The Morgaine Stories

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The Morgaine Stories
Gate of Ivrel, the first novel in the Morgaine Cycle. The cover art depicts Morgaine and Vanye in front of a time-gate; Morgaine is unsheathing her gate-destroying sword.

Gate of Ivrel
Well of Shiuan
Fires of Azeroth
Exile's Gate
AuthorC. J. Cherryh
Cover artistMichael Whelan
GenreScience fantasy
PublisherDAW Books

The Morgaine Stories, also known as The Morgaine Cycle, are a series of science fantasy novels by American writer C. J. Cherryh, published by DAW Books. They concern a time-traveling heroine, Morgaine, and her loyal companion Nhi Vanye i Chya.

The first book in the series, Gate of Ivrel (1976), was Cherryh's first published novel, and was followed soon thereafter by Well of Shiuan (1978) and Fires of Azeroth (1979). These three works have been subsequently released in omnibus editions under various titles, including The Book of Morgaine, The Chronicles of Morgaine, and The Morgaine Saga. In 1988, Cherryh published a fourth book in the series, Exile's Gate. The series has sold in excess of 3 million copies.[citation needed]

In the 1980s, Jane Fancher began a graphic novel adaptation of Gate of Ivrel in close collaboration with Cherryh. Although it was never completed, Fancher self-published one segment of the work with a color cover and black and white interior art entitled C. J. Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel No. 1 (1985). Two parts of the adaptation were subsequently published as full color versions by The Donning Company under its Starblaze Graphics imprint: Gate of Ivrel: Claiming Rites (1986) and Gate of Ivrel: Fever Dreams (1987). In 1987, Tor Books published an interactive novel set in Morgaine's universe, The Witchfires of Leth.

This series has been identified as being set in the Alliance-Union universe, as it is stated that Morgaine was sent on her quest by the "Union Science Bureau".


The construct at the center of these novels is a set of "gates" that facilitate travel among a series of distant worlds connected by these gates. In addition to traveling from place to place, the gates can also be used to facilitate time travel. Cherryh has cited the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Andre Norton as influences in the development of her gate system.[1]

Because of the temporal paradoxes involved in time travel, the gates are a threat to universal causality and therefore to the future of innumerable worlds. In fact, as presented in the backstory of the Cycle, unwise use of the gates' temporal properties has already decimated at least one highly advanced civilization, the qhal. To prevent additional such calamities, Morgaine is engaged on a centuries-long (and potentially infinite) quest that takes her from world to world via the gates, setting each gate to self-destruct just after she has used it to move on to the next. It is not clear from the storyline how long Morgaine has been traveling, but it is spelled out that she is the last survivor, possibly second-generation, of a one hundred member task force sent by the Union Science Bureau with the mission of destroying the gates. There has been attrition over time, with an act of treachery prior to the first novel leaving Morgaine the sole survivor.

The gates and other items in the stories are based on advanced technology, and there are no magical or supernatural elements presented, so the works can technically be classified as science fiction. But the books feature several tropes common to fantasy, including medieval-type settings and low levels of technology on the worlds depicted in the novels, a feudal-like relationship between the main characters, and medieval-style warfare and weaponry.

For example, Morgaine's principal weapon, though it incorporates advanced technology, has the appearance of a sword. In the tradition of heroic-epic swords, it has its own name, Changeling. This blending of technology and elements more common to fantasy often results in the books being labeled as works of "Science Fantasy." Indeed, on the author's own Web site she lists them under the heading of "Fantasy Novels," not "Science Fiction."[1] The stories have also been identified as Heroic Fantasy, and earned Cherryh membership in the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA), a literary society that recognizes notable achievements in heroic fantasy fiction.

Narrative themes[edit]

One theme of the books is the exchange of bodies: those who know how to manipulate the power of the Gates may take the body of another, younger person to prolong their life, sometimes indefinitely through a series of such exchanges. This lust for immortality at the expense of others is seen at first as a kind of ultimate horror, but it emerges that there can be a contest of wills within the host body, one personality becoming dominant, but retaining the memories and skills of the others. The first three books form a trilogy linked by the pursuit of Morgaine’s ancient qhal betrayer Liell, who takes the body of Vanye’s cousin Chya Roh and flees from her via the Gates from world to world. Roh’s personality gradually subsumes the evil Liell; when Morgaine finally catches him, she spares him for both Roh and Vanye's sake. The fourth book is a sequel to the first three but in narrative terms is independent.

Another theme is the status of the ruined alien race, the qhal (the name and its derivatives are spelled differently on each world Morgaine visits: e.g. qujal, khal) in relation to human beings. The qhal had been the dominant species, but were ruined by their misuse of the Gates. (The Gates themselves are relics of a more ancient, vanished race, of which it is revealed in the fourth book of the tetralogy, Exile's Gate, Morgaine is a descendant through her father.) All the worlds described have both qhal and human inhabitants, and are at a quasi-medieval level of development (travel is by foot or on horseback, for instance), with advanced technology present but more or less hidden. It is not always explained where the human populations have come from. In Gate of Ivrel, among the ruined human principalities of Andur-Kursh, qhal are hated and feared and few survive, though they remain powerful. In the slowly drowning landscape of Well of Shiuan the qhal are the dominant, cultured society and humans live in miserable squalor. In the forest world of Fires of Azeroth, qhal and some humans have learned to live in mutual respect, carefully tending their environment (which includes another sentient race, more obviously alien): this paradisial arrangement is threatened by the irruption of the aggressive qhal-human host of refugees from Shiuan. In the world of Exile’s Gate, a dominant qhal society keeps the human-populated areas subject through qhal governors - the exiles from the Lord's court - who have been forced to take human form.

