Dead God's Homecoming

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Dead God's Homecoming, a short story by Michael Moorcock, featuring Elric of Melniboné and introducing the Theocrat of Pan Tang, Jagreen Lern, and the first of four novellas, collectively published as Stormbringer, which tell the climactic conclusion of the Elric saga. First published in Science Fantasy #59 (June 1963), the periodical edited by John Carnell, who originally encouraged Moorcock to produce his early Elric stories.

Publishing History (UK):

  • Science Fantasy #59 (Nova, June 1963)
  • Stormbringer, (Herbert Jenkins, 1965) (abridged & revised)
  • Stormbringer, (Mayflower, 1969) (as above)
  • Stormbringer, (Grafton, 1985) (restored & revised)
  • The Tale of the Eternal Champion", Volume 12: Stormbringer, (Orion Books, 1993) (revised)
  • Elric, (Gollancz, 2001)[1]

Publishing History (US):

Adaptations

Dead Gods' Homecoming was adapted for comics by P. Craig Russell in issues 1-2 of the Stormbringer mini-series published by Dark Horse/Topps Comics (1997). The adaptation on the whole is remarkably faithful to Moorcock's original text and much of Moorcock's dialogue is used verbatim.

Synopsis

* * The following section may contain spoilers * *


Under cover of darkness and a storm, Elric’s bedchamber is invaded by chaos minions with the intent of kidnapping Zarozinia, and although Elric wakes and slays the leader, he is struck down and upon recovering discovers his wife gone. Discerning that magic was used to aid the intruders’ escape, Elric resurrects the slain leader, who utters a cryptic riddle about a battle brewing overseas, and Elric recalls a traveller telling him that Dharijor’s ruler has formed an alliance with Jagreen Lern, the Theocrat of Pan Tang, and together they threaten the nations of the Young Kingdoms in the West. Aware that his kinsman, Dyvim Slorm and his Imrryrian mercenaries are aiding Queen Yishana against the forces of Dharijor and Pan Tang, Elric decides to go to Jharkor to meet his cousin. On route, he encounters a crone who tells him the army is in Sequaloris, and that Zarozinia will be returned to him if he plays his role well.

Yishana tells Elric that Jagreen Lern threatens the entire human race because he has aligned himself with the forces of Chaos, and in battle the next day, Elric confronts Jagreen Lern and discovers the Theocrat bears ‘chaos armour’ which is impervious to the eldritch powers of Stormbringer. The battle goes badly for Queen Yishana's forces, and the Melnibonéans retreat. Later, Elric, Dyvim Slorm and a weary band of survivors meet a herald who reports Yishana’s death and that Jagreen Lern ordered all prisoners be killed. Believing the Theocrat is involved in Zarozinia’s abduction, Elric decides to head West. The Melnibonéans become separated from the remaining survivor Orlon, a Shazarian soldier, who eventually returns only to lead them into an ambush with Pan Tang troops. Elric and Slorm are saved by the arrival of Sepiriz and the immortal Nihrainians who have awoken from a centuries long slumber and take them to Nihrain. Sepiriz tells them how the twin runeswords, Stormbringer and Mournblade, were forged to destroy the Dead Gods who now dwell in the blackness of Eternity. Due to Jagreen Lern’s activities, one god – Darnizhaan - has returned to Earth and engineered Zarozinia’s abduction because he wants to acquire the black blades to ensure the continual safety of the Dead Gods. Although Elric believed Mournblade was lost when his cousin Yyrkoon perished, Sepiriz reveals the Nihrainians recovered Mournblade, although only Melnibonéans of royal descent, such as Elric and Dyvim Slorm, can wield them. As he holds both blades, Elric realizes the swords have a greater power paired than when wielded separately. Although much of the riddle is now revealed it falls to Sepiriz to inform Elric that Darnizhaan dwells in the Vale of Xanyaw in Myyrrhn.

