Law and Chaos

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Law and Chaos are the dominant metaphysical forces in the fantasy stories of Michael Moorcock. Law and Chaos are in constant struggle, but they are kept in check by the Cosmic Balance, an even more powerful force for neutrality. The Eternal Champion acts to balance the advances of Law and Chaos as a servant of the Cosmic Balance, reincarnated or summoned to the worlds of the Multiverse where Chaos or Law is becoming dominant. [1]

The Elric series contains the most information about Law, Chaos, and the Balance, as well as the beings called the Lords of the Higher Worlds: the deities who serve and represent Chaos or Law. [1] This may be explained by three reasons. (1) Moorcock has written more about Elric than any other character. (2) Elric spends more time interacting with deities and cosmic forces because he is a powerful sorcerer. (3) The Lords of the Higher Worlds are more numerous in Elric's world or interact with it more frequently. In an episode mirrored in The Vanishing Tower and The King of the Swords, Elric meets another incarnation of the Eternal Champion, Corum Jhaelen Irsei, who explains to him:

There are many planes of existence. In some the Lords of Chaos are strong. In some they are weak. In some, I have heard, they do not exist at all.

In the world of Hawkmoon, for example, Chaos is powerful but is seldom personified. The Lords of the Higher Worlds appear mainly in the series about Elric and Corum.

Variations exist in the allegiance of intelligent races to Law or Chaos. In Elric's world, humans are naturally inclined towards Law and must pervert themselves to gain the assistance of Chaos, while the inhuman Melnibonéans feel a natural sympathy with Chaos. But in Corum's worlds, the humanoid Vadhagh as the creations of Law tend towards good. The Mabden (humans), though creations of Chaos, are capable of both good and evil without the manipulations of the gods.

In a letter to the fanzine Niekas in 1964, Moorcock said he took the idea of Law and Chaos being in conflict from the Zoroastrian cosmology, which describes a deity representing goodness and order (Ahura Mazda) in conflict with a deity representing evil and chaos (Ahriman).[1]


Chaos (disorder, entropy) expresses the principle of possibility unfettered by rules. In general, magic and sorcery draw on the powers of Chaos because they break the laws of nature. The effects of Chaos can be beautiful, but left unchecked, they become too disruptive for life.

Symbol of Chaos

Pure Chaos stuff manifests in Stormbringer and "The Dream of Earl Aubec". It is swirling, constantly changing, multicolored matter with the power to melt and twist anything with which it comes in contact, including living flesh. Mortals find the sight of pure Chaos disturbing. Ironically, a realm controlled by Chaos becomes stagnant: the state of constant change lacks meaning, and eventually all possibilities are exhausted. Corum encounters a similar state of nature when he visits the realm of Xiombarg in The Queen of the Swords. In Stormbringer, when Chaos takes over much of the world, Elric and his companions observe that the sun is motionless and time seems to stand still.

Just as the Eternal Champion can be a servant of Law, though he is often more the servant of the balance, so Chaos also has its own champions. The most formidable is Prince Gaynor the Damned, formerly a servant of the Law but condemned by the Balance to aid Chaos after an unspeakable betrayal. He is completely hidden in shining armour that constantly changes hue from gold to silver to blue and so on, emblazoned with the symbol of Chaos – an image of eight arrows, radiating in all directions from a central point, to represent the many possibilities Chaos offers.[1]

Elric's sword Stormbringer is a Chaotic being, but not a god; it is powerful enough to slay Chaos Lords, and apparently feels no bond of sympathy with them. It is typical of Chaos to be at war with itself.

Lords of Chaos[edit]

The Chaos Lords have the powers of gods but the behaviour, and often the appearance, of demons. When they appear at their worst, they deliberately inflict pain and suffering on mortals for amusement; even at best, they are not concerned with the harmful effects of their creations. The Revenge of the Rose openly portrays Arioch as insane. Sorcerers often gain power by entering into diabolical pacts with Chaos Lords. Mortals who ally with Disorder gradually become misshapen or corrupt.

Chaos Lords are sometimes restricted from acting directly against humans. In The Queen of the Swords, for instance, it is said that Xiombarg (as all the gods) is not permitted to strike directly against others unless they attack her, and must instead act through intermediaries. At other times, they may act without prohibition (as, for example, when Elric calls upon the aid of Arioch; the god may attack mortals without hesitation). Similar limitations are probably placed upon the Lords of Law. They are also restricted in their ability to move between planes. For instance, Arioch must be summoned by Elric before he can manifest on Earth.

