There’s a madness in Chaos, just as there can be in Law. These forces take many forms and many names across the multiverse. To call them Good or Evil is never to know them, never to control them, for there are times when Chaos does good and Law does evil and vice versa. The tiniest action of any kind can have extreme and monumental consequences. Out of the greatest acts of evil can spring the greatest powers for good. Equally, from acts of great goodness, pure evil can spring. That is the first thing any adept learns. Only then can their education truly begin.
-White Crow, student of the Kakatanawa
It has been a very long time since I’ve last read something by Michael Moorcock. I had been in the right mood to pick up his books, having seen references to them on and off over the years, and went out of my way to pick up the books involving the Runestaff, Corum, and of course, Elric of Melniboné-who, in his little corner of the multiverse, is an aspect of the Champion Eternal. It was the Elric book that I’d enjoyed the most (and more importantly, had the easiest time finding in bookstores at the time). Well, once again, I’ve hit the right mood, and picked up a Moorcock novel-and once again, Elric has a featuring role. The book is The Skrayling Tree; don’t make the mistake I did-I had no idea that this is kind of a follow up to The Dreamthief’s Daughter, because I didn’t bother reading the inside cover first. Well, it’s not the first time I’ve reviewed a book without reading a predecessor….
The book is written in three parts; the first is written in the hand of Oona von Bek, wife of Count Ulric von Bek-who shares Elric’s soul-and the daughter of a Dreamthief and Elric; however, Elric isn’t really a part of this particular universe (more on that in a moment)-which is similar (if not actually) our own, approximately 1951. The von Beks are working for the United Nations, but the two are taking a short vacation. It proves to be a bit more exciting than one would wish-Ulric is kidnapped by Indians, and it is fast apparent that they don’t hail from this Earth, but from another. However, with the guidance of a fellow by the name of Klosterheim (who apparently has history with Oona, and it ain’t good), and a medicine shield left behind in the kidnapping, Oona goes off in pursuit. In the process, she meets a pair of unique individuals-Ayanawatta, who knows much of the future from dream journeys, and White Crow, a student of the Kakatanawa Indians, and a shaman as well. Oona joins their journey to Odan-a-Kakatanawa, as the two believe that her quest parallels their own.
The second part involves Elric. Elric-in his own universe-has lost track of his fabled black sword, Stormbringer, at a most inconvenient time (I’m not sure where it fits in with his own story, but I get the impression that it’s near the end of it-when he really needs it). In an effort to recover it, he uses a magic known as a Dream of a Thousand Years, which allows him to travel many worlds-including the one of Ulric and Oona, although at an earlier point in time; there he seeks the smith who forged the original black sword, reasoning that if he should find him, he should also locate Stormbringer. While in Vienna, he learns of a Norseman named Gunnar who had explored much of the world, and may know of the smith. Gunnar, however, is a man as unique as Elric, as he remembers his own past, present, and future-and wishes to take the universe with him when he dies. Their journey on the seas, however, is hardly uneventful, and takes them into yet another world (guess which one?). As far as the third part goes-well, I’ll leave that a bit of a surprise, although I’ll say that folks familiar with other Elric stories will recognize one or two people encountered in this part.
In spite of the fact that I have not read The Dreamthief’s Daughter, I was able to follow the plot along pretty easily; while there are references and characters that undoubtedly came from that book, their presence and significance is explained well enough to understand their role in the story (I was particularly interested in a reference to a character as an Eternal Predator; wonder if that has the same kind of significance as the Champion…). This helped a lot in following the story. The book has things I find familiar about Moorcock’s writing mixed in with concepts that I haven’t seen in his other books-but are in many others (such as the presence of the Grail, which doesn’t make an appearance, but is referred to). Add in the new characters like White Crow and Gunnar, and the mix is a fairly pleasing whole.
One thing that I had a little bit of trouble with at first was the general writing style; the book is written in first person, but as if recorded in a journal; as a result, you don’t see the level of dialog that one might expect in these books, but rather as one would describe a conversation in a journal. This isn’t a bad thing, just took a bit of getting used to. Likewise, you don’t see endless pages of action-but that’s not what fans of Moorcock are looking for. The conflicts are as much philosophical as physical, and the consequences are no less real for it.
I’d have to say that I liked reading The Skrayling Tree, and it has helped me make at least one immediate decision-I’ve got to pick up a copy of the last book as soon as I can. The other decision is to keep my eyes open for an expected third book (as is heavily hinted at in this one). Moorcock managed to hook me again.