Reaching the Vale of Xanyaw, Elric and Dyvim Slorm witness the effects of Chaos on the region, whereupon the Dead God appears to them, and asks Elric if he will trade the runeswords for Zarozinia. Elric is inclined to kill Darnizhaan but he also feels a comradeship since they are both products of a bygone age. When Darnizhaan mocks Elric for his attachments to humans, Elric tells him the Young Kingdoms are the future, but the god tells him:

”'No, Elric. Mark my words, whatever happens. The dawn is over and will be swept away like dead leaves before the wind of morning. The earth's history has not even begun. You, your ancestors, these men of the new races even, you are nothing but a prelude to history.”

They are merely puppets who share a common destiny - of non-existence - for the twin blades were forged not only to destroy the gods but also the world, unless Elric hands them over to Darnizhaan who claims he can ensure their continued existence. Elric replies that he would welcome death if his memory was expunged from history, but he will give the swords in return for Zarozinia. With the runeswords in Darnizhaan’s possession and Zarozinia safe, Elric and Dyvim Slorm reveal that they still command the paired runeswords and slay the Dead God. As he dies, Darnizhaan cries “in destroying me, you destroy yourselves!”, but Elric fails to hear his words.

Returning to the Chasm of Nihrain, the three travellers are greeted by Sepiriz who informs Elric that the Nihrainians have left this plane of existence to observe the different possible futures of the earth. Sepiriz says Darnizhaan spoke the truth - as he perceived it - when he said they would all cease to exist, but that men may strive to carve a world of justice where Chaos and sorcery will not dominate and it is Elric’s destiny to bring this world into being. The Melnibonéans are not true men, but an intermediary stage created to bring about the existence of true men; for being agents of Chaos, they understand Chaos and thus may bring about its end. Elric does not welcome this fate, but accepts it for finally giving meaning to his life. Making their way back to Karlaak, Zarozinia realises that she and Elric will not have much time to themselves before he pursues his vengeance against Jagreen Lern.

Analysis

And so the final chapter in the life of Elric of Melniboné begins, although the 'Stormbringer' novellas published in Science Fantasy were not to be the final Elric stories Moorcock would write. In this initial part, the stage is set - appropriately enough given Darnizhaan's remarks about 'puppets' - for the transfiguration of Elric's world. By the time Elric encounters the eponymous 'Dead God' the reader discovers that Moorcock is casting Elric's world as a great 'proto-history' for our own world. The Age of the Young Kingdoms is not some mythical world like Narnia or Middle-Earth[2] but rather Moorcock explicitly suggests it precedes our own. He even has Darnizhaan say: "'Beasts would rule the earth for millions of years before the age of intelligence began again.'”, which can be read as a reference to the dinosaurs that existed on Earth for 165 million years until the Mass Extinction Event at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago? That being the case, a canny reader can readily predict how this story is going to end.

In addition to existing characters, such as Dyvim Slorm and Zarozinia - who, it must be said, seems particularly underwritten in contrast to her introduction in Kings in Darkness albeit she necessarily spends much of the time 'off-stage' (so to speak) – a number of new characters are introduced in this novella. Jagreen Lern is set up as a more effective substitute for Elric's earlier nemesis, Theleb K'aarna. The leader of the Nihrainians, Sepiriz, can be seen - in hindsight - to function within the narrative much as the Warrior in Jet and Gold does in the later Hawkmoon novels, beginning with The Jewel in the Skull in 1967.

One of the most effective moments in the novella comes after the climactic encounter with Darnizhaan, when resting back at the Chasms of Nihrain, Sepiriz reveals to Elric the truth of the Dead God's words that finally give meaning to Elric's existence:

"You, and your ancestors, were not true men at all, but an intermediary type created for a purpose. You understand Chaos as no true men ever could understand it. You can control the forces of Chaos as no true men ever could. You can weaken the forces of Chaos - for you know the qualities of Chaos. Weaken them is what you have done. Though worshipping the Lords of Chance and Evil, your race were the first to bring some kind of order to the earth. The people of the Young Kingdoms have inherited this from you - and have consolidated it. But, as yet, Chaos is still that much stronger. The runeblades, Stormbringer and Mournblade, this more orderly age, the wisdom your race and mine have gained, all will go towards creating the basis for the true beginnings of Mankind's history. That history will not begin for many thousands of years, they type may take on a lowlier form, become more beastlike before it re-evolves, but when it does, it will re-evolve into a world bereft of the stronger forces of Chaos. It will have a fighting chance. We are all doomed, but they need not be.'"