In the Elric series, there are many Chaos Lords, some more powerful than others, but the relationships between them is not always clear. In Corum's world, by contrast, there is a well-developed hierarchy of Chaos. The Fifteen Planes are divided into three groups of five planes, each governed by one of the three Sword Rulers, who are some of the "Old Gods": Arioch ("Knight of Swords"), Xiombarg ("Queen of Swords"), and Mabelode ("the Faceless", "King of Swords"). These gods also appear in the Elric series, but their character is slightly different. Arioch, the first Corum encounters, is the weakest of the three. He appears for much of the time as brutish, crude and direct, in contrast to his sophisticated, subtle nature as Elric's patron and perhaps less intelligent, though he also shows a different form to Corum. The crudity may be a result of interaction between him and the Mabden. Xiombarg appears as an unspeakably beautiful woman. She is more powerful and is more active in controlling and manipulating the planes under her control. However, when her anger is aroused, it leads to her downfall. Mabelode is most powerful of all. Much of his realm is constantly changing chaos-stuff. He appears as a literally faceless man bearing a golden sword.

The Sword Rulers have vassals; it is possible that similar relationships exist between the deities in Elric's world though this is not made explicit. Arioch's vassals include Urleh, a minor god of Chaos serving the sophisticated Mabden (humans) of Lwyn-am-Esh; and the Dog and the Horned Bear, the savage beast-gods of the barbarians. A former priest of Urleh tells Corum that these gods are omnipotent and omniscient only over their spheres of influence; the Dog and the Bear are knowledgeable chiefly about Mabden affairs. Mabelode has a host of Dukes of Hell under him, but the only one named is Duke Teer. He has a vaguely pig-like head and takes great pride in his "Castle Built of Blood".


Law provides order, structure, and justice to the world. Without it, nothing material could exist. Law appears friendly to life, but a realm controlled by Law alone becomes just as stagnant as one overrun by Chaos. In "To Rescue Tanelorn", the Realm of Law is a barren wasteland; without wrongs to right and injustice to correct, Law becomes meaningless. In The Dreamthief's Daughter, Law goes mad and tries to overrun the world. Ordinarily, however, Law is benevolent and beautiful in its perfect regularity.

Symbol of Law

During the time when most of the Eternal Champion cycle is set, Law is weak and is in fact banished from most mortal planes of existence. Elric must summon the White Lords to his plane by blowing the Horn of Fate. In Corum's realm, the destruction of first Arioch, then Xiombarg permits the return of Law. At the end, all gods are swept away leaving the races to make their own destinies.

Besides the Eternal Champion, Law has servants who aid Law by advising the Champion or in other ways. Myshella, the Dark Lady of Kaneloon, Empress of the Dawn, is a servant of Law in Elric's world. She serves Law by tempting or guiding heroes to pit their wills against pure Chaos, by which process the lands of Earth are extended. In The Quest for Tanelorn, Hawkmoon comes upon a unique "Gathering of the Wise," messengers of Law brought together from many planes. Present at the gathering are Sepiriz of Nihrain, who advises Elric in Stormbringer; Abaris of the Magi; Lamsar the Hermit, who guides Rackhir to the Grey Lords in "To Rescue Tanelorn"; the Warrior in Jet and Gold (who also appears in The Dragon in the Sword); Aleryon-a-Nyvish of the Temple of Law, a priest of Ilah in The Queen of the Swords; and the Silver Queen from Phoenix in Obsidian.

The Symbol of Law is a single Arrow of Law.

Lords of Law[edit]

The White Lords of Law are much less developed than the Lords of Chaos. Most of the stories are set in a cosmic cycle when Chaos is most powerful. When they appear, the Lords of Law are usually more benevolent than the Chaos Lords, who are seductive – but also sinister, and prone to losing their temper. However, mortals who meet with the Lords of Law are wise to remember that what benefits the gods does not always suit the aims of mortals.

