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|'Elric of Melniboné' location|
Map of the Young Kingdoms, with Melniboné at centre
|Created by||Michael Moorcock|
|Genre||Fantasy, Sword and sorcery|
|Notable locations||Imrryr (capital)|
Melniboné (// MEL-ni-BOH-nay), also known as the Dragon Isle, is an imaginary country, an island featured in the writings of Michael Moorcock. It is the homeland of Elric, one of the incarnations of the Eternal Champion.
Centuries before Elric's birth, Melniboné ruled its world through sorcerous might and sheer power. However, by the time of Elric's birth, it has slipped from its preeminent place, being one of many nations. Its people, the Melnibonéans, are not wholly human and are commonly depicted as elven. They are skilled with magic and beautiful, though psychologically similar to cats, with a callous nature. They are bound by many ancient customs.
Melniboné's capital and only surviving city is Imrryr, known as The Dreaming City. Most of the rest of the island has been allowed to revert to wilderness in Elric's time. Caverns exist below the island, in which dragons sleep, awaiting the Melnibonéans' summons to war.
Only a small area of the island of Melniboné is described in the series. The decadent Melnibonéans of Elric’s time have lost their curiosity about the world and the shrinking population seldom leave the only remaining city on the island. Only slaves travel to other parts of the island, and their actions are not followed in the books.
The main geographical feature of the island is the Plain of Imrryr. It is named for Imrryr, the capital and last city of the Melnibonéans. Surrounded by walls on three sides and an artificial sea-maze on the fourth side, Imrryr is a well protected port. Early in Elric of Melniboné, Elric and his cousin Cymoril ride over the grassy plain to a pine forest, where they find a flowery meadow and a line of hills. Finally they reach a cliff overlooking the sea; a path provides access to the white sandy beach. In "The Dreaming City" Elric lands a boat in a secret inlet a few miles from Imrryr. A few additional clues are given in The Revenge of the Rose when Elric rides a dragon over woods and low, grassy ridges on the Plain of Imrryr. The dragon takes him to the ruins of H'hui'shan, the City of the Island, the only other Melnibonéan city to be named in the series. It was destroyed in a civil war. Soon after, Elric recalls the roar of the Dragon Falls; presumably a river runs through the Plain of Imrryr.
Melniboné has been inhabited for over ten thousand years. Undoubtedly, every square foot has been visited by the Imrryrians at some time. They have preserved their knowledge of natural magic through geomantic arrangement of the landscape. Children learn sorcery by walking the Moon Beam Roads, which are ethereal roads travelled through astral projection. Elric travels this way in the novel The Fortress of the Pearl. There are also the dream couches where the Melnibonéan royals learn to enhance their sorcerous skills. A Melnibonéan can spend 10,000 years travelling and learning on the dream couches. This is where so much of the power and the pacts with beings, gods if you wish, who reside in the other realms were made. These were ancient pact made with ancient beings from the worlds of insects, birds, or even feline deities. The powers of Melnibonéan sorcery defied all rationality, all explanation. Sorcerous and ley lines criss-cross the island. Some even lead to other planes of existence, if the walker knows the correct incantations and magical gestures.
Imrryr the Beautiful, the Dreaming City, is the capital and only surviving Melnibonéan city, located on the Plain of Imrryr. Beneath the city lies an underground passage that leads north to the Dragon Caves.
The city grew up around a protected harbour, an inland lagoon reached via sea-caves leading through a cliff which formed a natural seawall. Monshanjik the wizard-architect designed a sea-maze to further protect the city. Five paths lead through the sea-maze, each accessible by a different entrance set in the cliff. The cliff itself has been built up into a wall nearly a hundred feet high, topped with guard towers. The routes are a closely guarded state secret. Melnibonéan pilots, each trained for a single route, guide the blindfolded crew of visiting ships through the maze. Niches in the maze walls provide hiding places for the legendary Melnibonéan battle-barges to ambush invading ships.
The architecture of Imrryr is characterized by tall and slender many-coloured towers topped with banners. According to tradition, when an emperor dies, a tower is torn down and a new one built to bear the deceased ruler’s name. Despite the continual renewal, the declining population has left many towers crumbling in neglect. At a hundred feet in height, the highest tower in the Royal Palace is B'aal'nezbett, the Tower of Kings, with a magically sealed door. Other towers include D'a'rputna, the Tower of Emperors, also in the Royal Palace; and the Tower of Monshanjik, a sea-green, comparatively squat tower named for the designer of the sea-maze. Monshanjik Tower is the administrative center of the port.
