The Dreaming City (story)

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The Dreaming City, a short story by Michael Moorcock, featuring Elric, the albino prince of Melniboné. Its original publication was in Science Fantasy #47, (June 1961), the periodical edited by John Carnell who first encouraged Moorcock to produce his early Elric stories.

Publishing History (UK)

  • Science Fantasy #47, (Nova, June 1961), edited by E.J. Carnell (periodical)
  • The Stealer of Souls, (Neville Spearman Ltd, 1963) (hardcover)
  • The Stealer of Souls, (Mayflower Books, 1968) (paperback)
  • The Weird of the White Wolf (Grafton, 1984) (paperback)
  • The Tale of the Eternal Champion, Volume 8: Elric of Melniboné, (Orion Books, 1993) (hardcover & paperback)
  • Elric, (Gollancz, 2001) (paperback)[1]

Publishing History (US)


* * The following section may contain spoilers * *

Hired by six Sea Lords from the Young Kingdoms[2] Elric leads an attack on his former home and the capital of Melniboné, Imrryr, the Dreaming City. While the Sea Lords wish to raid Imrryr for its treasures and need Elric to guide the fleet through the maze that protects the city, Elric has his own motives for aiding the Reavers. While the albino wanders throughout the Young Kingdoms, his cousin, Yyrkoon, rules Melniboné in his stead; however, Yyrkoon has placed his sister Cymoril - whom Elric loves - in an enchanted sleep. To prevent knowledge of the Reavers’ plan reaching Melniboné ahead of the planned invasion, Elric summons a mist that hides the fleet.

Prior to the attack, Elric returns to Melniboné with the aid of wind elementals to finalise his preparations for keeping Cymoril safe during the assault, and orders his servant Tanglebones to take the slumbering Cymoril to The Tower of D’a’rputna. Yyrkoon discovers Elric's presence within the city, and he is forced to summon the demon Arioch to escape Yyrkoon’s guardsmen, whereupon he returns to the Purple Towns.

Five days later, the Reavers' fleet of five hundred ships attacks the Dreaming City. Losses are suffered by both sides when Dharmit's flagship is sunk and Dyvim Tarkan, Commander of the Wall, falls from the seawall defences. With the great wooden gate breached, Elric guides the ships through the maze and reach the harbour. While the Reavers sack the city, Elric heads for the Tower of D’a’rputna, where he discovers Tanglebones mortally wounded, who tells his master that Yyrkoon has taken Cymoril to the Tower of B'aal'nezbett in the Royal Palace. Armed with the demon runesword Stormbringer, Elric enters the tower only to be confronted by an insane Yyrkoon, who has armed himself with Stormbringer’s twin, Mournblade. As the cousins fight, Cymoril awakens and pleads with Elric to sheath Stormbringer, but Elric is unable to do so, and strikes Yyrkoon a mortal blow, but before dying, Yyrkoon flings Cymoril onto the point of Stormbringer, and she dies screaming.

"Then the dark truth dawned on his clearing brain and he moaned in grief, like an animal. He had slain the girl he loved. The runesword fell from his grasp, stained by Cymoril’s lifeblood, and clattered unheeded down the stairs. Sobbing now, Elric dropped beside the dead girl and lifted her in his arms.
'Cymoril,' he moaned, his whole body throbbing. 'Cymoril - I have slain you.'"

Mourning Cymoril’s death, Elric rejoins the Reavers' fleet and prepares to flee the destruction of Imrryr, but as they set sail they as set-up by the great golden battle barges of the Melnibonéan fleet. Elric summons a witch-wind to enable some forty ships to out-distance the Imrryrian barges, but when these are in turn attacked by the Melnibonéan Dragon Lords, he concentrates the supernatural wind on his ship alone, leaving the remnants of the ravaged fleet to their doom.

The next night, moored off the coast of Pan Tang, Elric casts the now-despised Stormbringer into the sea, but the black blade does not sink but sticks in the water. Separated from the sentient hellblade, a weakened Elric realises how much he has come to depend upon Stormbringer’s vitality and retrieves it.

"He reached it and put his fingers around the hilt. At once it settled in his hand and Elric felt strength seep slowly back into his aching body. Then he realised that he and the sword were interdependent, for though he needed the blade, Stormbringer, parasitic, required a user - without a man to wield it, the blade was also powerless."

Reunited with Stormbringer, Elric states that they are "produced by an age which has deserted us", and he vows to "give this age cause to hate us" as they wander its lands and seas.


The first ever Elric story really throws us in at the deep end. In the hands of any other author, this would have been the climax of an existing narrative rather than the start of an on-going one. Here we are introduced and say goodbye to Imrryr the Dreaming City in the space of a few pages, and Elric goes from being a trusted friend to a deserter and woman-/kinslayer, so that by the end he is utterly alone in the world save for the hated Stormbringer. The sinister nature of Stormbringer is also revealed to us in the final paragraphs where Moorcock inverts the traditional relationship of the hero and his 'magic' sword into one of addict and his 'drug of choice'.


Aspects of this story would later turn up in the first Jerry Cornelius novel, The Final Programme, as Jerry leads an attack on his late father's French château, where his brother Frank has imprisoned their sister Catherine, who Jerry accidentally shoots with his Needle Gun, so killing her.

The short story The Dreaming City is unconnected to the Magnum Book's novel, The Dreaming City by Moorcock, which is a (unauthorised) re-titling of the novel Elric of Melniboné.


Main Article: Elric: The Dreaming City

'The Dreaming City' was adapted as a comic strip by Roy Thomas and P. Craig Russell, initially in Epic Illustrated #3-4 (1980) before being completed in Elric: The Dreaming City (1982).

Griffin Records CD Booklet

In 1994 a collectors reprint booklet of 'The Dreaming City' was included with Griffin Records' US 2CD reissue of Hawkwind's Live Chronicles album (cat. GCDHA-0136-2). The booklet cover was based on James Cawthorn's artwork for Science Fantasy #55, which depicted a scene from the story (but actually featured The Flame Bringers novella) but with the 'correct' issue/volume details for Science Fantasy #47. As such, it is the only published example of what the cover of Science Fantasy #47 ought to have looked like - if Brian Lewis' artwork hadn't been used instead.


Mike Says

  • "I never did more than a few pages of a proposed Conan story for Fantastic Universe. The magazine folded before I could do any more and I put it aside. This is what I first showed to Carnell. He then asked me to do something different, so I did something as different as I could."[3]
  • "Well, originally, I only intended to write the one story. Then I was asked for another, and another -- and eventually asked for a serial (which was Stormbringer) -- and that's how the series grew. I hadn't really expected the stories to be so popular! The same sort of thing happened to Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes. Maybe something similar happened with George Lucas and the first Star Wars movies, too. Public demand, pure and simple."[4]
  • "One of the reason my work had whatever vitality people find in it could be because I was exploring a new medium, trying out some peculiar ideas within that medium (i.e. the first Elric stories). Tensions and vitality usually come from authors exploring unknown territory. I have no interest in the logistics of fantasy cities. For me any secondary function that the city has is symbolic and I would no more go into its economics than I'd go into the economics of Paris in 1800 if I was setting a novel there. This is the stuff of accountancy, not literature."[5]


  1. Fantasy Masterworks vol 17
  2. Count Smiorgan Baldhead of the Purple Towns, Yaris, Dharmit of Jharkor, Fadan of Lormyr, Naclon of Vilmir, and Jiku the dandy
  4. Moorcock's Miscellany Q&A Archive Article #2349
  5. Moorcock's Miscellany Q&A Archive Article #434