With these words, Sepiriz is not only speaking to Elric, but also - as Moorcock's mouthpiece - to the reader directly, in effect saying: look at the world around you - it doesn't have to be this way, it wasn't meant to be this way - what are you going to do about it?

Textual Revisions

Although Dead God's Homecoming was mostly unaltered from its original magazine appearance in Science Fantasy, when it was republished in the novel Stormbringer the final scenes, where Elric and Zarozinia return to Karlaak, were rewritten to better bridge the transition to the next instalment, Black Sword’s Brothers, which was itself much abridged.

The revised versions of Dead God's Homecoming added the phrase "as an manifestation of the champion Eternal" to the line (quoted in the previous section) about how Elric "can weaken the forces of Chaos". This addition helps bring the character into line with Moorcock's overall structure of the Multiverse.

Mike Says

  • "I've always conceived stories on more than one level perhaps because I read The Pilgrim's Progress early and understood that that was what you had to do! So I would have worked out the psychopathology (because that's how I think) of the relationship -- weak man, powerful sword -- and gone from there. On one level. Otherwise, of course, there's a compendium of influences, but no particular one which contained the idea. In other words, as far as I know, I didn't get it from anywhere but my own imagination."[3]
  • "When I started writing, there wasn't a genre -- just some isolated stories by Howard, Leiber, Moore -- and the likes of us did, I agree, create this genre -- but you don't consciously create genres (nobody was much interested in the first Elric books, for instance) and when a genre is created it can become stifling. Part of my trouble is that I started doing stuff that seemed new and fresh when I began, but the genre has crept up on it, so that I now feel rather burdened by all the billions of words that have come out since 1965, say, when Stormbringer was published in book form -- and they didn't know what to call it (sf, as I recall, in the end)."[4]
  • "I didn't start by doing novels. I started first with short stories of about 1,000 words, then worked up to 1,500, then 3,000 and eventually I started doing novellas at around 12-15,000 words. STORMBRINGER was written in episodes of 15,000 when I'd learned enough to handle that sort of structure. The point being that you can start with structuring a miniature and extend the same principles to an epic, when you're ready." [5]
  • "Elric is me. I said it in 1965 and I can still say it. I made more knowing use of Freudian and Jungian symbolism in those early stories than I would now, partly because you can't keep doing that -- it becomes a tired idea unless you develop and explore, which inevitably means that you move away from the stereotype and begin to look at implications. Stormbringer has classic Freudian origins, but you can deconstruct that by a simple device, by calling the sword 'she' throughout, for instance. And so on." [6]
  • "Check out the forthcoming DC series I'm doing with Walter Simonson. Sepiriz turns up there, too. And, by golly, he could be wearing a black and yellow suit in one of the sequences. He's a dark horse (no pun intended) that Sepiriz and seems to turn up in lots of places. I think Sepiriz certainly takes on that persona when it suits him..." [7]

Notes

  1. Fantasy Masterworks, Volume 17
  2. There are similarities, however, in the way Tolkien envisaged The Lord of the Rings as forming a 'mythology' for England he felt it lacked, compared to other European countries
  3. Moorcock’s Miscellany Q&A Archive Article #318
  4. Moorcock’s Miscellany Q&A Archive Article #409
  5. Moorcock’s Miscellany Q&A Archive Article #470
  6. Moorcock’s Miscellany Q&A Archive Article #761
  7. Moorcock’s Miscellany Q&A Archive Article #3132