his vision, he felt searing agony clutch at his face and then, philosophically, for eunuchs are necessarily given to a certain fatalism, he realized he was going to die.

Sep 5, 2012, 8:30pm Top

> 25

Yeah, that line reminded me of Dunsany's sense of humor.

Sep 5, 2012, 11:10pm Top

I suppose I should be writing this with Blue Oyster Cult's "Black Blade" blasting in the background. I am looking at a Michael Whelan print of the cover he did for Moorcock's Stormbringer.

While I did make a point of reading Moorcock's Eternal Champion books in the White Wolf editions of the 1990s, I have to admit I haven't kept up with the later Elric books though Moorcock is one of the few primarily fantasy authors I read.

>22 artturnerjr: I agree. However fast Moorcock wrote this, he does pay attention to the language, and there is a grandeur to it. (I have never read any Conan stories, so I don't know what Howard's prose sounded like for them.) The particular line you quoted points, I think, to a political sensibility even in this early Moorcock. Some later Elric works in fact are, supposedly, political allegories though I've never quite worked the correspondences out myself. (Moorcock has long been attracted to allegory. I think he has said Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was the first book he bought. I think those later works suffer from the allegory, but this one has a bit of the vitality of a Jacobean revenge drama though Elric doesn't spend a lot of time railing about corrupt Melniboneans. He just wants Cymoril, but his simple desire to be reunited with her ruins his homeland.

The last time I read this story, I didn't note the grim joke of Elric vowing that he'll die by his own hand. Readers of the series will know how that plays out. Like some gothic hero who, reflecting on the evil he's already done, figures "in for a penny, in for a pound", Elric decides he'll make himself an outcast and die his own death. He thinks he'll live life on his terms. But, of course, Stormbringer has other things in mind. (I had forgotten this was the story in which he tries to throw Stormbringer away. That was always one of my favorite scenes in the series.) Ultimately, Elric is a hero who doesn't even have the satisfaction of steering his own course before that final doom.

>9 paradoxosalpha: You're right. Arioch is mentioned but not his affiliation with Chaos. I believe Moorcock plotted the arc of Elric from the start with the finale in Stormbringer, but I don't know when he started to develop the Law vs Chaos themes.

In his 1995 introduction to Elric: Song of the Black Sword, where I read this story, Moorcock says some interesting things. He says Elric was written in conscious contrast to Conan and the Lord of the Rings. Leiber and Moore were not producing sword and sorcery then, James Branch Cabaell's "relentless ironies had palled a bit" for Moorcock. "... Elric ... was probably as much a product of my enthusiasm for the American Beats or the French Existentialists as he was of my boyhood love of Edgar Rice Burroughs or A. Merritt, having more in common with the screen images of James Dean and the early Elvis Presley than, for instance, the cuddly talking prepubescent semi-humans of the Hobbit stories. ... I never conceived Elric as an anti-hero."

He seems to imply that alienated heroes like Elric are stand-ins for struggles in our life, someone who "runs the kinds of risks most of us would be prepared to run if we had their resources or their friends." That's not how I perceive the story, but it is an interesting perspective -- Elric as just a guy who really wants his betrothed backs and makes some bad decisions and is, in the final climax, not going to engage in pointless self-sacrifice or guiltily go to his death. Moorcock goes on to say "Elric was created in conscious opposition both to the infantile and macho tendencies of the day." I suppose that and the James Dean inspiration explain the numerous sobbing references.

I don't see Moorcock, despite the demon blade of Stormbringer, having as strong of ties to the weird as Moore and Howard and Leiber do.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, one of the editor's of Innsmouth Free Press, has some recent postings about the junction between the Cthulhu Mythos and sword-and-sorcery that might be of interest to people here: http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/ While I do occassional reviews for Innsmouth Free Press, I don't get paid nor do I have any monetary interest in the sword-and-sorcery/Cthulhu Mythos anthology she's raising money for.

Sep 5, 2012, 11:34pm Top

>17 KentonSem:

There is a feral and cruel streak to Elric's otherwise rather poetic nature that makes for some intriguing character conflict.

Epitomized, I think, by the bit where a dying(!) Tanglebones apologizes for not having Cymoril at the designated rendezvous point (through no fault of his own), and then we get:

"So you should be," Elric retorted savagely. Then his tone softened. "Do not worry, old friend - I'll avenge you and myself..."

If there had been any doubt in your mind that Elric is not your father's sword and sorcery hero up until this point, Moorcock quickly dispells it.

>24 paradoxosalpha:

And Elric will always appeal to a certain species of broody, hormone-ridden adolescent!

The one disadvange I had in enjoying this story now (versus as a teenager) is that I'm (fortunately) not nearly as angst-filled as I was at 15.

>26 paradoxosalpha:

Yeah, that line reminded me of Dunsany's sense of humor.