A third theme is the mystery of Morgaine’s own species identity. She resembles the qhal, being tall and slender with long fair hair and pale eyes and skin, but maintains she is not qhal. She finally admits to her companion Vanye in Fires of Azeroth that she is a half-breed, with a human mother and a father from the race preceding the qhal, who built the gates. She may have killed her father, perhaps as an early part of her mission. Isolated members of this immensely ancient race still survive, such as the Lord of the world of Exile’s Gate.

Character delineation[edit]

The mystery surrounding Morgaine is increased by the fact that, perhaps uniquely among Cherryh’s major protagonists, we never see the action through her eyes. The story is told almost entirely through the eyes of her vassal Nhi Vanye, whose fear, respect and awe of Morgaine, combined with her terseness, secrecy and reserve, help to cloak her origins, her purposes or her motivations.

Nhi Vanye, her faithful vassal and companion, is the illegitimate son of one of the lords of Andur-Kursh, whose culture views as black magic the advanced technology with which, and against which, Morgaine makes war. Outcast as a brother-slayer from his own land, he is ilin, a masterless, homeless warrior akin to the Japanese ronin, when they first meet. By accepting food and shelter from her, according to an ancient Kurshin rite, he is obliged to provide a year of service to her. The stubbornness and exaggerated sense of honor associated with his people prevents Vanye from breaking his commitment, even though he views his year of service to a witch out of legend as a death sentence, threatening not only his body but his soul - particularly when she lays on him, on pain of his oath, an impossible task.

Vanye's own character and qualities are subtly revealed through the reactions of both his enemies and his liege Morgaine. Having absorbed an impossibly high standard of honour and courage from his clan and family during his upbringing among abusive full-blood relatives (he is the illegitimate son of the ruler of Nhi), and having been publicly shamed and stripped of rank, Vanye sees himself as a failure and coward. The reader begins to understand, over time, that while Vanye never accepts himself as meeting the standards he believes an Uyo (knight) should live up to, he is, as Morgaine and his enemies see him, formidable: fearsome in battle, resourceful, loyal and, despite his anguished doubts and fears, recklessly brave.

Though she frees him from his servitude at the end of Gate of Ivrel, he follows her through the gate to Shiuan, and their relationship strengthens and deepens. They come to love one another, but the experience is often painful and confusing. Unlike most genre fantasy, the narrative dwells much on the exhaustion, discomfort, pain and fear of their presumably endless quest. At an early stage, Vanye, in pious fear of her witchcraft-like technology, her apparent return from death and her legendary status as the ancient doom of the kingdoms of Andur-Kursh, begs not to be told many things Morgaine would be willing to communicate to him, which retards the pace of revelation further. In all four novels, Vanye is separated from Morgaine and has to fend for himself among enemies, not knowing if she is still alive or will pause to come back for him, with a concomitant increase in dramatic tension. Vanye’s uncertainties are one of the chief strategies Cherryh employs to keep the reader in a parallel state of uncertainty.

Cover artwork[edit]

All original cover artwork for the novels in the series was done by Michael Whelan. Reprints and UK editions have different cover artwork, for example an armoured portrait of Morgaine by John Higgins for the 1989 Methuen Mandarin omnibus edition of The Chronicles of Morgaine. Jane Fancher drew the cover art for the three graphic novels, and the cover art for The Witchfires of Leth was done by Doug Beekman.


In April 2013 it was announced that the screen rights to The Morgaine Stories have been optioned by producer Aaron Magnani, with adaptations by Peter Arneson. The screenplay for the first novel in the series, Gate of Ivrel has already been written by Arneson.[2]


  1. ^ "Best Science Fiction and Fantasy". Retrieved 2012-01-02.
  2. ^ Kroll, Justin (2013-04-08). "Fantasy Book Series 'The Morgaine Stories' Set for Bigscreen Adaptation". Variety. Retrieved 2013-04-09.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cherryh, C. J. Gate of Ivrel, DAW Books, 1976.
  • Cherryh, C. J. Well of Shiuan, DAW Books, 1978.
  • Cherryh, C. J. Fires of Azeroth, DAW Books, 1979.
  • Cherryh, C. J. Exile's Gate, DAW Books, 1988.
  • Fancher, Jane. C. J. Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel No. 1, Fancheristics, 1985.
  • Fancher, Jane. Gate ov Ivrel: Claiming Rights, The Donning Company, 1986.
  • Fancher, Jane. Gate ov Ivrel: Fever Dreams, The Donning Company, 1987.
  • Greenberg, Dan. The Witchfires of Leth: A Crossroads Adventure in the World of C J Cherryh's Morgaine, Tor Books, 1987.

External links[edit]