THE ETERNAL CHAMPION
by Michael Moorcock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
By the time Michael Moorcock wrote The Eternal Champion, he had already put into place many of the concepts behind his Champion Eternal, with stories and novels published bout Elric, Hawkmoon, and other incarnations of the character. In nearly all of those earlier works, his main character is completely unaware of his place in the multiverse. With The Eternal Champion, Moorcock introduces Erekose, the one incarnation who is aware of his various identities, although he isn't fully aware of how they fit together.
The novel opens with John Daker suffering strange dreams in which he hears numerous names. Eventually, Daker is pulled to an alternative world where he is greeted as the reincarnation of the ancient warrior Erekose. As Daker steps into the assigned role of Erekose, he continues to have dreams of his alternate identities, even while mostly accepting his duties as the champion of Humanity on this strange world. His benefactor, King Rigenos, explains he has been summoned to help Humanity destroy a demonic race, the Eldren, who threaten humanity's very survival. At the same time as Erekose prepares for battle, he learns about the world's history and situation from the king's daughter, Iolinda, whhich whom he falls in love, and Katorn, the Captain of the Guard, who is jealous of both Erekose's position with the king and his relationship with Iolinda.
Throughout this induction, Erekose occasionally still remembers his life as John Daker, as well as Daker's world. Unfortunately, Moorcock does not fully explore this thread. Erekose is too accepting of the world in which he finds himself, apparently not carrying any lessons from Daker, who lived in a world in which two World Wars had recently been fought. Erekose/Daker blithely accepts the presence of slavery in the society in which he finds himself and, without any alternative points of view, believes the worst of the Eldren, even if he occasionally questions the stories he is told by his companions.
However, Erekose's acceptance of his situation, and his decision to allow himself to become the instrument of Humanity's survival and the Eldren's destruction, opens the door for Moorcock to question his very moral decisions, although Erekose appears to have less remorse than some of the other aspects of the Champion Eternal. While Elric had a tendency towards a dark angst over the deeds he was required to perform, Erekose is more accepting, perhaps due to his awareness of his multiple incarnations and the knowledge that throughout the worlds and their histories he has been on various sides. He does question whether or not his situation is a punishment for some great crime committed in one of those other worlds, ignoring the great crimes that he commits within the confines of The Eternal Champion.
In many ways, Erekose's troubling dreams are an example of fanservice, long before that term was created. Moorcock has always been excellent at creating evocative names, and Erekose's dreams highlight those names, whether characters like Elric, Corum Jhaelen Irsei, or Cornelius, or locations, like Koln or Melnibone. Moorcock also provides him with more detailed dreams, including one which offers a brief description of Phoenix in Obsidian, the character's next adventure on another world. For someone who is just discovering Moorcock's multiverse through The Eternal Champion, these names offer a loose guide to other works to look for.
As with many of Moorcock's novels from the 60s and 70s, The Eternal Champion feels almost like an outline for a more fully fleshed out novel and concept. The story and characters work within their confines and tying them into Moorcock's larger body of work means that concepts introduced in The Eternal Champion can be further explored in other volumes, both as the series and Moorcock's own view continue to grow. Erekose's obvious ties to Moorcock's other works and his awareness of those characters, even if he doesn't fully understand it, also gives the character an added dimension that his other incarnations lack.
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