Michael Moorcock is often proclaimed as one of the very best fantasists, particularly as regards sword and sorcery style fantasy. His creation of the character Elric (and in connection the creation of the idea of the eternal champion) is particularly noted as one of the great classic fantasy writing works. Though one cannot question the influence Moorcock has had on other authors one must wonder again why it is that Moorcock dislikes Tolkien so much when it appears clear that Tolkien's is the far superior work of fiction and indeed many of the flaws Moorcock accuses Tolkien of can be found in these stories (poor prose, lack of characterisation, plot holes etc.). It may not be true to say that jealousy inspired Moorcock's attack in Epic Pooh
yet it does seem that there is a sense that Moorcock aims to write Norse inspired fiction like Tolkien and yet does not quite succeed as well.
It may be that these earlier stories in this volume are not quite as fleshed out as the works written later by Moorcock. That said these stand as relatively interesting sword and sorcery tales and so should be read as such. Moorcock's strengths here appear to be the vivid world and characters he creates. Yet characterisation is also one of his flaws, particularly where it comes to female characters. Indeed most, if not all, his female characters exist as plot devices (or seem to be men with different physical descriptions) and as such are near unbelievable as true individuals. Vivid imagery can also be seen as another flaw in these stories as Moorcock often delves into melodrama. Interestingly it seems that Moorcock and Tolkien are very similar to each other in various aspects though they each have different aims.
It is fascinating how Moorcock uses sorcery in his stories. Like Tolkien his magic is neither explained, nor thrown about wildly. Yet Moorcock's magic, unlike Tolkien's, is purely a force for evil, therefore creating a system that rather restricts magic to those characters who are chaotic in nature. The idea of Chaos versus Law (though a rather old one) is also fascinating and connects nicely to this sorcery usage in the novellas. Further the way Moorcock writes his stories creates the feel of them as being like older myth tales written in one volume and following the tragic hero figure of Elric. That said the book is let down by its pacing which is rather rushed and rarely pauses to delight in the aesthetics or delve into the deeper ideas presented by Moorcock.
All of which leads to a closer examination of a notable quote by Moorcock. Though it has been said that the words of the author cannot be the end of the line as regards a novel it is still useful to examine them in context with the work. “I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I'd rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas.”
Certainly in one context Moorcock is a bad writer. He lacks the ability to use simplicity to his advantage like Chekhov and he cannot utilise inventiveness like Joyce, nor write poetically as Tennyson or Durrell. Yet at the same time the fact that his novels can convey an exciting story in such a condensed space makes him a good writer. For I believe that a good writer is one who best conveys the story they aim to convey and Moorcock certainly achieves this. However as for the second aspect to his statement there is a more subjective element. The big ideas present in Moorcock's stories here are strangely limited, despite the use of a interesting cosmology in the fantasy tales. There is little of anything to suggest that Moorcock relies upon ideas which promote higher order thinking and therefore little to suggest that his work is anything but a fun romping adventure story.