Book Review: The Jewel in the Skull

I read this as part of volume 3 of the White Wolf Eternal Champion series, Hawkmoon.

Michael Moorcock’s output is absolutely ridiculous.  The fact that he was writing books in sometimes as short as a week is equally nuts.  While that does mean that sometimes his books are not the most polished or filled with the most perfect use of language.  However, somehow, almost every book is jammed with more ideas than many authors manage to get into their whole body of work.

In this novel, we’re introduced to a far future Europe, after the mysterious “Tragic Millennium,” where England, now known as Granbretan, has become an evil and twisted, expansionist empire.  Standing against this expanding empire is Count Brass, an embodiment of Arthurian power, and Dorian Hawkmoon, this world’s incarnation of the Eternal Champion.  There are the usual array of colorful supporting characters, filling many of the expected roles for the Champion, from his doomed lover to his faithful companion.

The plot is fairly episodic, as is often the case in these books.  Characters are mostly archetypes, and not really presented with a lot of depth.  I think one of the reasons Moorcock’s work has been adapted for comic books so many times is that they also tend to present relatively one dimensional, often archetypal, characters in episodic and not especially fleshed out scenarios, while lots of big and flashy ideas are thrown at you.  That all may sound like I mean it negatively, but I don’t.  Moorcock is very good at this type of storytelling.  If you come in looking for some kind of deep character study, or something with a lot to say about the human condition, you’re probably going to be disappointed.  If you come in looking for a rip-roaring, weird, crazy idea on every other page, adventure yarn…then you’re in the right place.

When you go back and look at a lot of early Games Workshop material, Michael Moorcock is all over it.  Hell, they made a bunch of Elric figures way back when.  But you can also see a lot of Moorcock’s Multiverse (yeah, this is pretty much where the whole multiverse thing started), in the DNA of their Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 universe.  While that influence may have faded over time, there are still elements that are so central as to still be there.  And reading through The Jewel in the Skull, I was constantly reminded of it.  Granbritan feels like a proto-Imperium of Man, with its withered immortal emperor, as just one example.  It’s wild to see how much of contemporary Fantasy is inspired by Moorcock’s work, while everyone just assumes everything comes from Tolkien.  

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