The Eternal Champion (novel)
Cover of the first edition
|Cover artist||Frank Frazetta|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|Followed by||Phoenix in Obsidian|
The Eternal Champion is a fantasy novel by Michael Moorcock. First published in 1970, it is based on stories Moorcock published in Avillion and Science Fantasy. It is the first in a trilogy of books about the Eternal Champion in his incarnation as Erekosë. The sequels are Phoenix in Obsidian (1970), also published as The Silver Warriors, and The Dragon in the Sword (1987).
In the book, John Daker is taken from his ordinary life in the modern world and incarnated in the form of Erekosë, a long-dead hero. He learns that he has been summoned to lead the human race in a fight against the alien Eldren, as he once did in the legendary past. He must balance his 20th-century consciousness with his patchy memories of a past life as a sword and sorcery-type warrior. He also must learn to distinguish the truth, since the rules of his new world are not necessarily the rules of Earth, and he cannot decide whether reports of magical events are real.
Although it lacks the popularity of other books by Moorcock, especially the Elric series, The Eternal Champion is a key text in the mythology of the Multiverse. Many of Moorcock's fantasy and science fiction works tell the story of an "Eternal Champion" who is fated to fight for Humanity, or Law, or the Balance. The Eternal Champion introduces two aspects of the Champion: John Daker and Erekosë. John Daker is unique in that he is aware of his other incarnations and his fate. Through his eyes, the reader is able to learn the identities of many aspects of the Champion. Erekosë is one of the most frequently mentioned aspects of the hero in other books by Moorcock. In one story, told from different viewpoints in The Vanishing Tower and The King of the Swords, Elric and Corum meet a third aspect of the hero who joins with them to form The Three Who Are One. When they ask his name, he tells them to call him Erekosë, because it was in that form that he came closest to knowing peace. In other works, however, it is hinted that Erekosë himself committed a crime of betrayal, and that the Eternal Champion is somehow punished for it.
The Eternal Champion is the story of that betrayal.
The Eternal Champion is narrated by John Daker, an inhabitant of 20th century Earth. At the beginning of the novel, his sleep is disturbed by dreams of other worlds and a repeated name: Erekosë. After many nights he understands that he is Erekosë and he finds the strength to answer the call. He arrives in a world that is strange to John Daker but somehow familiar to Erekosë (the narrator struggles to reconcile these two viewpoints throughout the book). He is welcomed by the aging King Rigenos of Necranal and his daughter Iolinda, and receives Erekosë's legendary sword, Kanajana. The sword emits a deadly radiance that quickly kills anyone who receives even a minor wound from it. (Readers familiar with Elric will immediately recognise Kanajana as an avatar of Stormbringer by virtue of its dark color and magical lethality.)
Rigenos explains to Erekosë that all of humanity is united in a desperate fight against the inhuman Eldren, who have claimed the southern continent Mernadin and are said to be seeking to expand their empire. (The Eldren have some resemblance to elves as depicted in the works of Tolkien and others, but the term is not used.)
Privately John Daker harbours doubts, but decides that his allegiance must be to his own kind even if the Eldren are not as demonic as Rigenos claims. During this time and throughout the book, the narrator continues to have dreams in which he takes on the identity of many heroes engaged in constant, unending struggle. After secretly betrothing himself to Iolinda, he leads an expedition against the Eldren seaport Paphanaal. The human fleet destroys an Eldren fleet in a naval battle, then takes Paphanaal easily as the only remaining inhabitants are women and children. Erekosë is sickened by the actions of his human allies during the battle and the sack of the city. The only surviving Eldren is Ermizhad, sister of Prince Arjavh the Eldren commander; she is put in Erekosë's keeping during the return to Necranal.
After the fleet returns, Erekosë and Iolinda announce their betrothal. Soon a large Eldren force lands near Necranal; it is Arjavh come to rescue his sister. Among the troops is a large contingent of halflings, relatives of Eldren from the Ghost Worlds who have the power to teleport themselves. The Eldren defeat the humans in battle and Erekosë is captured. He tells Arjavh, "Trade me for Ermizhad."
During his captivity, Arjavh tells him about the history of his world, which was originally inhabited only by Eldren. After the arrival of humans, fearsome weapons during a war between the races nearly destroyed the planet. The Eldren hid away their weapons and vowed never to use such weapons again – not even to save themselves from total extinction, which would become a very real possibility in the later course of the book. The humans simply forgot how to build such weapons.
Erekosë is released with the understanding that Ermizhad will be released in turn, but when he reaches Necranal he finds that she is still a prisoner. She tells him not to worry, then summons the halflings to help her escape. Jealous, Iolinda accuses him (rightly) of sympathising with the Eldren. Erekosë makes a rash vow in a desperate attempt to prove his love for her:
- "I swear I shall kill all the Eldren."
- "Every single Eldren life."
- "You will spare none?"
- "None! None! I want it to be over. And the only way I can finish it is to kill them all. Then it will be over—only then!"
- "Including Prince Arjavh and his sister?"
- "Including them!"
- "You swear this? You swear it?"
- "I swear it. And when the last Eldren dies, when the whole world is ours, then I will bring it to you and we shall be married."
In the course of a year-long campaign to destroy the Eldren, Rigenos is killed, Iolanda becomes queen, and the human army is exhausted. The last Eldren stronghold is Loos Ptokai. Before the siege begins, Arjavh invites Erekosë into the city to rest and see Ermizhad one last time. Erekosë regrets the need to kill these civilised people but feels bound by his vow. He had managed to suppress his dreams during the campaign, but when he falls asleep in Loos Ptokai, they return. This time, however, he dreams that not only the Champion, but all of humanity is trapped in eternal struggle. When he awakes, he decides to make one last attempt at peace. He returns with his army to Necranal, but Iolinda realises that he has fallen in love with Ermizhad and commands that he be taken prisoner. He escapes and returns to Loos Ptokai.
Too soon, the humans mount a new attack against the Eldren city. The Eldren are determined to fight bravely but hopelessly with medieval weapons, even though they have the ancient fearsome weapons available. However, when it is clear that the battle will soon be lost, Erekosë convinces Arjavh to allow him to unearth the ancient machines of destruction if it would preserve the Eldren.
After destroying the human army, he proceeds to kill every human being on the planet. Then he returns to Loos Ptokai, marries Ermizhad, and knows peace, at least for a time. There is a very abrupt transition from Erekosë saving the Eldren at the very last moment – where he has the complete sympathy of most readers – and his proceeding to destroy the human cities and villages and kill all their inhabitants, even when there is clearly no further threat to the Eldren, even hunting down and killing a few survivors hiding in caves. In effect, he has fulfilled the earlier-mentioned vow ("I will spare none! None! I want it to be over. And the only way I can finish it is to kill them all") – only directed against the humans instead of the Eldren; why he does this is unclear. The story clearly implies that Erekosë was foredoomed by some higher power to commit genocide, that his only choice was whether he would exterminate the Eldren or the humans, and that once the choice was made he was helpless to stop himself from carrying it through. The nature of that higher power and its motivations remain, however, unclear. The book's ending with this inevitable genocide might be a major reason for its relative lack of popularity.