The island’s climate is temperate. However, the day-to-day weather is unpredictable because magicians summon elementals to adjust the weather according to their whims.
Flora and fauna
Little information is available about the ecology of Melniboné. Over thousands of years, the Melnibonéans have introduced new species for their benefit or pleasure and they have probably forced others into extinction. Wild animals known to live on the island include squirrels and foxes. In exchange for the privilege of summoning her aid, the royal family made a pact with Fileet, Lady of the Birds, protecting any of her servants that should visit Imrryr. Consequently, many species of birds live in the city.
Dragons: The Melnibonéans have a close relationship with the dragons living in caves below Imrryr. Their scales can be of nearly every colour, and they have forked tongues and cold eyes. Dragons have serpentine bodies and wings which have an average span of thirty feet. The Dragon Princes, the nobility of Imrryr, are introduced to the highly intelligent beasts as children in order to learn their language, which is always voiced as songs. A dragon has a ridge on its neck which provide the rider with a natural seat, but when going into battle the Imrryrians ride in saddles. They guide the dragons with song and the notes of a horn, and sometimes with a lance-like goad.
Melnibonéan dragons do not actually breathe fire. Instead, they spit a highly flammable venomous saliva. Their venom has special properties: it is caustic, but can be caught and dried in a steel container. A small piece of dried venom, mixed with water, endows the imbiber with strength and courage for days. The peculiar metabolism that allows them to generate venom forces the dragons to sleep a century for every day of activity. Hence, dragons are long-lived, but spend most of it in sleep. Flamefang, Scarsnout, Blacksnout, and Whitesnout are among the dragons living in Elric’s day.
The Dreamthief’s Daughter contains scraps of dragon-lore not hinted at in earlier books. There are actually several types of dragons; those native to Melniboné are long-nosed Phoorn dragons. When young, they have black and white rings around their tails and snouts. The Melnibonéans invented a saddle-like sorcerous membrane named skeffla’a which enables the dragons to move between planes of existence.
Plants: Many plants growing on the island have magical or medicinal properties, including soporifics, stimulants, and the hallucinogens that give the Dreaming City its name. Some were originally planted by Melnibonéans and established themselves; in latter days they are harvested by slaves. The only such plant mentioned by name is the noidel (or nodoil), a bushy plant unique to the island that grows on the Plain of Imrryr and near the shore. It bears dark blue, poisonous berries that cause blindness and insanity in humans (comparable to deadly nightshade), but is one of the herbs Elric relies upon to strengthen his frail body. (Compare deadly nightshade.)
The Melnibonéans are a humanoid race, but their psychological distance from humans is stressed throughout the series. With the exception of Elric, they lack a moral sense. Their actions are determined by tradition and by the search for pleasure and new sensations. Meerclar, Mistress of Catkind, compares the Imrryrian nature to the nature of her own kind in their sophistication and their love of cruelty and pleasure. Torture of slaves and prisoners is a common amusement. The otherness of the Melnibonéans is manifest in their aesthetics. They naturally prefer a mix of colors and elaborate, baroque decoration and architecture. The tall spires of Imrryr are every color of the rainbow.
Their self-centered ways are held in check by rigid adherence to tradition. The society is devoted to elaborate rituals that few Imrryrians have the courage to ignore.
The world of Elric is dominated by the metaphysical principles of Law and Chaos, kept in check by the Cosmic Balance. The people of Melniboné are on the side of Chaos by nature. Arioch, a powerful Chaos Lord, is patron of Imrryr and the source of much of its power, by virtue of a diabolical pact with the Sorcerer Kings of Melniboné. Imrryrians expect that after death their souls go to the Forest of Souls, an afterlife that will endure as long as their city does. In later novels Elric discovers that the emperors of Melnibone are allowed to remain in Imryrr during their time period to enjoy their eternity. He encounters his father's soul in the book The Fortress of The Pearl.
At the beginning of the Elric series, Imrryr is already ten thousand years old, and the Melnibonéans have lived on the island for an even longer time. Much of its past is legend.
Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse is characterized by cyclical patterns of history. Similar characters, or possibly the same character in different incarnations, live on different planes of existence and face parallel struggles. Frequently different planes of existence intersect, allowing characters to pass freely between them. Thus, the Melnibonéans are not originally natives of the dimension in which they live.
The Dragon in the Sword reveals that the Melnibonéans are descendants of an elfin nomadic race. A group of the Eldren met with disaster while traveling through the Multiverse with a pair of dragons. The Eldren women became stranded in the dimension of Gheestenheem (one of the Six Worlds in the local group of planes) when the female dragon was trapped in the Dragon Sword. Adopting the identity of Cannibal Ghost Women, they survived for generations by mating with human males, a union that invariably resulted in Eldren daughters. Finally the Eternal Champion releases the dragon by breaking the Dragon Sword upon the Iron Round. Upon her release, the she-dragon opens the Dragon Gate between the dimensions. The races of dragon and Eldren are reunited, and a minor character predicts the reforging of the broken pieces of the sword as two swords: Stormbringer and Mournblade.
Two contradictory accounts of Imrryr’s special relationship with Arioch are given in the Elric series. The first appears in The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. In this version, the Melnibonéans came from R'lin K'ren A'a (“Where the High Ones Meet”), a city on an island in the jungle-covered western continent. The people of R'lin K'ren A'a were peaceful by nature, but the Lords of the Higher Worlds wanted the location for a meeting. In exchange for giving up the city, the royal family received Arioch’s patronage. Some of the refugees went as far as Sorcerer’s Isle; others went on to Melniboné, where the dragons were already living. Imrryr itself was built two centuries after the settling of the island.
A different version appears in The Revenge of the Rose. Originally the Melnibonéans were allied to the Balance and lived in two cities, Imrryr and H'hui'shan. The two cities disagreed whether to shift over to Chaos and accept the patronage of Arioch. In a civil war three days in length, Melniboné was left in ruins, but the inhabitants of H'hui'shan, the supporters of the Balance, were all killed. This version is told in the Dead Gods' Book and vouched for by the ghost of Sadric, Elric’s father, who claims that the dead are able to discern the truth. In both versions, the patronage of Chaos inevitably twists the Melnibonéans over time, making them cruel and aggressive instead of peaceful.
However it was achieved, the alliance with Arioch made the Imrryrians masters of their world for many centuries. Besides the support of Arioch, they enjoyed numerous advantages: their natural command of magic, the aid of the dragons, their battle-barges, even the terrifying swords Stormbringer and Mournblade wielded by generations of Bright Emperors. The first human civilization that attempted to challenge Melniboné was Quarzhasaat, roughly 8,000 years after the founding of Imrryr. The Sorcerer Kings sent a deluge of sand to turn the fertile empire of Quarzhasaat into a desert, although the city itself survived in isolation.
Their gradual loss of power stems from their own apathy and withdrawal rather than from any outside pressure. Even in its last days, Imrryr remains the center of trade in the western world. Only in the last half of the tenth millennium did the human nations of the Young Kingdoms feel sufficiently free of Melniboné's dominance to attempt raids of the great city.
One such raid was successfully thwarted by Elric in the first year of his reign. Shortly afterwards, he unwisely left the throne in the care of his ambitious cousin, Prince Yyrkoon, while he spent a year in the Young Kingdoms. Yyrkoon usurps the throne and puts Cymoril, his sister and Elric’s beloved, into a magical sleep. Elric retaliates by leading another raid against Imrryr. Backed by his magic and his knowledge, the raiders loot and destroy the city, but are killed by survivors crewing battle-barges and riding dragons. The surviving Imrryrians become mercenaries. The ruins of the city stand until the end of the world a few years later. Thus begins a new cycle of the world: our world.
List of Notable Bright Emperors
- Rondar IV: 12th emperor
- Elric I: 80th emperor
- Kahan VII: 329th emperor
- Iuntric X: father of Terhali
- Terhali, the Green Empress: reigned 8406-9011 after foundation of Imrryr, her long life is due to her demonic mother. She makes a brief appearance in the Chronicles of Corum with her brother Sactric.
- Sadric LXXXVI: 427th emperor, father of Elric VIII
- Elric VIII, the Albino Emperor: 428th (and last) emperor