Donblas is the only Lord of Law to appear in Elric's world. In Corum's world, there are three chief Lords of Law, corresponding to the three Sword Rulers. The first is Arkyn, counterpart to Arioch. When first met, his powers are weak and he has difficulty manifesting in Corum's plane and appears as an indistinct but tall figure. When his powers return, he appears as a gigantic (as tall as the sky) handsome figure. He is the creator of the Vadhagh, his favourite race. There is a brief reference to "Lord Shalod" (the ruler of the second five planes of the Corum mythos), presumably the counterpart to Xiombarg, but he is not described. A counterpart to Mabelode is not named. Like the Chaos Lords, the Lords of Law have their vassals. The only vassal deity of Law named is Ilah, a servant of Arkyn.

The Cosmic Balance[edit]

The Cosmic Balance maintains the balance of power between Law and Chaos by keeping both sides from overstepping the rules of war. It rarely manifests directly, but when it does (as in Stormbringer, The Queen of Swords, and The Quest for Tanelorn) it appears as a great pair of scales suspended in the sky. In The Queen of the Swords, it also manifests to pass judgment between two Lords of the Higher Worlds. The Balance is the power most beneficial to life, which needs a mixture of Law and Chaos to exist. It is also the agent of Fate.

The Runestaff is a sentient object associated with the Balance, as Stormbringer is associated with Chaos.

The Grey Lords appear in the story "To Rescue Tanelorn," where it is said that they “are pledged neither to Law nor to Chaos, but will sometimes help either side if the whim takes them.” The Grey Lords take pride, ironically, in their humility. These purposefully neutral gods are gods of the Balance and caretakers of Tanelorn, the city of the Balance.

Eternal Tanelorn exists in all planes of the Multiverse. It is neutral in the war between Law and Chaos, so it serves as a place of rest and retreat for tired heroes. As a general rule, they can only find the city after a long and difficult search. Its inhabitants are happy and productive because they are free to pursue their own interests instead of the desires of gods. People in Tanelorn feel intense peace.

The fate of Law, Chaos, and the Balance is revealed in The Quest for Tanelorn, in which the history of one cycle of the Multiverse is concluded during the Conjunction of the Million Spheres. After defeating the sorcerers Agak and Gagak, Hawkmoon and Erekosë reach Tanelorn where they meet the Runestaff and Stormbringer in humanoid forms. Hawkmoon learns that the Black Sword and the Black Jewel are two aspects of the same creature. At the beginning of the Great Cycle, powerful smiths (the Chaos Engineers) created the Sword, the Jewel, the Runestaff, and finally the Balance to preserve Order between Law and Chaos, especially to limit the power of Stormbringer.

Erekose takes up the Black Sword and destroys the Balance; then Hawkmoon smashes the Jewel with the Runestaff, which breaks. Thus, the last symbols of Authority are destroyed, leaving humanity free to make its own fate, but Erekose is also killed by the release of power. Hawkmoon is the last surviving incarnation of the Eternal Champion, and with all gods dead, his function as Champion is ended.

The Sword Trilogy introduces two beings who are beyond even the balance, Kwll and Rhynn, also known as the "Lost Gods". The only thing that binds them is their brotherhood. In the King of Swords it is they who first destroy Mabelode and his Dukes of Hell, then the gods of Law as well.

Cultural influences[edit]

Law and Chaos in Michael Moorcock's fiction inspired the alignment system in Dungeons and Dragons.[2] In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Law, Chaos and Neutral (Balance) are combined with Good, Evil and Neutral to create a total of nine alignments.

Moorcock's conception of Chaos also heavily inspired Games Workshop in the creation of its Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 fictional settings. Notably, however, they only briefly used Moorcock's conceptions of Order or the Balance. [3]The descriptions of Chaos, of the eight-pointed star, of the Chaos Lords, the strange multicolored hues of energies, mutations and warping of matter and flesh, and so forth found in the Warhammer settings are all derived directly from Moorcock's works.

The eight pointed star symbol is used by some writers on Chaos Magic.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Mark Scroggins, Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy and the World's Pain. McFarland, 2015 ISBN 9781476624174 (pgs. 10, 28-9)
  2. ^ Calisuri and Corvar (30 May 2000). "Gary Gygax - Creator of Dungeons & Dragons". Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  3. ^ Pat Harrigan, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum (editors), Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming. MIT Press, 2016 ISBN 026233495X (p. 611)
  4. ^ Condensed Chaos: Phil Hine, New Falcon Publications, 1995

See also[edit]