The Runestaff – Michael Moorcock (1969)
Hawkmoon, determined to return to Europe, sets off to cross the ocean, but is driven back by dragon-like sea monsters and is marooned on an island, which he soon discovers is Dnark, home of the Runestaff itself. There he meets Orland Fank, the Hebridean ‘brother’ of The Warrior in Jet and Gold and Jehamia Cohnahlias, the Spirit of The Runestaff.
Regular Moorcock readers will recognise this as yet another variation on the name which reappears throughout his work ascribed to aspects of the Eternal Champion, its most famous manifestation being Jerry Cornelius, Moorcock’s experimental literary antihero whose reality is as fluid as his sexuality and gender.
Hawkmoon and D’Averc find they are not alone in Dnark, for the Dark Empire of Granbretan, now employing the new engines designed by Kalan of the Serpent Order, have reached Amarekh, and have sent the evil and corpulent Shenegar Trott to claim the Runestaff for King Huon.
Following a battle in the city of Glowing Shadows in which Hawkmoon invokes the Legion of the Dawn, Shenegar Trott and the Warrior in Jet and Gold are both slain, and Hawkmoon is urged to take the Runestaff back to Europe.
Meanwhile, there is dissidence within the halls of Granbretan, where Baron Meliadus is planning a coup and the death of the immortal King Huon. His plan is to marry Flana Mikosevaar, Huon’s only surviving relative and crown her Queen, giving him more or less absolute rule over the Earth.
The scenes within Granbretan itself are by far the most interesting and inventive, from King Huon’s chaotically coloured, windowless palace, where – in his immense throne room – he is guarded by a thousand mantis-masked warriors, to Lord Taragorm’s Palace of Time. There Lord Taragorm – in his helmet composed of a working clock – is surrounded by thousands of timepieces, and pursues his arcane experiments into the nature of Time itself.
His current invention is a clock whose striking will cause such vibrations throughout the dimensions that the crystal machine in Castle Brass will be destroyed, returning the rebels and their castle back to their original plane.
By the time this is achieved however, The Granbretanians are in the midst of civil war and while the ‘Beasts Begin to Squabble’ Count Brass and his meagre forces, with Hawkmoon and the Runestaff at the forefront, march on Granbretan itself.
There are ironic in-jokes hidden within the text, some of which I regret I cannot decipher. In Book Three, Chapter Five, ‘The Fleet at Deau-Vere’ for instance, Moorcock describes the ships of the Granbretanians.
‘There were panels in their sides, each carrying an intricate painting depicting some earlier sea victory for Granbretan. Gilded figureheads decorated the forward parts of the ships, representing the terrifying ancient gods of Granbretan – Jhone, Jhorg, Phowl, Rhunga, (John, George, Paul, Ringo) who were said to have ruled the land before The Tragic Millennium – Chirshil. the Howling God (Churchill); Bjrin Adass, the Singing God; (Brian Aldiss) Jeajee Blad, the Groaning God (JG Ballard) and Aral Vilsn, the Roaring God, (Harold Wilson) Father of Skvese and Blansacredid, the gods of Doom and Chaos.
As is to be expected, the Dark Empire is defeated and the balance is restored, but temporarily, as Moorcock is always at pains to point out, since the forces of Order and Chaos are always at work, and the Runestaff seeks only to maintain the balance and ensure that neither force has too great an influence.