Moorcock clearly owes a debt of gratitude to both Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith; I found the decadent, fantastical setting of Imrryr to be highly reminiscent of that of Smith's Zothique tales. Little details like the archaic usage of the word "weird" mentioned in #21 (cf. "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan", et al) also point to Smith's influence.

Sep 5, 2012, 11:54pm Top

>28 artturnerjr: Moorcock doesn't mention Smith. (I think Smith has him beat in the decadent description department.) He does mention the following authors and works that he's indebted to for Elric:
Anthony Skene, Fletcher Pratt, James Branch Cabell, Lord Dunsany, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, Walpole (Castle of Otranto), Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe), and Charles Robert Maturin (Melmoth the Wanderer).

Smith seems like someone Moorcock should have read prior to writing Elric. However, checking the English publication history for Smith, it looks possible that there were no cheap and common editions of Smith in the UK prior to 1961.

Edited: Sep 6, 2012, 12:45am Top

>29 RandyStafford:

Smith seems like someone Moorcock should have read prior to writing Elric. However, checking the English publication history for Smith, it looks possible that there were no cheap and common editions of Smith in the UK prior to 1961.

However, Moorcock states in his introduction to Elric: The Stealer of Souls:

Weird Tales of the magazine's golden age were, however, still relatively cheap in the second-hand bookstores, especially those that specialized in giving you half price on any title you brought back in good condition... That's where I was introduced to the likes of Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith and other exotically named individuals, good writers who could find no commercial publication save in the marginal pulps, which, like Black Mask, had their own specific readerships.


Sep 6, 2012, 8:29am Top

Moorcock has publicly admitted his deliberate and conscious authorial use of the sexual symbolism that is ubiquitously implicit in the sword and sorcery genre. "The Dreaming City" is certainly an interesting read if Stormbringer is understood as Elric's penis throughout.

Edited: Sep 6, 2012, 8:52am Top

>30 artturnerjr: Thanks for the correction. (The sad thing is I've read the book you got that from.) Then I definitely agree Zothique's influence is here.

>31 paradoxosalpha: I hadn't heard that until recently, but, yes, it moves the interpretation onto a whole new track. (I saw an interview with Norman Spinrad recently that Moorcock's sexual imagery in sword-and-sorcery partly inspired his The Iron Dream.)

Edited: Sep 6, 2012, 12:21pm Top

>31 paradoxosalpha:

That would certainly explain the frequent descriptions of Stormbringer's "throbbing". Also reminds me of a great Marlon Brando quote (from, I believe, Songs My Mother Taught Me) - "Sometimes the penis has its own agenda." :D

>31 paradoxosalpha: & 32

Another book, along with The Iron Dream, that I've been meaning to track down forever and that also deals with the confluence of sexuality and violence in genre fiction is Philip Jose Farmer's A Feast Unknown. David Pringle, in his entry on the novel in his Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels, writes:

Farmer is intent on bringing into the daylight many of the hidden, unconcious fantasies which underlie all superhero adveture stories. He is saying that violence is often rooted in sexuality, and that the vicarious violence of escapist fiction appeals in a perverse way to the sexual instincts of its readers. We may not wish to be told such truths, but it is hard for us to gainsay them.

Sep 20, 2012, 11:48am Top

>34 KentonSem:

Wow - that's quite an undertaking; Moorcock's Multiverse is one of the most complex creations in all of literature, IMHO.

Edited: Sep 20, 2012, 1:41pm Top

> 35

Yes, that will cost a pretty penny.

By analogy to the Library of America, they should just call it The Library of Moorcock. Not quite as comprehensive as The Library of Babel, but give him time.

Sep 21, 2012, 1:22pm Top

> 34

It should include (under "much of his literary fiction") the non-genre novel of Moorcock's that I just started reading: The Brothel in Rosenstrasse. It connects with the whole Eternal Champion multiverse by way of the von Bek lineage.

Oct 10, 2012, 10:20am Top

I posted my review of The Brothel in Rosenstrasse last night.

Oct 10, 2012, 2:08pm Top

>38 paradoxosalpha:

A well-written review as always, PA. The blending of historical fiction, sex, a European setting, characters from fantasy fiction repurposed for a more literary setting, and the impending threat of war described in that book reminds me quite a bit of what I read of Alan Moore's Lost Girls (unsurprisingly, as Moore is a big fan of Moorcock's).

I've talked elsewhere about setting a few months aside in the near future to read Edgar Rice Burroughs' fiction exclusively; I suspect I'm going to have do the same thing with Moorcock's as well.

Oct 10, 2012, 2:28pm Top

Thanks! I still own several Moorcock volumes that I haven't read yet, including The Nomad of Time, The White Wolf's Son, and The Coming of the Terraphiles. Having enjoyed this one as much as I did increases the chances that I'll get to those on some reasonable schedule.

Aug 25, 2016, 10:56am Top

I recently read (and reviewed) The Nomad of Time, and now I'm reading the LTER selection Fiction, Fantasy and the World's Pain, a critical assessment of Moorcock's oeuvre.

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