by Michael Moorcock

Quartet Books


137pp/.40/March 1974

The Oak and the Ram

Patrick Woodroffe

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

With the three short novels of the second Corum trilogy clearly planned as a cohesive unit, the first novel, The Bull and the Spear almost felt like a prelude to the actual action. It reintroduced Corum, although a more proactive version, as well as the strange land in which he finds himself. His deeds in that novel led to an epic battle, but the second novel, The Oak and the Ram sees a major escalation in Corum's story.

Having proven himself as the savior of the Mabden in his own far future in the first novel, word of Corum's exploits have spread throughout the lands and King Fiachadh has realized that since the giant Fhoi Myore can be killed, it is time for the Mabden kingdoms to form an alliance against them. Unfortunately, with High King Amergin captive of the Fhoi Myore, his subject kings reject the authority to join forces, so Corum finds himself on a quest to rescue Amergin and, eventually find two additional relics of the Sidhi, the Golden Oak and the Silvern Ram.

Moorcock delves back to earlier novels in the Corum's adventuers to provide Corum with allies and enemies. Prince Gaynor and Jhary-a-Conel both return from the Swords trilogy while the magician Calatin and the Sidhi smith Goffanon both return from The Bull and the Spear, although not necessarily in the expected manner. At the same time, Moorcock introduces new characters to both help and hinder Corum in his quests, fleshing out the various Fhoi Myore better and introducing another Sidhi, Ilbrec. Although Corum is rarely the most powerful among his companions, he is the driving force of the action and they are all aware that they are his support team.

The world in which Corum moves is also more interesting than the worlds of the Swords trilogy, possibly some of its depth coming from its basis in Celtic mythology. At the same time, the world seems strangely empty. Corum rarely comes across settlements aside from the castles and even those castles seem to be populated by a small number of individuals. A reference to the city around one of the castles only drives home how few people populate the world of the Mabden. Given this apparent population scarcity and the few number of Fhoi Myore, the reasons for the strife which has descended upon the land does not feel adequately explained. Nevertheless, the landscape marked by places of power and suffering from the icy touch of the Fhoi Myore is evocative.

The middle book of a trilogy, The Oak and the Ram does everything it needs to do. Moorcock builds on the groundwork he laid out in the first novel while giving his hero increasingly difficult and significant tasks. The small world of The Bull and the Spear with its focus on the plight of one Mabden kingdom has been expanded to include the threat to all the Mabden kingdoms and an attempt to unify them against the common enemy. Even as Corum has continued to achieve success, he has had setbacks and is haunted by prediction made by a woman that is specific enough to concern him, but vague enough that he can't take any concrete steps to avoid it, a resolution to which will be offered in The Sword and the Stallion.

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