The Skrayling Tree

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The second novel in the Dreamquest or Oona von Bek or Elric: The Moonbeam Roads trilogy, also known as Destiny’s Brother.

Publishing History (UK)

  • Trade paperback & ebook, Gollancz, 352pp., ISBN: 978-0575106147, 28 Mar 2013


Publishing History (US)

  • Hardcover, Warner Aspect, 352pp., ISBN: 0-446-53104-9, Feb 2003, Cover by Robert Gould
  • Mass Market Paperback, Warner, 480pp., ISBN: 0-446-61340-1, 31 Jul 2004, Cover by Robert Gould

skrayling_wa_03.jpg tst_wa04.jpg

Omnibus Publication (US)


The Comic Book Connection

The question of White Crow leads us to Moorcock's two recent original comic books. They are Michael Moorcock's Multiverse (1997-1998) and Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer (2004-2006). As can be seen from the dates, they straddle the writing of the novel The Skrayling Tree, and they both have interesting connections to it.

Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer provides the basis for Elric's appearance in this book. For both of them, actually. It tells the story of the four dreamquests that Elric goes on as he gains the skills to become a sorcerer. Three of them exist in the past of the Young Kingdoms, but the first, the Dream of Earth, instead sends him to another plane where he seems to be an Indian ... and he's called White Crow.

This is the same incarnation that we meet the young Elric in. However, it may not be necessarily the same dreamquest, as Elric apparently repeats many of the quests throughout his life, but much of the background is the same. In the comic he meets with the dwarfish Pukwadji (who we presume are the pygmy-like Pukawatchi from this novel) and even visits a ziggurat city on a lake of molten lava (which we presume is the city of the Kakatanawa, as we know that the lake was boiling until shortly before the book).

Thus, we can say that the White Crow of The Skrayling Tree is set sometime after the White Crow of The Making of the Sorcerer.

The appearances in Michael Moorcock's Multiverse are a bit more troublesome. I've never been convinced that it's "in continuity" (if that has any meaning in a multiverse of infinite possibilities), but the generalities of Elric's trip to Earth there match up quite a bit with the generalities of Elric's thousand-year dreamquest here--even if some of the specific details don't.

In both cases Elric visits the Earth from the middle ages to the modern day. In the comic he arrives in 800 AD and in the book he arrives in 900 AD. In the comic we only know that he fails to leave in 1000, while in the book we know he stays until 2001 when a member of his family dies (or so he explains in The Skrayling Tree).

There are also some discrepancies in how Elric arrived at Earth. In the comic, he's arrived before he finishes blowing the Horn of Fate at the end of Stormbringer while in The Skrayling Tree he purposefully sends himself upon a 1000-year dreamquest while in grave danger toward the end of the series so that he can find the means to save himself (which requires him to find the Nihrain smiths who made Stormbringer, and thus allows him to resummon the blade).

I put down the discrepancies to two facts:

  • (1) In 1997, I think that Moorcock hadn't decided upon his final plan, but simply knew that he wanted to write about "Duke Elric" on Earth; and
  • (2) Moorcock has quite publicly said that he doesn't reread his old books, and as a result he sometimes seems to mess up the details.

Despite these discrepancies, I think there's a good argument that something very like the events of Duke Elric (in Michael Moorcock's Multiverse) did occur 100 or 200 years before the events of The Skrayling Tree). In particular, Elric's references to the Barbary Rose in the novel seem to link with his encounters in the comic. In the novel he says that he stayed with her twice, once as a lover and once as a prisoner, while in the comic we see the prison stay (and discussion that they'd known each other before).

Overall, I suspect Duke Elric in Michael Moorcock's Multiverse was a bit of a dry run for The Skrayling Tree, especially since they each have an almost identical scene of a dragon being saved by an item with the sign of chaos upon it, returning the dragon's ability to fly between the dimensions. Nonetheless, they can coexist as parts of the same story too.

The Skrayling Tree is otherwise full of all sorts of interconnections.

Second Ether

The Barbary Rose is of course the Rose, from Second Ether and The Revenge of the Rose. She's one of a couple of Second Ether characters that appear, notably also including Ap Kwelch. One presumes this is part of the Game of Time they are playing. We also see references to the Pukawatchi tribe as being insect-like, presumably a reference to the Original Insect of Second Ether.

Most importantly, The Skrayling Tree pushes heavy on the idea of "scales" separating the multiverse. Here it's made clear that this literally means differences in size. Near the Skrayling Tree itself, people appear at different sizes because the scales are converging.

The Multiverse

The discussion of the multiverse itself is the other interesting element of the book. We hear more about the Grey Fees, but the Ziggurat City of the Kakatanawa (which we can only presume was a prototype for the Vadhagh ziggurat cities) is described as not quite the center of the multiverse, but at least its heart.

The Artifacts

Finally, we return once more to the artifacts of the universe.

Our accepted history of Stormbringer and Mournblade being forged as two great swords, with an alien spirit entering into Stormbringer becomes pretty solidified here. We also get confirmation that it was the Nihrainians who did the forging.

There's also an interesting bit at the end when the multiverse (symbolized as the great Skrayling Tree, which is also the Cosmic Balance) is saved by Stormbringer being plunged through it, the Actorios Gem being placed on it, then the Grail being hung from each of its crossguards. Later the sword becomes the runestaff. It's a statement of the powers of life and death needed to form the multiverse, but also of the importance of these items.

(And it's almost identical to a similar scene in Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer, except there the Runestaff is laid across the sword to form the Balance.)


  1. Edited version of ShannonA's post[1] on the Xenagia forum


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