Elric: The Return to Melniboné

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Elric: The Return to Melniboné is a graphic story originally created by the French artist Philippe Druillet and featuring characters from Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga. Moorcock added English text for the UK edition in 1973, the publication of which brought the unauthorised nature of the original French work to the fore. Moorcock's text for the book tells of a short episode not recounted anywhere else in the Elric Saga; Elric's return to the city of Imrryr after a year of travelling the Young Kingdoms.

Publishing History

  • Oversized softcover, Unicorn Books, 20pp, ISBN: 0-85659-008-0, 1973, Cover by Philippe Druillet
  • Oversized softcover, Jayde Design, 20pp, ISBN: 0-9520074-3-6, 1997, Cover by Philippe Druillet

etrtm_unic73.jpg etrtm_jayde97.jpg


* * The following section may contain spoilers * *

Aided by elementals, Elric returns to Melniboné a year after he left his cousin, Yyrkoon, to rule as regent in his stead. Many changes have taken place in Elric's absence, most notably a many-domed palace from where Yyrkoon reigns, but a fashion for mask-wearing has also taken hold of the populace. Yyrkoon holds a feast in Elric's honour but all Elric wants to know is where his lover, Yyrkoon's sister Cymoril, is. Increasingly disinterested by the sexual entertainments performed for him, Elric decides to look for Cymoril himself, until Yyrkoon relents and presents his sister, dressed in a bridal gown, to his cousin. Cymoril says Yyrkoon claimed Elric had perished, taken by Arioch, but the Emperor says while he holds Stormbringer his cousin will not challenge him. Leaving the gathering, they visit the dragon Flamefang before retiring to the bridal suite which Yyrkoon had prepared for his own wedding that night to Cymoril. As they make love, the lovers are unaware they are watched by Arioch himself, nor that their actions begin a course of events which will lead Elric towards the destiny prepared for him by Chaos, although the repercussions of that destiny will have consequences unseen even by Arioch. Eventually Elric will come to understand the only truth of existence - that there is, and never can be, any understanding at all.


French Origins

Druillet originally began working on what would eventually become Elric: The Return to Melniboné in the mid-sixties with a series of colour illustrations for the French magazine MOI AUSSI, where it appeared for the first two issues with French text by Maxim Jakubowski. In 1969, Druillet provided further illustrations for a French omnibus collection of Elric stories, Elric le Necromancien, and in 1972 these existing and new illustrations were gathered together to form a 21-piece portfolio called Le Saga D'Elric Le Necromancien with French text by Michel Demuth. Throughout all this, Druillet's usage of characters and settings created by Moorcock remained unauthorised.

English Editions

In 1973, Bill Butler of Unicorn Books reprinted the portfolio (less one piece) as Elric: The Return to Melnibone [sic] with English text by Moorcock. Ironically, considering his unauthorised use of Elric in the first place, Druillet threatened to sue Butler for breach of copyright. A meeting was hastily arranged in France between Moorcock and Druillet where it was eventually agreed to allow the English edition to fall out of print and not be reprinted rather than resorting to costly legal proceedings.

In 1997, John Davey of Jayde Design negotiated a special dispensation from Druillet and Moorcock to produce a second edition of this rare publication.

Position within the Elric Saga

The unauthorised nature of this graphical story, combined with its scarcity due to the mutual agreement between Druillet and Moorcock, makes it largely irrelevant to the overall narrative thrust of the Elric Saga. In terms of chronology, however, it would have to fit in somewhere between the novels The Fortress of the Pearl and The Sailor on the Seas of Fate.

In his Introduction to AudioRealms' audiobook of The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (2007), Moorcock indicated that the story might be a dream that Elric experiences prior to events in the novel.


  • The Unicorn edition is titled Elric: The Return to Melnibone, omitting the diacritic over the final e. The correct spelling was restored for the Jayde Design edition.
  • Druillet represents Elric with a jewel in the centre of his forehead, as he does also with Yyrkoon and Cymoril, an artefact more readily associated with Dorian Hawkmoon than Elric. This appears to be an affectation of Druillet's since he depicts Elric similarly in other works, notably the endpapers for Opta's hardcover editions of the Elric Saga.
  • The art - though not the text - on the 16th page depicting Elric and Cymoril making love is actually upside-down, a fact which can be discerned by inverting the page whereupon Druillet's perspective appears 'right' to the viewer. Since Moorcock's text follows the error, it is possible that the incorrect orientation stems from the piece's origins as a text-less loose-leaf portfolio.

Mike Says

  • "I'd told [Bill Butler] to contact Druillet to get permission and the idiot didn't do it. Next thing I know he's showing me about five hundred pages of a typical French legal document in which Philip was suing him. This meant an Expedition to France in my old -- I mean my old -- white Nash. A Saga I ought to write about some time. Trux did the lion's share of the driving and I did my best to keep calm the babbling Bill Butler. Also aboard were Sophie and Katie (my girls), my freshly born son Max, Hilary and Fiona (at the time Trux's girl friend) and me all setting out to try to sort the matter out. I suggested that I take Philip and a friend with us to dinner to talk the matter over and try for an amicable settlement. I also had one or two of my close French friends along. As it turned out a lot of others decided to come to the dinner and I wound up paying more than Bill would have had to pay PD in the first place. I learned later that certain unfriendly souls, including Michel Demuth, who had written, I believe the French text and who had seemed happy enough to dine that night, were accusing me of 'vulgarity' for paying for the meal. Given that they hadn't offered to chip in and hadn't been invited, I found this somewhat uncool. As it happened, they reported their views to Hilary (then my estranged wife) presumably thinking to endear themselves better to her. She remembered the evening well and laid into them in a way they hadn't expected. I believe the word 'freeloaders' passed her lips. Anyway, it was an insane evening and Bill, who was flakey at the best of times, didn't help by dismissing Philip's righteous anger and suggesting that he publish some MORE of his work. I was eventually able to affect a compromise in which we both agreed not to publish the story in any form, Philip for a reasonable time, Bill never again. Philip and I were on reasonable terms thereafter and poor Bill, of course, died in his sleep..."[1]



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