The Jewel in The Skull – Michael Moorcock (1967)
In the first of the four volume ‘Runestaff’ series, Moorcock introduces us to Dorian Hawkmoon, another incarnation of the Eternal Champion. Hawkmoon hails from Köln, in a Germany of the far future. The Dark Empire of Granbretan has begun its invasion of Europe and in the way stands the Kamarg, a land of marshes, giant flamingos, white bulls and horned horses. There, in Castle Brass lives Count Brass, scientist and soldier.
Hawkmoon is captured by Baron Meliadus and, having had a sentient and deadly jewel inserted in his forehead, is sent to Castle Brass to kidnap the Count’s daughter Yisselda. When the Count neutralises the jewel’s power and recruits Hawkmoon to his cause, Meliadus swears by the Runestaff to have his vengeance, thus invoking ancient and powerful forces and setting fast the course of the future. Thus Hawkmoon, his allies and enemies are locked into the predestinate grooves along which lies their destiny.
Despite its hastily written feel and its formulaic structure, Hawkmoon’s first adventure is full of strange and original ideas, blending fantasy and science fiction (although more prosaic critics would argue that the scientific elements are merely fantasy devices wrapped in the robes of technology) into that entertaining hybrid Science Fantasy.
Our contemporary civilisation has been long forgotten, although fragments of it remain, as in Bowgentle’s recited poem which contains references to Earth’s lost past, which itself was long before ‘The Tragic Millennium’ that spawned twisted mutated creatures and the breakdown of civilisation. Stories and myths are told about the far lands of Asiacommunista and Amarekh, though no-one has actually returned from these lands to verify the facts.
Hawkmoon discovers that his only hope of ridding himself of the jewel embedded in his skull is to travel to Hamadan to seek Malagigi the sorceror-scientist. On his journey he teams up with Oladahn, a hair-covered midget half-giant who becomes his companion and is – as is pointed out in other works – another incarnation of the Eternal Champion’s companion, or possibly the Champion himself.
There he thwarts the plans of the Granbretanians and the life within the jewel is destroyed.
Moorcock’s abiding theme in his work is the eternal battle raging throughout the Multiverse between Order and Chaos.
The forces of Chaos here are represented by the decadent and psychotic people of Granbretan, divided into ‘tribes’ or ‘clans’ defined by the beast-masks they wear.
It’s a stultified jaded society composed of people afraid to show their true faces, ruled for the last two thousand years by King Huon from the depths of his throne globe.
The two thousand year figure is significant since this was written around the time of Moorcock’s involvement with the British new wave, and also a time when the voice of youth was rebelling against the establishment. This is by no means a work which fits into the New Wave, but is in its own way the work of an individual voice and pushes the devices of SF and Fantasy almost to the point of self-parody.